32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on 24 September 1997
Demian, like several other books by Hesse, is a book about the growth of an individual, in this case Emil Sinclair.
Emil Sinclair's life is an ordinary one: he is an ordinary adolescent growing up in an ordinary household, encountering ordinary troubles and coming up with ordinary and ineffective solutions to these problems. Into this world enters someone who is not ordinary, who does not live in an ordinary household and who does not seem to have any of the ordinary problems. This someone, Demian, solves Sinclair's inconsequential problems quite easily.
He takes Sinclair under his wing and shows him that what distingishes between ordinary and extraordinary is simply thought and action based on a deep rooted understanding of human nature. This knowledge is enough to alleviate many of the troubles which afflict most people, allowing more time for higher pursuits, for growth.
Demian guides and helps Sinclair during the early stages of his development. Sinclair's growth is incidental - he takes to Demian because Demian solves his problems. Ultimately he must move away. If he is to continue growing significantly however, there must ultimately be an awareness and a desire for it. Growth must eventually come alone and will only come if there is a strong and persistent hunger for it.
Demian is a good teacher, but like most teachers he fails because of his zeal to educate. For higher education to be successful, the student must seek out the teacher. If the teacher has to seek out the student, the student is probably not yet ready to learn. Moreover, the teacher in seeking out a student halts his own growth.
In Demian, as in many of his books, Hesse suggests a philosophy which stresses that an essential requirement for mental fulfillment is an awareness of what is required for fulfillment. This awareness in turn leads ultimately to the realization that the road to fulfillment is a lonely one.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 18 November 2004
As usual, Hesse - in 'Demian' - has produced a rich and thought-provoking comment on life and the individual's place within it. It's very similar to his other work in that it shares certain themes and views...but this makes it no less enjoyable as a text that is still fresh and relevant in the 21st Century.
I agree that the novel (novella?) loses focus towards to end. Indeed, perhaps the main narrative never finds a true focus at all. I felt that several characters in the tale were superfluous and brought little to the book's central 'message'.
I was, however, extremely impressed with the sense of impending war that Hesse manages to paint towards the end. In a very small amount of pages, the full sense of a world about to collapse in on itself is exceptionally sharp. It really comes close to portraying how the youth of entire nations must have felt in the face of imminent conflict in Europe.
Very compelling - perhaps a little muddled, but rightly judged as a classic.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 11 January 2009
Among Hermann Hesse's works it is very difficult to choose one. They are all great and deep. Some are novels of formation (Steppenwolf, Sidhartha, Demian) some are description of a fail in one's life (Knulp, again Sidhartha) and all are stories of love, passion, spiritualiy and some erotism.
My favorite one is this novel.
If you don't know Hesse and you want just to start reading his works I would propose you to read this one. I could say Sidhartha but the problem with that one is that you have to suffer the first pages to understand what is going on in the Indian universe of the novel.
Besides, Demian is happy while Sidhartha ... I stop. I don't want to spoil.Steppenwolf (Essential Penguin)
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 1 June 1997
I was forced to read this book in my junior year of my High School career. While I generally did not read the required books and articles, I did read a lot on my own and when Demian was assigned, I decided to read it. I can't say that it was the best thing that I have ever done, but I am glad that I did not let this fantastic book pass me by. With my usual tact, I ignored the 2 chapter-per-night assignment, and finished the entire book in two nights.
Hermann Hess (author of Siddhartha, Narziss and Goldmund, and Steppenwolf) begins his half-autobiographical, half fiction tale of young Emil Sinclair. Emil is trapped between two worlds: one a world of Holiness and Purity, the other a world of Darkness and Mystery. In one world, times like Christmas and Easter; in the other, a world of "scandal" and "ghost stories". In an attempt to gain more repute with the "bad" gang at his school, Emil concocts a story of him stealing apples from a townsman notorious for his bad temper. Franz, the leader of the gang, then goes, steals the apples, and blackmails Emil making him pay Franz money that he does not have. Emil then begins to steal from his parents to pay his fee until an incredible figure comes into his life.
Max Demian, new to the area, is young in body, yet ancient in spirit and knowledge. He befriends Emil and influences him in a way that will affect the rest of his life.
As Emil and Max grow up together, it seems to Emil that Max has supernatural powers. He is apparently able to influence people to do his whim and demonstrates this many times to Emil. Max also has a unique interpretation of the Bible which as he shares with Emil, undermines Emil's entire beliefs of what he has always taken for truth. Max forces Emil to open his eyes, and think about what he is being force fed.
Their tale continues through depression, insecurity, drunkenness, love, sex, and violence. Hermann Hesse writes with a powerful, sharp quill. This book cut through my defenses of duty to my English class. It easily pierced my own struggles with fear and depression and women. The unique thing about it is that I cannot pinpoint the source of this strength. Where Jack Kerouac inspires freedom with his writing and Stephen King purveys sheer terror, Hermann Hesse provides myriad emotions, each different, yet equally potent. This book did affect my life. For you who are stable, controlled, and have unconvoluted lives, this is not for you. Rather, for those who have skeletons in the closet, confessions to make, and raw emotion to exhume, get this book, a blanket, and a cup of coffee, for you will read it from cover to cover.
"I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?" -- Demian, Hesse.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 31 October 1997
Other reviews here have well summarized the plot.This was the first book I read that really gave me direction in life, and when I needed it. It is an excellent book for those on the path of self-realization.This is a book to re-read over time, for as we gain in experience, we come to appreciate its deeper meanings.If you want some real answers to life, get this book and read it often.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 9 September 1999
I have only recently read Demian, and found that it was in turns annoying, thought provoking and moving in the way I have found other of Hesse's work: there is a certain vanity underlying the search for knowledge; an implication that he/his main character is different and special; he is nevertheless a scholarly man with a knack for evocative symbolism (a bird breaking out of the world/egg - if you wish to be born you have to destroy a world - interesting); and finally moving because for all the apparent pretence he does seem to be sincere in his quest for some spiritual insight. The descriptions of developement from childhood to adolescence are well done: the familiar battle of being drawn from light to darknes and back again seemed freshly handled to me. The book does spend some time pontificating over various matters, and the description of Demian's absorptions in what are presumably meditative states are obscure and misleading (he emerges drained of energy - why? what did he do?) and the Mother/lover figure is idealistic, sentimental and underwritten. The novel also ends rather abrubtly. But it is nevertheless an interesting earlier work.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 November 1997
This book is a Bible for all of you trying to solve the ancient puzzle of the human spirit.And Hesse will give you just a crystal extract of this ancient search.But it is the purest of it's kind.As long as this book exists,there is still hope for visdom.It confuses me.I can't stop wondering whether Hesse was a genious or just a simple man who learned to deeply feel things,to see them in a way you can't when you just look with your eyes...
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 20 June 1998
I read the back of this book and I thought it would be another boring Hermann Hesse novel like Siddhartha (I hated Siddhartha). But I was wrong. It is very much worth reading and I recommend it to anyone who loves Hesse and to anyone who hates Hesse.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 14 June 2001
A beautifully written book. Entering the world of children and their fears and how it can manifest itself into adulthood. From the moment I picked this book up I could not leave it alone until I had reached the last word. A wonderful and understanding author.
on 30 June 2014
As with much of Hesse, this is a semi-autobiographical account of a man, or in this case a boy as he becomes a man, struggling to find his place in the world as he veers between the virtuous, sheltered life of his family and the darker, hedonistic world of the pubs and the streets. Compared to the later Steppenwolf, this comes across as the often rather pretentious thoughts of a young man trying to give some kind of spiritual meaning to his life.
On the plus side, it's a very readable attempt at illustrating Nietzsche's ideas about the opposing life forces that we all must contend with; the Apollonian and Dionysian, rational versus emotional. We aim to strike a balance, but usually we veer between the two.
On the minus side, as a novel this is a bit lacking, as it consists almost entirely of the narrator describing how he felt about things, often with considerable repetition. There is little action or dialogue. In other words, against all the teachings of creative-writing classes, there is a great deal of 'telling' and very little 'showing'.
So really it depends if you're in the mood for thinking deeply about things, or if you just want to be entertained by a riveting read. In the latter case, you'll probably be disappointed. Personally I can swing either way, which is the point the author is making of course, but overall I found the book worth persevering with.