Ten Life Lessons from DEMIAN by Hermann Hesse
After two shockingly-long posts of me agonizingly analyzing how themes, scenes, and characters from Hermann Hesse’s novel, Demian, relates to BTS, you probably thought I was done with the book…
BUT NOPE. I’m back to discuss the life lessons I’ve learned from Demian!!! 😄
(If you haven’t read Demian, that’s ok — you can still read this post, and perhaps feel inclined to read Demian afterwards. I would highly recommend it. 👍)
I don’t remember reading a classic and loving it as much as I love Demian — in fact, Demian is my favorite classic right now. I definitely read this novel at the right time in my life, and, as a result, I was able to glean a lot of insight from the commentary Hermann Hesse made regarding life.
I found many of the ideas and beliefs on how one should view and live their life extremely relatable. There were a few moments in the novel where I was quite taken aback by how similar some of the ideas stated were to mine.
Are you ready to discover the ten life lessons I’ve gleaned from Demian?
What — or Whose — Reality Matters?
The first life lesson I want to discuss is Hesse’s idea that the only reality that matters is our own.
My favorite part about reading Demian was the shock I felt when I realized how many similar and/or same ideas to mine Hesse had written about in this novel. I had these thoughts floating around in my head for awhile, but I didn’t quite know how to piece them together into a verbal or written description that would accurately delineate my idea. Hesse’s explanation of his view on reality made me realize two things:
1) I am not the first to think of these ideas (awww 😅), and
2) the eloquent way Hesse stated his ideas in Demian contributed to the effectiveness of his portrayal of every theme, concept, and life lesson.
If I want to portray my ideas as powerfully and effectively as Hesse did in Demian, then I need to focus on the clarity of my sentences. Therefore, I shall specifically focus on that in this book chat!
Anyways, before reading Demian, I had spent a lot of time trying to analyze and explain the “line” between imagination and reality. I even wrote an essay exploring this topic, and my conclusion was that there is a very fine line between imagination and reality. If someone thinks of something in their imagination, because they are the main character in their own life, everything that happens or is processed within their mind is part of their life and is thus their reality.
However, Hesse explains it in a much more eloquent and effective way:
“The things we see…. are the same things that are in us. There is not reality other than what we have inside us. That 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.” (Hesse 91)
Hesse’s idea is a little different than mine, but the ideas are still pretty similar. Even though this quote may seem like it’s disregarding everything that occurs out of a person’s mind, I think it depends on how you interpret it. Things that happen outside of one’s mind eventually will be processed within one’s mind, because that’s how we discover, remember, and learn about the world around us. As a result, external events and people in someone’s life can still manage to be a part of someone’s inner reality.
The aspect of this idea Hesse might be trying to emphasis, though, is people’s tendencies to ignore or not pay attention enough to what they think. This idea will connect to the life lesson about conformity later on in this book chat (it’s #3 on this list, btw).
Once we are born, we model people around us. That modeling contributes to us learning how to walk and talk, how we behave, and how instinctively polite we are. I feel like the stage of life in which people are most prone to obsessively seek out modeling others is in people’s youth, especially young teenagers. At that stage in life, the modeling of behavior and actions and beliefs often turns away — but not entirely — from parents to people like peers, or even people teens don’t personally know.
With social media today, it’s so easy for someone to follow another’s life. This might be out of curiosity at first, but in the very end, that curiosity comes from the instinct we have to model people. Not that all modeling is bad — we definitely should take inspiration from other people, especially artists — but in the very end, we have our own life to attend to and live to the fullest. Artists are often known for their unique style, or unique ideas, or unique something. How can we find our own unique style or philosophies or music if we don’t pay more attention to our own ideas?
Something that might clarify the idea of modeling others is this: artists who are just learning to draw tend to model other artists by using other artist’s drawings as reference photos. However, more advanced artists might choose to not model other artists and just create their own art, after they’ve picked up skills from modeling after other artists.
In that example, modeling isn’t a bad thing — it just shows which stage an artist is in. In life, we model when we don’t know where our own beliefs stand, and therefore look to other people to determine how we should behave or think. I actually think learning how to not model after other people takes skill — after all, many of our instincts have been to model after others since we were children.
Hesse’s discussion about whose reality matters in his novel reminded me to spend more time trying to understand myself. Solitude allows me to think more clearly about my beliefs, what I stand for, and my core values. And though, according to Hesse, my own inner reality is the only reality that matters, I do think it’s just as important to pay attention to the realities of others. If I decided to forever stay in my own mind, then I’ll never be exposed to new ideas and opinions.
I think one of the most important parts of life is finding the balance between staying true to yourself and your own beliefs while also not disregarding or ignoring the beliefs and opinions of others. Remember when I put up this quote from Kathryn Ormsbee’s Tash Hearts Tolstoy on my art wall?
Finding the “why” of ourselves is definitely a life-long goal — I’m not sure if it ever can completely be achieved, but I guess that’s a question I’ll only be able to answer later in life. At the same time, though, finding the “why” of others is just as important. Finding a way to balance those two types of realities — our own and others’ — in life instead of focusing too much on one sounds very appealing to me. If I do that, I’ll not only be able to understand myself more and discover what I stand for, but I’ll be able to use that knowledge about myself to understand why other people act the way they do, whether it’s similar or different to my own actions or ideas.
How One Becomes Human
It seems like I’ve been reading a lot of books with different definitions of what being human is.
We’ve got S. J. Kincaid’s The Diabolic, which has a main character who supposedly can’t feel emotions because they aren’t human, yet she discovers she can feel emotions, and therefore is human…? Maybe? 🤔
I also recently read Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story, The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas, which, once again, touched upon the topic of what it means to be human. (The short story was FANTASTIC, and the book chat will be going up after this one, so look forward to that! 😊)
And now Demian, where Hesse-as-Sinclair says this near the end of the prologue:
Few know what a person is these days. But many feel it, and can die more easily, the way I will die more easily once I have written out this story to the end. (Hesse 2)
Does this mean this story will tell us “what a person is these days”? Does this mean Hesse-as-Sinclair found out what it means to be human?
We shall see, everyone.
Sinclair’s other mentor, Pistorius, first introduces his idea of what makes someone human when he explains that people are “a tree, or a rock, or at most an animal, until he becomes conscious of it” (Hesse 86). The “it” Pistorius is referring to, I believe, connects to the discussion about reality we had in the section above. The “it” refers to when someone finds themselves and becomes aware of who they are as a person, which Hesse argues that not enough people in this world do, as most people are stuck believing that their external reality is the only reality out there.
Pistorius further explains this idea by telling Sinclair, “You wouldn’t call every biped you see on the street human, would you, just because they walk upright and carry their babies in the womb for nine months?” (Hesse 86). By saying this, Pistorius emphasis how the anatomical definition of human only works in defining a person; humanity is something that not every person has, and is something that people must work for.
Okay, so what do I think about this idea of humanity? Do I agree? Disagree?
I don’t completely agree with Pistorius here. It doesn’t make sense for me to say that people need to gain their humanity during their lifetime — and Pistorius defines a “human” as someone who becomes conscious that the only world that matters in the world inside of us, not the world outside of us. However, to me, that seems more like a goal rather than a definition of someone’s humanity. We can become better people when we focus on developing our own ideas, rather than just blindly living off of other people’s beliefs, which is what I am in the process of doing. I’m currently on the long journey of trying to understand myself as much as I can, so I supposed in Hesse’s eyes I would be one of the people “awakened” to the purpose of humankind.
However, if we’re going off of Pistorius’s words, I would also have to say that the people who don’t have this “finding yourself” kind of mentality would not be human beings — just “fish or sheep…. worms or angels…. ants…. [and] bees” (Hesse 86). Animals, not people, according to Pistorius.
Later in Demian, Sinclair’s narration clarifies and elaborates on what Pistorius stated about people and humanity earlier:
For awakened human beings, there was no obligation — none, none, none at all — except this: to search for yourself, become sure of yourself, feel your way forward along your own path, wherever it led…. I was not put on earth to write, or preach, or paint — and nor was anyone else. These things were only secondary. Every person’s true calling was only to arrive at himself. (103)
I love how eloquent this quote is, and how Hesse stated such a complex idea in such few words, but I do have a problem with this idea. The quote emphasizes how no one was “put on earth to write, or preach, or paint.” Everyone’s only goal is to find themselves, and once they are aware of this, they are “awakened human beings.”
The thing is, I believe that writing, or preaching, or painting, or whatever artistic, creative thing one may love doing in their life helps them travel through life to find out who they want to be as a person. It was through drawing, writing, reading, playing the flute and piano, listening to music, traveling, and camping that I discovered how much I wanted to understand more about myself and the world around me.
I believe that doing things that you are passionate about will help lead you to happiness and a clearer understanding of yourself. If I throw away that attitude and view working on a passion of mine — for example, this blog — as something that doesn’t matter in comparison to me finding myself, then I don’t think I would be very content with myself. I like to view working sharing my stories and opinions on this blog as something that gives me purpose and happiness in life.
If I don’t love working on this blog or working on my passions because I haven’t “found myself” yet, then that would mean this big chunk of my life before I reach that stage of finding myself would not be… full of happiness.
I’m going to have to bring in a brilliant Rap Monster quote here — during on of BTS’s concerts, Rap Monster said, “You can still feel happy during the process of achieving something.”
That is something that I completely agree with — it goes with living in the moment and being grateful for what I have now, while also knowing that I have more I want to achieve and learn and be passionate about in the future. I can’t push all that happiness away just because of fulfillment that I haven’t “found myself” yet, which is my only problem with Hesse’s quote above.
(Haha, get it? Jungkook is being pushed away, and I mentioned how I can’t push away happiness…???? Brilliant visual representation! 😆 *applause*)
Okay, here is a topic that I’ve been wanting to discuss for a very, very long time: conformity.
Demian resonated with me because of all of these life lessons, but Hesse’s commentary on how conformity affects society was something I really enjoyed reading about, mainly because I agreed with what he had to say.
Everywhere a communal huddling together, young men unburdening themselves of fate, fleeing to the warmth of the herd! (Hesse 107)
According to an article from Simply Psychology, conformity can “be simply defined as ‘yielding to group pressures.'” The article clarifies that “Group pressure may take different forms, for example bullying, persuasion, teasing, criticism, etc.” (McLeod).
Personally, I think conformity is a huge problem plaguing society today. There are so many pressures out in society screaming at people to repeatedly conform, follow, and flow with the herd.
Yes, there are moments when following the majority is comforting — even desired or preferable. However, the thing about following the herd that worries me is the fact that it’s so easy to not think when you do so. Being with groups of people is wonderful, but not if everyone says the same thing without thinking 1) why they’re saying it, or 2) whether the thing they’re saying is truly something they want to back up.
This is a confusing concept for me to write about, so let me give an example to clarify what I mean when I write about conformity. Socratic seminars have always been a huge part of the classrooms I’ve been in, and something people love to bring in and talk about to Socratic seminars for my history classes is politics.
The topic itself is not the problem, but when the seminar goes along and the same ideas keep getting stated… it’s clear that no one in the classroom has a clear understanding of the political topic that’s being passed around to discuss, myself included, and therefore the comments that are made during the seminar regarding that political topic are just reflections of what we’ve heard on the news. They aren’t our own thoughts — they’re someone else’s opinions that people have decided to use as their own because no one has stopped to delve deeper into the topic to research it and develop individual opinions on them.
Going off of someone else’s beliefs without stopping to analyze it and decide whether that’s what you truly think or belief… that’s conformity.
Being in a group setting, like a Socratic seminar, is great — if every single person in the group only shares things they themselves believe in, and don’t take words and opinions from other people to claim as their own. Not knowing enough about a topic to argue about is okay to admit. Don’t argue passionately about something you’ve barely scratched the surface of understanding.
They are afraid because they have never gotten to know who they really are. A whole society of people afraid of the unknown in their own hearts! (Hesse 110)
Everyone can be so much more confident with themselves if they take the time to understand their core values and beliefs. With social media, news, and the internet, it’s easy to get caught up in other people’s opinions and use them as our own, but Demian has once again reminded me that not following the herd is okay when I’m doing so because I have confidence in the rightness of my beliefs, values, and opinions.
And hey, all the art I love and admire don’t follow the herd — they’re unique and offer me a new perspective on the world. If I want to create good art that resonates with people, as Hermann Hesse has so brilliantly done with Demian, then I need to learn to think for myself, because…
(Yaayyy never ending BTS references… 😆)
The Source of Fearing/Hating Others
There’s no reason to be afraid of anyone. If someone is afraid of another person, it’s because he has given this person some kind of power over him. (Hesse 30)
I put these two quotes together because they definitely relate.
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. (Hesse 91)
In these two quotes, Hesse states that the source of fearing and hating others comes from within ourselves, whether we’ve given power over another person (fear) or we see the same negative trait in another person in ourselves.
The idea of the source of fear is something I’ve thought of in the past, but the quote regarding why people hate others is really interesting to me. Right away, I can think of several things that would make that quote untrue, but I think if I only take the quote’s general idea and apply it to my thinking, I can improve a lot in terms of being a better person.
If there is a trait in someone that I don’t like, I’ll remember to consciously stop and explore whether I have that trait myself. This seems like a pretty good way to pick out things I might want to improve about myself, which, of course, ties into Demian‘s theme of “finding yourself” and constantly trying to become a better person.
How Time & Experience Influences Our Memory
There’s this moment in the novel where Sinclair narrates about a memory regarding how Demian’s face looked like both a man and a woman’s. Immediately after rememorating the moment, Sinclair says,
My memory tells me nothing more. Maybe this scene too is party made up of later impressions. (Hesse 40).
This brings me to the topic of how unreliable memories sometimes can be. I find it so interesting how I can recount all the places I traveled to and things I did the summer of seventh grade if you ask me to, but if you ask me about what I had for dinner last night… I need to think quite a bit to remember.
This scene from the book isn’t a huge life lesson — it’s more so a reminder of how fragile memory can be, and how memories can be tainted or convoluted over time. New experiences can also mix with old ones, blurring together. The only way to preserve what I think now is to write (or type) it down and keep it somewhere so that in the future, all I have to do to remember something with clarity is to read what I’ve written.
When Everything Seems to Fall Into Place
Something I’ve come to notice recently is how amazing it is when everything seems to fall into place at times. It might be as simple as reading a book that really resonates with me at that particular moment in my life, or thinking that I won’t get something I really want… just to have it fall into my outstretched hands anyways.
In the novel, Demian mentions how his moving closer to Sinclair in terms of the classroom seating arrangement merely happened because “[his] will was ready to take the opportunity as soon as it came up” (Hesse 45).
I guess people could call something like that luck — Demian calls it turning wishes into reality by wanting it to be fulfilled enough — or others could call it pure chance. Mere coincidences that something you wanted badly enough came true.
*whispers* Or it could be a hint that magic is real. 😆
Either way, it sure feels great when everything falls perfectly in place, and I will always be awed when it happens.
Accepting the Presence Good and Bad
Another main theme within Demian is accepting the presence of good and bad, which Hesse depicts mainly through Pistorius and his attempts to create the new religion of Abraxas, worshiping the god that combines good and evil.
The thing I took away from this concept is to not completely disregard that there is “evil” in this world, but not to let worry over that aspect of the world consume me, either. It’s so important for me to find good and happy things in my life to love and be passionate about, which is really the core of this blog: to spread stories that resonate with people, inspires people, or simply makes people happy.
It’s just as important for me to remember that not every single day will be the happiest day of my life, either. The acknowledgement and acceptance that good and evil is present in this world — similar to how happiness and unhappiness both flow through life — is key for me to keep in mind if I want to understand the world in its entirety.
Gaaaaah… can’t stop another Rap Monster quote from appearing!!!!!!!
“Even light is treasured more when there is darkness.”
Bravo, Rap Mon. Bravo for your deep and insightful quotes. *applause*
I’ve already talked about introversion in my post on Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, so I won’t go into much detail here, but I would like to mention that Demian talks a lot about the amazingness of solitude and thinking and, yes: being an introvert.
“We’re talking too much,” [Demian] said with unusual seriousness. “There’s no point in clever talk, none at all. It only leads you away from yourself. Going away from yourself is a sin. What a person needs to do is crawl entirely into himself, like a turtle.” (Hesse 51)
I completely agree, Demian. I completely agree. 👏
There’s no place more wonderful for me to retreat to than my mind. It’s like taking a vacation with having to move. As an introvert, I easily have the ability to comfortably retreat into my turtle shell for some peace and quiet, and I’m going to take advantage of that.
The Mindset of Me Right Now
Ready for one of the most relatable quotes I found in Demian?
I was an unusual young man then, around eighteen years old — precocious in a hundred ways but very far behind and helpless in a hundred other ways. (Hesse 88)
WOW. Hermann Hesse just summed up how I feel most of the time right now.
For me, that quote is so insanely relatable because at this stage in my life, I feel like I know so much about the world already. I’ve traveled to so many countries and have gathered enough experience that I feel extremely cultured about the world; at the same time, there’s still so much I don’t know how the places I’ve traveled to. And what about places I haven’t even been so? Even within my hometown, I feel like there’s still so much I need to explore and learn about.
And then there’s school — there are moments when I feel like I’m precocious, that I know so much about the world…. Then there are other moments when I wonder how I’m even in high school. It’s so strange how I can feel like a mature adult one moment, then feel like a child who knows near-nothing about the workings of this world in another.
At least Hesse comforts me by revealing that this is a mentality the youth living in the late 19th and early 20th centuries have experienced as well.
Ah, the struggles of youth.
The Only Time You Can Give Advice
And lastly, here is a quote that I will definitely keep in mind when I write about things on this blog:
But no matter how true I thought his words were, I could not relay them to someone else — I could not give advice that did not come from my own experience, advice that I myself didn’t feel able to follow. (Hesse 94)
Now that I’m not just writing for myself — now that I have a place to publicly publish my writing — it will always be important for me to make sure that everything I’m writing about comes from my own experiences, thoughts, and mind. If I had to choose a quote that I want to always keep in mind, it would be this one — and hopefully you read this quote and use it as inspiration to find your own voice, ideas, opinions to share with the world.
Phew! 😊 That was a really long post. I hope you enjoyed the ten life lessons I’ve learned from reading Hermann Hesse’s Demian, as well as the hilarious BTS gifs within this post. I super excited to do more BTS-related posts in the future, so look foward to that…
For now, this is what I shall be doing:
Have an awesome day, and I will cya next time!