Describe Sinclair's personal development over the course of the novel.
Over the course of the novel, Sinclair goes from being a sheltered child to being a free thinking adult. As a youngster, he feels bound to his parents and to religion. After briefly experiencing the harsh worlds of Kromer and Demian, he is happy to trade the ability to be an independent person for the security offered by clinging to his parents. As Sinclair grows, he begins to see that he has many desires that contradict the rules with which he has been raised. There is much to the world that is not holy, but of which he still wishes to partake. He engages in a long struggle to become independent. This transformation takes a number of steps. Even after Sinclair thinks that he ought to follow his will, he is still not entirely comfortable doing so. With the help of Demian, Pistorius, and Frau Eva though, he learns not to deny his desires. He begins to feel at home with fulfilling his soul's deepest desires. He learns to freely exercise his will, and not to feel bad even if this means violating traditional moral edicts. At this point, his transformation is complete.
Discuss the significance of Sinclair's paintings.
Sinclair's paintings give him a way to express his innermost feelings—his desires, his hopes, and his fears. They allow him to explore the symbols that motivate him and which are so dear to him. These two symbols are the sparrow hawk and his ideal woman. The sparrow hawk is a bird that can simply soar free. Sinclair, at a certain point in the novel develops a desire to break himself free of societal bonds, to live unhampered by the traditional view of the world. Still, he cannot make himself live like this—though he believes he wants to break free, he does not feel ready to do so. The torment of this position is captured in words by Sinclair's rumination that he wants "to live in accord with the promptings" of his "true self," but he discovers that it is very difficult. In pictures, this torment is captured by his painting of the sparrow hawk—an ideal to which he aspires, but which is hard to attain. Were he able to break free, he would no longer need to depict this ideal visually—he would be living it. His paintings of the ideal woman represent something that inspires him—a being for whom he exists. He longs for a true love and these pictures are his first attempt to bring this true love closer. Ultimately, he succeeds, as his pictures help him to find Frau Eva.
Discuss the role of religion in Sinclair's development.
As a boy growing up in a Christian household, Sinclair's basic world-view is a religious one. Most importantly, Christianity informs his moral views—what he sees as right and wrong—and, therefore, Christianity influences his actions. As Sinclair encounters other ways of thinking (Demian's interpretation of the Cain story, for example), he is forced to challenge some of his views. As he develops desires—particularly sexual desires—that conflict with religious observance, Sinclair is brought to consider whether religion must have the last word. His religious faith declines increasingly toward the end of his confirmation classes, and, having a weaker belief in Christianity, Sinclair is freer to deviate from the actions that Christianity prescribes. Further, the general spirit of Christian doctrine requires of people that they not act on their desires. Thus, Sinclair's disbelief in Christianity allows him to further embrace the doctrine to which Demian has been leading him—that he should act so as to fulfill the desires of his innermost soul.
Compare and contrast Sinclair's relationships with Demian and Pistorius.
At the end of the work, Demian gives Sinclair a kiss (which he says is from Frau Eva) and tells him that they will no longer see each other. Discuss the significance of this episode. What does it say about Sinclair, Demian, and Frau Eva?
The original German title of Demian was The Story of Emil Sinclair's Youth. Which title do you think is more appropriate?
What is the significance of Sinclair's relationship with Knauer? What connections can be drawn between Knauer and other characters in the book?
Why do you think Hesse chose to have Sinclair narrate the story himself? Is the older Sinclair a reliable narrator? Should we trust him? How does the older Sinclair's presence add to the themes of the novel?
How does Demian differ from Frau Eva and how does this difference play out in Sinclair's development?