Demian – Chapter 5

One day in class, Sinclair finds a note has been left for him. It says, “The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born first must destroy a world. The bird flies to God. That Gods name is Abraxas.” Though the letter is unsigned, Sinclair is sure that it is from Demian. Sinclair is distracted from the lesson, but perks up when he hears the teacher mention Abraxas. Abraxas, the instructor explains, can be thought of as a “godhead” who represents a unification of the divine and the satanic.
About this time, Sinclair has a recurring dream. In it, he returns to his parents home and sees the sparrow hawk, illuminated above the house. His mother approaches him, but as he reaches to hug her, he sees that it is not his mother, but rather someone who looks like Demian and his painting.
Realizing that he will soon enter university, Sinclair thinks about his future. He sees that he does not have a set plan as those who are sure they want to become Doctors, Lawyers, or Businessmen. Rather, he wants to simply “live in accord with the promptings” of his “true self.” He wonders why this is so difficult to do. As the months progress, Sinclair becomes lonelier, though more and more confident in his relations with his peers.
Walking around town, Sinclair occasionally notices a small church from which organ music emanates. One day, passing by the church, Sinclair hears the music and stays outside to listen. He does this many more times in the following weeks, secretly listening to the organist play. One night he decides to follow the organist as he leaves the church. Sinclair trails him to a bar and sits down with him, uninvited. They begin to talk and Sinclair brings up Abraxas. Pistorius, the organist, takes a great interest in hearing this and questions Sinclair about how and what he knows about Abraxas. Sinclair tells him briefly of his experience and of the note he recently received from Demian. Pistorius invites him to come sit inside the church and listen to him play.
At their next encounter, Pistorius takes Sinclair to his home. He explains that he used to be a student of theology, but that he had since stopped and was something of the rebel of his family. They then meditate by the fireplace. On their next encounter, Pistorius presents Demian with an idea about human personalities. He says that people define their personalities too narrowly, taking note only of the traits that deviate from the norm. In fact, he argues, our personalities contain a vast wealth of information, containing all “that once was alive in the soul of men.”
The older Sinclair comments that his conversations with Pistorius never introduced him to radically new ideas. However, they did help him see things a bit more clearly and think a bit more independently. Often, he says, he would tell Pistorius of his dreams and Pistorius would help him understand their significance. Pistorius was helping him to further break free.
The note Sinclair receives from Demian at the beginning of this chapter ties together the imagery of the sparrow hawk with the theme of the two realms. In the note, the bird is portrayed as flying to Abraxas. As we learn later in the chapter, Abraxas is a god of both good and evil. Since the bird represents that aspect of Sinclair that is yearning to break free, this image recommends that in order to be truly free, Sinclair must embrace and exalt all of the tendencies of his personality—both those that people consider “good” and those they consider “evil.”
Demians dream is laden with important imagery. The “heraldic bird” glowing above his house represents an awakening of the drive to break free. It is important that the bird is on his parents home because it is this home from which he is breaking free. That his mother morphs into a figure that looks like Demian signifies that he is replacing his mother with someone else. His parents and their world of light are being supplanted by the ideals of Demians world, where good and evil come together and all elements of the world are celebrated.
When Sinclair admits that he wants to “live in accord with the promptings” of his “true self,” he has noticeably reached a very important stage in his intellectual development. He cognitively recognizes that he wants his desire—his “true self,” rather than religion or his parents world of light, to determine how he acts. Though he has not yet fully actualized this way of living, the fact that he recognizes his attraction to this way of life is an important first step in leading that life. Intellectually, he has broken free.
Even though Pistorius represents yet another character to whom Demian looks for guidance and approval, his relationship with Sinclair differs significantly from Sinclairs relationship with Demian. Pistorius is the closest thing in the book to a foil for Demian, as he teaches Sinclair and helps him to develop. Though Sinclair takes an interest in both Pistorius and Demian prior meeting them, Demian approaches the boy Sinclair, whereas Sinclair seeks out Pistorius. By the time he is nearing the end of preparatory school, Sinclair has grown substantially more independent and willful.
The discussion about human personality toward the end of the chapter bears interesting connections to other ideas that are developed in Demian. First, it is in the same spirit as the notion of Abraxas, the all-encompassing God that Sinclair has been pondering. Here, instead of God, it is Sinclairs idea of human personality that is being enlarged. Just as he came to see that there is more to God than holiness, here he is coming to see that there is much more to the human personality than merely quirky, random characteristics. Man is powerful and he can do anything so long as he can tap into the right part of his personality. Demian has counseled Sinclair that if someone wants something enough, he will be able to accomplish it. If mans personality conforms to Pistorius description, then this provides a mechanism whereby man could accomplish many great things—namely, he would have to reach back into the vast untapped resources of his personality.