I finally FiNISHED a book in what seems like far too long. I picked up a copy of the classic “Demian” by Hermann Hesse in the airport back in the fall. Not sure what attracted me to this title- partially a familiarity with the author, a curiosity and intrigue to explore classics, and realizing I only have so many more years where a coming of age novel is actually self-reflective. This novel was provoking, strange, philosophical and bizarre. My favorite way to reflect on any recent read is with quotes that I feel encapsulate the themes of the novel.
#1. "Everyone’s life is way into himself, or the attempt at a way, the hint of a path. No one is utterly and completely himself; everyone strives to become himself, however he can, this one dully, that one more brightly."- this comes from the foreward, and provides an excellent precursor to the rest of the novel. Hesse dives deep into the inner self with the character of Sinclair, and in turn the reader has no choice but to experience self-reflection. This quote contradicts one of my previous statements, about becoming to mature to read a coming of age novel. Hesse here proves that there is no instant or moment where you become yourself, but rather it is a never-ending journey to learn how to be honest and happy in your own being.
#2. "Nowhere but in these practices can we so quickly and easily discover the extent to which we are creators, how greatly our own soul constantly participates in the continual creation of the world." The practices Hesse refers to here is the act of staring at in inanimate object intently for a good deal of time, creating patterns and designs within a static image- this practice can at once seem irrational and bizarre, but also incredible self-empowering to realize how man is his own creator. Outlying factors will always influence and impact one’s life, but it is our contributions to society and the world that can ultimately change these factors. To me, this seems a bit grandiose. What I get from this quote, is that inner peace and happiness comes from the way we shape our surroundings- who we choose to live with and engage with. Further, how we choose to look at things and how truly open we are to engaging with what is in front of us.
#3. "When we hate someone, what we hate is something in him, or in our image of him, that is part of ourselves. Nothing that isn’t in us ever bothers us. The things we see, are the same things that are in us. There is no reality other than that what we have inside us. This is why most people live such unreal lives, because they see external images as reality and never give their own internal world a chance to express itself." In this section, one of Sinclair’s guides- a young priest- coaches the young man in self-conscious, and the path of becoming truly in-touch and aware of how you exist in the world. I think the second half of this quote can be directly related to the modern day, to the relationship our generation has with social media. We project images onto social media platforms to portray ourselves in a certain light, but how manipulated and contrived are these images? And where has our obsession with broadcasting our entire personal life over the internet come from? Rather than self-reflection and internal speculation, we spend much of our time following the lives of other through image.
#4. "Every person’s true calling was only to arrive at himself…His concern was to find his own fate, not a random one, and to live it out, full and complete." Going back to quote #3, here Hesse makes a bold statement on individuality and the true self. Much of the journey in one’s life, is to discover this fate, which Hesse shows is not an easy task, although he puts it quite matter-of-fact in this quote. I feel that it has become so easy to let other’s successes dictate our own, that we can hardly even distinguish between our own wants and desires, and those of others. True self-reflection requires intense and deep thought, uninhibited by the reasoning of others.
#5 and #6. "Love cannot ask or plead. Love must have the strength to reach certainty from within. Then one’s love is no longer attracted, it attracts."
"We recognized only one thing as our duty and destiny; every one of us had to become himself, had to be true to and live for the sake of the seed of nature at work in himself, so completely that the uncertain future would find us ready for anything and everything it might bring."
The end of the novel spent a good deal of time discussing love, specifically between Sinclair and Demian’s mother, Eve. It also discusses the coming end of the world. with signs visible to Sinclair, Demian and other’s with the special mark. The mark that is referred to throughout this novel, is that of the chosen person. The person who is too self-aware and honest with himself, to fall into the patterns of the ordinary man. This man, like Sinclair, will go through extremely painful periods of loneliness and isolation, struggling to know how to live out their own destiny. But ultimately, these people will find those like themselves, and the support of other’s marked with this awareness will be incredibly comforting. Hesse ends the novel with a line describing Sinclair realizing that the guide he believed to be Demian and Eve throughout much of his life, was actually a reflection of himself, and a guide that he had within him. The development of this guide, is in turn the creation of one’s true self and destiny, their fate.