Hesse’s Demian as a Christian Morality Play

by Stephen K. Roney

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Hoseo University
Asan, Korea
The key to understanding Demian is to realize that, at the end, Emil Sinclair is inHell. This may come as a shock; it is meant to come as a shock. The novel isbased on a grand, masterful irony. The reader is tricked into identifying withEmil Sinclair, the hero, and then finds that he has followed Sinclair right toperdition.
Granted, most readers seem to miss this. A scan of comments at Amazon.comshows no trace of such an understanding. The same could be said of a scan of thestandard literature on Hesse. Groliers comments, on the novel, that it is “basedon the conviction that Western civilization is doomed and that man must expresshimself in order to find his own nature.” (1) Hesse’s biographer, RalphFreedman, speaks of “the saviors like Demian who wisely lead him [Sinclair] outof his despair.” Demian is a story in which “Emil Sinclair learned how toovercome the guilt and shame of his childhood and to achieve with the help ofhis school friend Demian” (2). Theodore Ziolkowski, in his seminal study TheNovels of Hermann Hesse: A Study in Theme and Structure, sees Demian as a Christ figure …

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