Demian is yet another story about teenage alienation and aggravation. It is also very different from most stories that describe painful adolescence, because unlike most of the contemporary stories out there, Herman Hesse is a very able writer who provides acute words to portray loneliness and estrangement perfectly.
This story could be read as the friendship between two boys named Sinclair and Demian, or a story about the corruption of Sinclair, or about the enlightenment inside Sinclair. I use corruption here in a positive way; Sinclair is a middle class boy who knew no suffering and sadness in the world until he does one day. This knowledge devastates him and he is forced to reexamine the world and seek out reassurance through other people. Demian becomes one such mentor, and advises Sinclair (through symbols and sly smiles) that one must accept interdependence between good and evil in the world. He asks Sinclair to break free of the egg, that is, Sinclair’s unconsciousness. Only then would Sinclair enter a new stage and be at peace with himself.
This is not Hesse’s only book that seeks knowledge and a journey to find oneself. In fact, many of his works deal with just that, Siddhartha being the most obvious. But Demian would be the book most adolescents would choose as his best one, I amongst them, for only here does Hesse understand adolescent alienation so perfectly and beautifully. One must become corrupted in order to grow up and understand the world around us. One cannot continue to be coddled by our parents and only see the goodness of the world. Sinclair’s journey where he voluntarily sets out is a proof of this. Demian is that friend who offers to change Sinclair’s cozy world.