In Other Words: Symbolically Representing Transformation
A physical transformation is an incredible thing to watch. Whether it is a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, or a child growing up, it is always interesting to see the “before and after”. In the novel, Demian, the character Sinclair goes through a series of transformations prompted by his ongoing relationship with the Demian family. During the novel, these transformations are not stated directly, rather, they are shown through symbols including Eva and the bird emerging from its egg.
Although both of the symbols of transformation in the book are manifested as visual occurrences, the one that is closer to us is that one that involves Eva. This is due to the fact that she is human and we can better see this vision in our minds than that of the nebulous god, Abraxas. It is a well known fact that Hesse learned of the ideas set forth by Jung through his relationships with psychologists. While writing Demian, Hesse mimicked Jung in that the symbols he presented were suggestive analogies1. In the image of Eva, we see through Hesse’s narrative, stars and asteroids shooting across the sky when released from the confines of the woman’s skull. The deeper meaning here, is the landmark of Sinclair’s first try at serious self-determination. Remember, as a result of this vision, Sinclair is reunited with Demian, the person he was longing to see at the time. This is very similar to the methods Max Demian used in chapter three to force the Confirmation teacher to allow a change of seats. The events described in this vision can also be given a rational explanation such as the shooting stars were really mortars streaking across the sky, but it does not matter what the actual apparition consisted of because it is what the vision symbolized that is pertinent to the story.
The vision of the bird tearing free from it’s shell as seen in the clouds by Sinclair is really the symbol for the god, Abraxas entering Sinclair’s life. The vision, however, does this in a round-a-bout manner. The primary purpose of the vision is to herald the outbreak of World War I2 which in turn means the coming of Abraxas. To prove this, we must go back to the definition of Abraxas given by the professor on page 95 of the novel. Abraxas is a Greek god, whose purpose is to unify the good and the evil, the passionate and the pure. This describes war exactly. The goodness in victory, the evil in defeat, the passion of the fight, the purity of the ideals, are all parts of the battle during the Great War. So when we see the image of the chick and the egg one last time, it signals Sinclairs true entry into the world of dualism.
In conclusion, it must be noted that both of these images were symbols and nothing more. Because we can no longer ask the original author, there are no correct answers as to what the symbolic meanings of these aparitions were meant to be. We can only do our best, which is to make a conjecture after some study of the work that is tangent to Demain, a very intense novel.
Field, George Wallis, “Demian and the Symbols of Transformation,”
Herman Hesse. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1970