Exploring How Hermann Hesse’s DEMIAN Connects to BTS (방탄소년단) | Part 1
Out of all the classics I’ve read, I have to say that Demian is now my favorite in terms of how I ended up knowing about the existence of this novel, my experience throughout reading this book, and what I’ve learned collectively from this story.
Once I started writing book chats for blogging, I came to the realization that I would rather read fewer books and get to truly understand each book I read to the fullest extent I can instead of read for a total number of books by the end of the year. I want to be able to leisurely spend time analyzing and understanding the themes and lessons the novels I read are each trying to convey or teach. For me, reading a book without stopping to think about the meaning of it wouldn’t let me appreciate or comprehend to the book as much as I can — and that’s why I have at least three posts written already about Demian.
Since Demian was a particularly insightful book that I had a lot of fun attempting to decipher and understand, I’d just like to inform you, amazing reader, that this book chat is going to be extremely long.
I put so many post-it notes throughout the book, marking all the connections I had found between scenes/dialogues/themes in Demian with BTS’s songs and music videos, and I did not realize how much I would have to say about all the connections I found. Eventually this book chat started to get too long, so I just separated it into two parts. 👍
Before we begin, though, you should probably note that the focus on this book chat isn’t on what lessons I’ve personally learned and/or liked from reading Demian — that will be for another book chat. In addition, this book chat won’t go in depth as to how Demian relates to each and every single one of BTS’s songs and music videos. This is more of a post to list out the connections I found and my current thoughts on those connections so that I can come back to this post when I make song and music video analyzation posts for specific BTS songs in the future.
If you don’t know what BTS is, I would recommend reading my review on their newest album to get a basic idea of who they are as musical artists. Otherwise, you’ll probably be super confused whilst reading this book chat. After that, you can fall down a rabbit hole of information that the internet has on BTS — but for now, in short, BTS is a seven-member K-pop boy band with amazing songs and music videos that currently focus on the theme of youth.
How did I stumble upon Demian?
One of BTS’s music videos, “피 땀 눈물 (Blood Sweat & Tears)”, is based on Hermann Hesse’s Demian. My friend actually recommended this book to me a few years back, but I didn’t make an effort to read it until… well, now.
And I have to say, I am so happy I read Demian. Not only do I understand the themes within both Demian and “피 땀 눈물 (Blood Sweat & Tears)” now (yay! 😄), but I also found plenty of connections between Demian and many of BTS’s other songs and music videos, which I’m super excited to share with you guys.
One of my main goals in reading Demian was to understand BTS’s concept of youth more, and I feel really satisfied in saying that reading Demian has clarified many confusing aspects of BTS’s music and has given me a lot of insight into life. Demian wasn’t described as “a brilliant psychological portrait” lightly, everyone.
Are you ready for this book chat?
Without further ado, let’s begin! 😊
Heads-Up: Spoilers for Demian will begin now!
The Opening Quote
All I wanted to do was try to live the life that was inside me, trying to get out. Why was that so hard?
The biggest thing I took from reading Demian was to listen to myself. One of the most influential secondary characters in the book, Pistorius, told Emil Sinclair that “[t]here is no reality other than what we have inside us” (xxi). This interesting statement is similar to the saying of “I only know what I know,” which might sound redundant, but, in terms of my interpretation of it, “I only know what I know” means that I accept other people see the world through different lenses and filters because everyone has unique sets of knowledge on the world and life.
However, the point Hesse might be trying to make with Pistorius’s statement is that because everyone has a different idea of what is right or wrong in this world, no one can ever say that they are completely right when discussing anything regarding humanity or religion or morality. As a result, everyone needs to learn to look within themselves to find out what they stand for, what they believe in, and what personal knowledge they have about the world. In the end, no other opinion or belief matters except our own, because our own reality is the only one that matters to us as the main characters of our own lives.
But back to the quote — what do I think it means? For me, Demian is an exploration of the struggles we all face as we transition from our sheltered, innocent childhood to the more corrupted and “evil” sides of adulthood. Throughout this process, children and teens are fed advice from well-meaning (or perhaps not well-meaning) adults on how to live life. However, none of those pieces of advice or wise words matter if we don’t learn what we want to do with our lives. Hesse is trying to emphasize that our purpose in life lies within us is constantly “trying to get out” of us, as the opening quote states.
The question “Why was that so hard?” summarizes what many young people feel like when they try to understand their purpose in life and what they want to do with themselves as they transition from children to teens to adults. So, as a whole, I think this introductory quote is supposed to encapsulate the mindset of someone in their youth who is trying to learn how to listen to themselves and find the purpose of their life while also juggling with the endless amount of advice, sayings, and words of wisdom that spew out from the tainted, corrupted, and “evil” world of adulthood.
I was captivated by Sinclair’s narration the moment I read the prologue. There were so many moments in the book where I just had to pause and reread the scene again and appreciate the meaning and depth of the ink words on paper because… wow. So many ideas in this book resonated with me and made me think further about certain topics brought up in the novel.
The very first part of the story I flagged was this:
But my story is more important to me than some writer’s story is to him, because it is my own, and it is the story of a human being — not an imagined, possible, ideal, or in some other way nonexistent person but a real, unique, living, breathing one. (1)
This quote resonated with me so much. I’ve always believed that no one is a secondary character in their own lives, which is why I’ve always loved creative fairy tale retellings (like Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories series) that give insight into the more human aspects of the supposed “villains” of popular fairy tales.
Everyone is a main character in their own life, and I’m really glad Hesse-as-Sinclair began his narration like this. It informs the reader that not everyone will think this story is important, as Demian is the story of Emil Sinclair’s life and readers are not Emil Sinclair. We might relate to him deeply, but in the very end, it is up to us to live our own lives to the fullest and learn what we can from this world. After all, we need to keep in mind Pistorius’ words — there is no reality other than the one within us, and Hesse avidly reinforces that idea throughout Demian.
We can understand each other, but each of us can truly grasp and interpret only himself. (2)
Chapter One: Two Worlds
The first chapter introduced me to the two worlds Sinclair felt torn between: the innocent, pure, and orderly one of his family and home as opposed to the one he got pulled into by his classmate, Franz Kromer, after Kromer uses Sinclair’s lie of stealing apples as blackmail to get Sinclair to give him money.
In this chapter, I found several connections:
#1 The Mention of Drowning
Drowning is a pretty prevalent scene within BTS’s music videos, so I wasn’t going to pass by this connection.
After Kromer blackmails Sinclair, Sinclair runs home and thinks,
My life was ruined. I thought about running away and never coming back, or drowning myself, but only vaguely. (11)
At the beginning of BTS’s “Run” music video, a member falls down into/through this dark void and water splashes when he falls. I think the member is Jungkook? Later in the music video, V is seen underwater, perhaps drowning in the symbolic vast expanse of the world of adulthood. And isn’t attempted drowning one of the methods the members in BTS’s music video for “I NEED U” copes with the loss of Jin, if the theory we’re going off of is the one where Jin is dead and everyone else is trying to accept the fact that he’s gone???
In the end, Sinclair decides against it, which marks the start of the theme of perseverance — in order to understand the world around us, no matter how hard it is, we can never give up. Perhaps this is another theme of youth that we can later connect to BTS’s youth concept.
#2 The Mention of Cracks and Tears and Blood
Such cracks and tears heal, they grow back together and are forgotten, but down in our most secret recesses, they continue to live and bleed. (13)
Reading this quote completely FREAKED ME OUT. First of all, the words “tears” and “blood” are part of the the title of the song, “피 땀 눈물 (Blood Sweat & Tears).” However, I’m sure the word “tears” in this context doesn’t mean the “tears” in Korean for 눈물, which refers to “tears” as in “teardrops”. For the quote in Demian, “tears” probably means a rip or crack in something —
But does that mean this quote isn’t important???
Of course not.
The most important word of that line above is probably “cracks.” Near the end of the “피 땀 눈물 (Blood Sweat & Tears)” music video, shots of the statue Jin was kissing appeared cracked, the replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà’s face exploded, and finally Jin’s face was shown to crack as well.
Sinclair states the quote above after explaining how powerful he felt in not obeying his father completely, which “was the first crack in the pillars on which [his] young life rested and which everyone has to pull down before he can become himself” (13). According to this scene, perhaps the cracks in the “피 땀 눈물 (Blood Sweat & Tears)” music video represent the final realization that eventually no one can deny how they are immersing themselves into the not-so-pure adult world, and that this internal bleeding that Sinclair mentions will eventually show in figurative cracks on a person — as in people can’t hide the fact that they’re being corrupted forever from the people around them.
#3 The Mention of Sleeping/Beds
This doesn’t relate to “피 땀 눈물 (Blood Sweat & Tears)” directly, but I do remember from other music videos, and especially the teaser WINGS short film for “Lie,” that they had featured many scenes with a bed in it– usually hospital cots.
In Chapter 1, Sinclair says that
[He] always loved it when [he] was a little sick and could spend the whole morning lying in bed with a cup of chamomile tea, listening to Mother straightening up in the next room and Lina talking to the butcher our in the front hall. (15)
Here, staying in bed is considered to be a very sweet thing — Sinclair’s mother takes care of him, and Sinclair likes the affection and attention he receives when he’s lying sick in bed. However, in music videos such as the one for “I NEED U,” when Suga is shown lying in bed, the scene seems depressed and hopeless. Instead of wanting to stay in bed, like Sinclair, Suga’s character in the music video may want to get out of bed but can’t.
You never know. This contrast might be important to know later on.
Chapter Two: Cain
In this chapter, Max Demian enters the story and begins to enlighten Sinclair on the ways of the world, bringing hope to Sinclair when he feels near-drowned by the suffocating control Franz Kromer has on him.
What other connections did I find in this chapter?
#4 Sinclair’s Dream About Murdering His Father
This was clearly the biggest connection between BTS and Demian for this particular chapter. In “I NEED U,” V murders his abusive father. One of the reasons why BTS’s music videos — especially the ones revolving around Jin and the question of whether he is dead or not — are so hard to decipher is because it’s hard to differentiate the scenes depicting reality from the ones that are dreams or imagined. This is probably why the theory videos never stop popping up on YouTube regarding the BTS music videos. (And tbh, it’s why I’m writing the post right now. 😊)
The most horrible nightmare, from which I would wake up half insane, involved murdering my father. Kromer sharpened a knife and put it in my hand, we were standing behind the trees on a boulevard and waiting for someone, I didn’t know who, and someone came walking by and Kromer squeezed my arm to tell me that this was the person I had to stab, it was my father. Then I woke up. (26)
This has to be connected to V’s murdering of his father in “I NEED U.” For me, this quote brings in the question: Did V actually murder his father? Or was it just a dream, like Sinclair’s? I supposed I’ll try and answer this when I do my own decoding of “I NEED U.”
#5 Rap Monster’s Quote from “피 땀 눈물 (Blood Sweat & Tears)”
In the “피 땀 눈물 (Blood Sweat & Tears)” music video, Rap Monster states that “He too was a tempter. He too was a link to the other second, the evil world with which I no longer wanted to have anything to do [with].”
However, the full quote in Demian is this:
He too — differently from Kromer, but nonetheless — was a tempter; he too was a link between me and the other world, wicked and bad, which I now wanted nothing more ever to do with. (35)
Knowing the entire context before, during, and after the quote from “피 땀 눈물 (Blood Sweat & Tears)” makes this quote make so much more sense now. The “he” Sinclair is referring to is clearly Max Demian, who was Sinclair’s main mentor in life. But what is Sinclair trying to say about Demian?
In order to understand this, we have to look at the context in which this quote was stated. In his quote, Sinclair says that both Demian and Kromer were “tempters,” not because of Demian’s desire to control Sinclair (as Kromer had), but because Demian “would have asked more of [Sinclair] than [Sinclair’s] parents did, much more. He would have tried to make [Sinclair] more independent, with provocations and warnings, mockery and irony” (36).
For Sinclair, he’s currently struggling with deciding whether he should enter into “the other world, wicked and bad” or stay within the safe confines of the sheltered “world of light” he grew up in, under the watchful eyes of his mother and father. Despite the fact that Sinclair’s internal narration displays a great desire to run away from his dependence on his parents, Sinclair’s actions don’t match up with his thoughts.
I had tried to walk along the paths of the world, and they had proven too slippery for me. And now that a friendly hand had reached out and saved me, I ran straight back, without looking left or right, into Mother’s lap, back to the safety of a pious, sheltered childhood world. (36)
Okay. That was a lot to digest. But now we need to add another layer of complexity to that quote by pulling the “피 땀 눈물 (Blood Sweat & Tears)” music video in here. I think the most important aspect of that quote being in the music video is the placement of it. If you think about it, Sinclair’s quote calling Demian a tempter in the novel appeared near the beginning of the novel, in Chapter 2 and around thirty pages in. Note that Demian is around a total 135 pages (according to my copy) and a total of eight chapters.
But then, if we look at the placement of the quote in the music video, Rap Monster says it around four minutes into the six-minute music video. If the quote appeared so early in the book, why did it appear so late in the music video?
My theory regarding this is that everything before the quote was stated in the music video revolves around Sinclair’s mentality of desiring to venture out into the real world, but still deciding to stay within close range of the sheltered, innocent world of his childhood, in case he ever wanted to jump back to belonging to his parents. The moment Rap Monster says the quote would be the tipping point in the video — the point when Jin/V/all the members (or whomever according to which popular theory you’re going off of) transitions from just desiring entry into the adult world to actually going into the adult world.
If I start delving into details here, this book chat will never end, so I’ll just say that for now — but I’ll explain further in my music video analysis for “피 땀 눈물 (Blood Sweat & Tears).”
Chapter Three: The Thief on the Cross
#6 Finding Oneself
There are beautiful, wonderful, tender memories from childhood I could put in this story…. But I am interested here only in the steps I have taken in my life to arrive at myself. (37)
I suppose I can only speak for myself, but I do feel like art is a way for many people to find themselves. For me, that’s the most appealing thing for any form of art because through completing a drawing or reading a book or writing an entire novel, I learn many things about the world and life and myself. And because there is such a big emphasis on the path of finding oneself in Demian, I think Hermann Hesse really cared about that process and wanted to teach other people to not be scared to take the time to understand themselves.
Alas, I now know only too well that there is nothing in the world more hateful to a person than walking the path that leads to himself! (36)
This connection doesn’t just relate to BTS’s “피 땀 눈물 (Blood Sweat & Tears)” music video, but to their entire artistic package in general. Ever since I bought You Never Walk Alone — and later BTS’s compilation album, The Most Beautiful Moment in Life: Young Forever — all I’ve been listening to are their songs. I’ve looked up the English lyrics online and have watched many theory videos on YouTube trying to understand the story behind their music videos.
Throughout falling into this rabbit hole of the BTS fandom, I’ve come to realize that a lot of BTS’s songs seem really personal — which sounds really obvious because hello, music is an art and art is a reflection of the creator to some degree — but it actually took me a while to realize this. In You Never Walk Alone (which is basically the Wings album), there are songs created by each of the members individually, and according to an interview I watched, these songs tie in with BTS’s current concept, but at the same time connects with the member in a personal way.
For J-Hope’s song, “Mama,” he sings “Remember Mom?/ The Hiddink PC cafe at Moonhong, /The Broadway restaurant /Two job veteran for your family/ Failure is the mother of success” (from Color Coded Lyrics). In addition, the very first line of the song is “Time travel to 2006.”
The fact that specific places and dates are mentioned gives the individual member’s songs really personal touches that differ from the songs the entire group sings.
And so I wonder — if BTS was drawing inspiration from Demian for their music and concepts, did they feel inspired to make their music parallel to their path to finding themselves?
Will we ever know? No one ever knows what exactly goes on in an author’s mind when they write their own book, or a musician’s mind when they listen to their own music. I guess that’s the beauty of BTS’s music videos — no one has a clear idea on what the story is behind those music videos, and that’s why it’s fun for people to theorize about it.
Anyways, the point is: the quote above about Sinclair finding himself may relate to BTS’s experiences of finding themselves as musical artists, since many of their songs relate to their journey going from rookie artists to idols who now have a huge influence within the musical world.
#7 Theme of Androgyny
In Demian, when Sinclair looks at Demian’s face he “saw the face of a man, not a boy; but not only that, I also thought I could see, or feel, that this was not just the face of a man, it was something else too. There seemed to be something of a woman’s face in it as well” (40).
Then, in YouTuber Dreamteller’s theory video on the “피 땀 눈물 (Blood Sweat & Tears)” music video, he opens with exclaiming how “the song and dance were both so androgynous and wicked,” according to the English captions.
😱 CONNECTION!!!! 😱
Sinclair continues to emphasize how androgynous both Demian and his mother, Eve, both look as the story progresses. I’m not sure how this ties into the entire youth concept (or if it even does tie in at all), but I think it’s too big of a connection to not list down here.
#8 Marble Statues
This connection was insane, everyone:
The way he usually was when he walked and talked with me was only half of him — a Demian playing a temporary role, adapting himself to others and going along with things for the sake of politeness. The true Demian, however, looked like this: stony, ancient, like an animal, like marble, beautiful and cold, dead and secretly full of tremendous life. (52)
Woah. Woah. Did. You. Catch. That?!?!?
Sinclair compares Demian to “marble, beautiful and cold, dead and secretly full of tremendous life.” In the “피 땀 눈물 (Blood Sweat & Tears)” music video, Jin’s face cracks at the end like the marble statue. There’s also the marble statue behind J-Hope (a replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà) and the statue that Jin kisses, which both shatters later in the video after Rap Monster says his quote.
Perhaps this is further proof that everything happening after the quote from Demian shows the members transition from staying in their “world of light” to jumping into the adult world?
In addition, if Sinclair likens Demian to a marble statue, and two marble statues in the “피 땀 눈물 (Blood Sweat & Tears)” music video cracks/shatters, could that mean the breaking of those marble statues symbolize the breaking of the member’s Demian’s, or mentors? Once they jump into the adult world, they realized they didn’t need a person like Demian to guide them, perhaps because at that point in the story they had already begun their journey of trying to find themselves.
After all, in Demian, Demian leaves Sinclair only when he knows Sinclair is able to follow his own beliefs and values. In the music video, however, the forceful shattering/breaking of the marble statues suggests that the mentors — the Demian’s — of the BTS members didn’t leave them peacefully; instead, the members of BTS had forced their mentors to go away, which might serve as an explanation as to their giving into corruption later in the music video. (This would contradict with the theory in the paragraph above.) They entered into the adult world without a mentor to guide them through it.
Another theory that comes from this mentioning of marble statues relates to Jin. From what I’ve seen, many people think he is the innocent character in the music video, and that all the other members are corrupting him. Because his face cracks (like marble and in this situation, Sinclair says that Demina=marble statue), what if Jin is actually the sole mentor (the Demian) in the music video, and he’s the one pulling the members from the “world of light” into the adult world?
#9 Falling Autumn Leaves
One of my favorite songs from Young Forever is “고엽 Autumn Leaves,” and according to this lyric-decoding post from Muish’s Ramblings, “The actual title, 고엽 (ko-yeop), literally meaning dry dead leaves, is not a commonly used word. It sounds very formal, and very gloomy, and reminiscent of few dry brown dead leaves remaining at the end of autumn” (Muish’s Ramblings).
Since I don’t speak Korean and don’t know the connotations of the words, I’m going off of Muish’s Ramblings’ clarification for this connection.
Before the end of Chapter 3, this quote appears:
It was like how an autumn tree sheds its leaves: the tree feels nothing, the rain runs off it, or the sun, or the frost, and the life inside it slowly withdraws into its narrowest, innermost places. It does not die. It waits. (53)
When I look at the timeline of when BTS release their songs, I do realize that BTS probably read Demian after they created the song “고엽 Autumn Leaves” — but nevertheless, it’s still a cool connection, right?
Here is another mentioning of autumn in Demian that I think is noteworthy:
“Don’t think I wouldn’t understand, Sinclair. I know how it is, when you’re taking a walk like this in the evening mist, with autumn thoughts, you want to write poems, I know. Poems about dying nature, of course, and the lost youth it’s a symbol of.” (56)
(Lost youth??? LOST YOUTH?!!? THAT IS A TOTAL CONNECTION TO BTS’S THEME OF YOUTH, EVERYONE. OMG.)
Chapter Four: Beatrice
Now, I know right before this, I talked about the use of the theme of autumn in both Demian and BTS… and now I need to talk about the theme of springtime.
In the novel, when Sinclair begins to realize that he didn’t enjoy his life of drinking and wasting time, he states that his hatred of his current self “was welcome. At least I felt something! The embers still flickered with some kind of fire, a heart still beat in there! I was confused to feel something like liberation and springtime in the middle of all my misery” (59).
Springtime? Spring Day? 😱
Unlike “고엽 Autumn Leaves,” “봄날 (Spring Day)” actually came after “피 땀 눈물 (Blood Sweat & Tears),” meaning that “봄날 (Spring Day)” could be an extension of the themes we find within the Demian-influenced music video. As a result, it’s possible that the use of spring in “봄날 (Spring Day)” could have the same meaning as spring is used in this quote of Demian: hopeful renewal, or a new, fresh start of something better than the past or the present.
#11 Sinclair’s Portrait of Beatrice
Of all the practices I embarked on to express my new way of thinking, one became especially important for me. I started to paint. At first, it was because the English picture of Beatrice I had did not resemble my Beatrice closely enough — I wanted to try and paint her for myself. (64)
In the wings short films, there are several paintings that appear. In the first short film, there’s Jungkook with his painting, then there’s the painting of the crow/raven/hawk/bird that keeps appearing, as well as the painting of the mother and child that makes a big appearance at the end of J-Hope’s short film for his song, “Mama.”
Painting Beatrice partially helped Sinclair gain inspiration to pull out of his cycle of drinking and wasting his life away to going on the path to finding himself. Perhaps the use of paintings in BTS’s short films relates to how Sinclair’s painting of Beatrice helped him to mentally heal again?
#12 The Hawk
So far, I’m not quite sure what prevalence of hawks in Demian or of birds in BTS’s music videos means, but I do know that it means something important because birds keep appearing in the music videos.
In this particular quote, Sinclair explains how in his dream, Demian held Sinclair’s family’s coat of arms with the hawk on it as it changed shape. Demian tells Sinclair “that [the coat of arms] nevertheless remained always one and the same.”
Finally he made me eat it. When I swallowed it, I felt, with monstrous horror, that the bird on the coat of arms I had swallowed was still alive inside me — it filled me entirely and started to eat away at me from the inside. I was terrified I would die, and I started up in bed. (70)
I’ll put this connection here and come back to it later when I try to figure out specifically what this connection might mean 👍
And that is all for Part 1 of exploring how Hermann Hesse’s Demian connects to BTS! I hope you enjoyed this post, and make sure to check out Part 2 of this series!
Thanks for reading, and I will cya next time!
Want to Read More?
If you like this post, then read…
this post on an amazing book by Maurene Goo about K-dramas + Korean culture,
or this post on thoughts about dreams and growing up!
There’s also another post on what languages I speak + want to learn (including Korean!),
and here’s my start of drawing more Asian characters for diversity.
If you want more BTS, then here’s a list of posts for that: