Demian / Siddhartha

AuthorHermann Hesse
FinishedJune 07, 2020
Rating3.8 / 5

Goodreads link


I enjoyed this book. Hesse (and his protagonist, Emile Sinclair) explores the main milestones of his "coming-of-age" to the realizations about what it means to live life, about what is the meaning of humanity, and what does the process of self-actualization look like. It read more like a philosophical treatise with a narrative sprinkled on time rather than a philosophical novel (for example, Siddhartha felt more like the latter. Steppenwolf felt like something in between these two).

Parts I did NOT like: the male-dominated nature of the themes of self-realization. Although Mother Eve does make an appearance at the end, it felt more to me that she was a vehicle, as the carrier, as an object, as this sort-of supernatural being who has already attained some form of enlightenment, rather than being another fellow-man struggling to figure out the purpose of his or her life. She was the the "mother" figure and for me it felt like she was too entrenched in the "motherly" role (and the incestuous overlap for "lover" role for Sinclair as well).

The ending felt very abrupt, but perhaps that was intentional. Most of the book felt very wandering, dream-like, self-reflective... and then Max dies suddenly. And that is just the ending.

Truly, Max did feel like some sort of daemon, pursuing the details of Sinclair's life without any logic to his patterns. In fact, it mirrored more of the "inevitable" details of life that seem to just happen in nature. It seems like Hesse's message is one more of predetermination - not int he sense of the Christian church, but in the sense more of Spinoza. That is - you must accept things to be the way they are, not because God has willed it so, but because you have willed it so.

"A giant bird was fighting its way out of the egg, and the egg was the world, and the world had to go to ruin" (88).

Basically you need to tear apart the world as you know it to reach your own self-realization. Similarly, the "old world" (Europe in early 1900s) was corrupt and bound in its old ways and sentiments and thus NEEDED to have some sort of great war to bring it to ruin, so that the world could also reach some sort of self-actualization. Maybe Hesse was hoping to mirror the personal journey of self-realization in the marcrocosm of the world. (Unfortunately, not so, because then WWII broke up, and then all the other wars... Wonder what Hesse thinks about that).

Thought: Mother Eve and Demian and their whole group want to break free from the "herd" mentality that drives the current "community" of the day, to be different, to achieve self-realization. However, they were both still shaped by their experiences form the old system. So their thoughts are actually not entirely new.

ONE QUESTION I was left with was - did Sinclair love Demian? It seems throughout the whole book that he is obsessed with Demian on an erotic level as well. Obviously Sinclair looks up to Demian as a friend, teacher, and mentor... but also as a potential lover? There seemed to be some potential homosexual undertones as well... When he dreams about and paints portraits that look like Demian... And then, especially, at the end, right before Demian dies, when he kisses Sinclair on the lips!! What was that?

Favorite Quotes

  • "So I went on, from reminiscence to reminiscence" (46)
  • "Mawkish and mendacious, larded with emotion" (33)
  • "To escape from yourself is a sin" (35)
  • "All the gods and devils which have ever been, whether those of the Greeks or Chinese or Zulus, are all in us, are there as potentialities, as desires, as starting points" (56)
  • "We are men. We make gods, and we wrestle with them, and they bless us" (65)
  • "I had not known that this world could still be so beautiful" (74)
  • "With misty eyes I stared at my picture and read in the book of my soul" (75)
  • "One never comes home. But where friendly roads converge, the whole world looks for an hour like home" (75)
  • "You know, it is not without effort that the bird comes out of the egg. Look back and ask yourself: Was the way then so hard? only hard? Was it not beautiful as well? Could you have had one more beautiful, more easy?" (76)


  • "Every man, so long as he lives at all and carries out the will of nature, is wonderful and worthy of every attention" (5)

  • "I carried mud on my shoes that I could not wipe off on the mat, I brought shadows in with me, of which the home-world had no knowledge" (12)

  • "I had pretended to be a man and a hero" (12)

  • "My ideas were certainly a little upset" (19) — this is just the beginning, of when he begins to realize that questioning his reality of "beautiful good clean bright home VS dirty outside world"

  • The first time Demian shows him what the other world can be, when Demian "tried to make me more independent" (26), Sinclair runs back to the comfortable world of his parents... Thinking critically with Demian is hard and uncomfortable!

  • "But I lived as well in dreams" (27)

  • Demian pays attention well

    • "Observe a man sufficiently well, and you will know more about him than he does himself" (31)
  • Demian: There is no free will (30)

  • On religion: "I have nothing to say against honoring this God Jehovah, nothing at all. But I think we should reverence everything and look upon the whole world as sacred, not merely this artificially separated, official half of it! We ought to worship the devil as well as God" (33)

  • On taboo:

    • What is permitted and what is taboo - these can change
    • "Each one of us must find out for himself what is permitted and what is forbidden - forbidden, that is, to himself" (34)
    • "Whoever is too lazy to think for himself and to constitute himself his own judge simply conforms to the taboos, whatever they happen to be" (35)
  • Beatrice is what Sinclair uses to snap out of his drunkenness

    • "I had again an ideal" (42)
    • he starts painting - and through this, increases self-awareness
    • Beatrice is a catalyst for Sinclair's change and consequent obsessive self-reflection and painting. Unconscious mind revealing truths about self and self-discovery
  • On drinking

    • Drinking every day cheapens the fun experience. Demian points out Sinclair's changed behavior ... and Sinclair is not happy with the criticism to his self.
  • On absentmindedness

    • "If you were absent-minded or sleepy, then he stood suddenly there... But if you were really thinking, if you were genuinely sunk in thought, then you were safe" (49)
  • On daydreaming

    • "...withdrawing me from the outside world, so that my relations with these pictures, with these dreams and shadows, were more real and more intimate than with my actual surroundings" (50)
    • like my bookreading and book writing in high school

    • "I could do everything the others did; with a little pains and industry I could read Plato, I could solve a trigonometric problem or work out a chemical analysis. Only one thing I could not do: Discover the dark, concealed aim within me and make up my mind, as others did — others, who knew well enough whether they wanted to be professors or judges, doctors or artists. They knew what career to follow and what advantages they would gain by it. But I was not like that. Perhaps I would be like them some day, but how was I to know? Perhaps I should have to seek and seek for years, and would make nothing of myself, would attain no end" (51)
  • Pistorius

    • "...To discover to what a great extent we are creators, to what a great extent our souls have part in the continual creation of the world" (56)
  • What it means to become a human

    • "There is a great difference between whether one merely carries the world in oneself, or whether one is conscious of that as well" (56)
    • "He is a tree or a stone, at best an animal, as long as he does not know it... But when the first spark of this knowledge glimmers in him he becomes a man"
    • "Look how many of them are fish or sheep, worms or leeches, how many are ants or bees. Well, within reach of them are the possibilities of becoming human creatures, but only when they feel this, it is only when, ... they learn to make them conscious, that these potentialities become theirs"
    • self-awareness gets humans to become "man". Everyone HAS infinity potential and history - all of the gods and men before us (like genes!). But NOTHING without self-awareness
  • Sinclair accidentally calls Pistorius an antiquarian ... accidentally points out the flaw

    • even though "I had not meant it badly" (67)
    • I guess Pistorius was too attached to old ideas
  • On offices

    • "His office was, perhaps, to help men to find themselves, as he had done with me. But to found a new doctrine, to give new gods to the world, was not his function in life... And at this point the realization came upon me that everyone has an 'office,' a charge. But to no one is it permitted to choose his office for himself, and to discharge it as he likes. It was wrong to want new gods, it was entirely wrong to wish to give the world anything. A man has absolutely no duty than this: to seek himself, to grope his own way forward, no matter whiter it leads" (68)
    • "The true vocation for everyone was only to attain to self-realization"
    • "His business was to work out his own destiny, not any destiny, but his own, to live for that, entirely and uninterruptedly. Everything else was merely an attempt to shun his fate, to fly back to the ideals of the masses, to adapt himself to circumstances. It was fear of his own inner being" (68)
    • "There have been martyrs who willingly let themselves be nailed to the cross, but even they were not heroes, they were not free, they also wished for something to which they had been accustomed, which they had loved; with which they had felt at home. They had examples or ideals. He who will fulfill his destiny has neither examples nor ideals, he has nothing dear to him, nothing to comfort him... People like you and me are certainly very lonely" (68)
    • "We must not wish to be revolutionaries, or examples, or martyrs." (69)
  • What is the "sign" of Cain look like? A sign of distinction. A dreaminess, perhaps, being lost in thought? Being able to look someone straight in the eye?

  • On community

    • "What we now called community is merely a formation of herds. Mankind seeks refuge together because men have fear of one another... And why are they afraid? One is only afraid when one is not at one with oneself. They are afraid because they have never had courage to be themselves. A community of men who are afraid of the unknown in themselves! ... They adhere to ideals which have ceased to exist, and they stone everyone who proposes a new one" (73)
    • He is criticizing cliques or tribes of "old Europe", who merely follow custom and tradition and what everyone else does, because they are either too lazy or too afraid to look deep in themselves and find true answers
    • Herd mentality kills humanity: "There is nothing in common between the will of humanity and that of our present-day communities" (73)
    • "Yes, it was rotten, our whole system was rotten and these student sillinesses were less stupid and not so bad as a hundred others" (74)
  • On a true communtiy

    • This is Mother Eve's house and all of the friends she gathers there that have the "mark of Cain"
    • "We were not separated from the majority of creatures by boundaries, but rather by a different sort of vision" (77)
    • Like being in a different dimension
    • "For we were awake, or were waking, and our endeavor was to be more and more completely awake, whereas the others strove to be happy, attaching themselves to the herd, the opinions and ideals of which they made their own, taking up the same duties, making their life and happiness depend on common interests......"
    • Us (striving to a future, always changing, always learning) vs. them (content with way things are, heaven on earth)

    "For them mankind, which they loved just as we did - was something already complete, which must be maintained and protected. For us mankind was a distant future, to which we were all on the way. No one could image this future, neither did its laws stand written in any book." (77)

  • On love

    • "Love must not beg, nor demand either. Love must have the force to be absolutely certain of itself. ... **I do not want to make a present of myself. I want to be won" (**79)
  • Then WW1 breaks out

  • In the war

    • "It was an atmosphere of intoxication in which they moved, not that of a fated will" (87)
    • "All men are capable of dying for an ideal, provided that such an ideal is not personal, not chosen of their own free will. For them it had to be an ideal accepted by and common to a great number" (87)