Summary and Analysis
Chapter 5 - The Bird Fights Its Way Out of the Egg
One day, shortly after mailing the painting, during a break between classes, Sinclair notices a note tucked into one of his books. Recognizing that the note is folded in a special manner peculiar to his classmates, he does not immediately open it. During his next lesson, while obviously "daydreaming," Sinclair opens the note. He is struck dumb by its message: "The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born must first destroy a world. The bird flies to God. That God's name is Abraxas." Sinclair interprets the note as being Demian's response to his gift of the painting. A logical question now arises. How did Demian get the note into Sinclair's book, and even if he did, how did he know how to fold it in the special manner of Sinclair's classmates? The answer can be approached in two different ways which provide insight on two different levels.
As the chapter progresses, Sinclair is startled out of his reverie (caused by the note) when his teacher mentions the name Abraxas during a lecture on Herodotus. Abraxas is the name of an ancient Gnostic deity. It is not, however, referred to in the writings of Herodotus. The young teacher, Dr. Follens, has just completed his university training. It has been mentioned previously in the novel that Demian is somewhere attending a university. Perhaps the young instructor is the messenger who delivered the message. Possibly he has had some contact with Demian. If such contact has occurred, it could explain the oddity of the messages of the note and the corresponding lecture.
Another way of viewing this strange episode is to reflect upon the past emphasis on the "dream" aspect or potential unreality of some of the previous events. Possibly, this whole sequence of events took place only in Sinclair's mind. Maybe he actually wrote the note himself in one of his dreamlike moments. or maybe it didn't even exist outside of his dream world. This becomes the noticeable beginning of a sequence of events when Demian (self) and, later, his mother (anima) become increasingly internalized within Sinclair, thus indicating Sinclair's process of attaining a harmony of his various parts. This has been hinted at from the beginning when, in his amazement at Demian's ability to see inside others, Emil stated that it was as if Demian knew more about him than he himself. Perhaps, then, Demian is, or has become, Emil's own unconscious. Hesse himself offered a comment about trying to rationally analyze the characters of Demian and Frau Eva when he stated that they were figures who "encompass and signify far more than is accessible to rational consideration; they are magical conjurations."
Abraxas becomes the second important symbol of this novel. Abraxas is Demian's answer to the previously stated problem of a God who represents an arbitrarily selected half of the world. Abraxas is a deity who serves to unite the entire world, the light and the dark, the godly and the devilish. He does not represent either; rather, he is the affirmation of both.
Sinclair experiences an intensification of his sexual drive. His longing for meaningful love seems hopeless. Sinclair again retreats into his dream world, which has become as active during his waking hours as during his sleep. A new dream occurs which he explicitly and emphatically identifies as the most significant dream of his life.
In this dream, Sinclair is entering his father's house beneath the heraldic hawk on the escutcheon. His mother is walking toward him with outstretched arms. As they are about to embrace, she suddenly changes. She now resembles Demian or, more accurately, Emil's portrait. Sinclair is taken, enveloped in a passionate embrace which leaves him with feelings of both ecstasy and horror. He sees the embrace as both a crime and an act of worship. Utterly confused, he awakens, sometimes elated, sometimes guilt ridden. Here the motif of incest is clearly presented. One of the strongest taboos of every human society has been touched upon. It should be pointed out, however, that the dream is not of actual incest. Later, it will become more clear that the female figure is not Sinclair's mother but, rather, Demian.
Jung, in discussing the sun myth, which can be related to the Gnostic god Abraxas, explains that the basis of incestuous desire lies in the wish to become a child once more, to return to the protective womb of the mother for rebirth. This, however, is forbidden because the mother's body would have to be entered in order for the impregnation necessary for the reproduction of oneself to occur. The rebirth myths invent various substitutes for the mother in order to prevent the libido from sinking to actual incest. Hesse will, therefore, replace and make clear that the figure in question is Demian's mother and that the desire shown in the dream is symbolic rather than actual. Frau Eva will represent various things but mostly what her name indicates, the concept of a universal mother.
Sinclair is now near the end of high school and is soon to enter the university. Despite his adequacy as a student, however, he is still plagued by a lack of direction. His only goal is to come to terms with himself. Through his narration, it is obvious that despite his sense of futility, he has progressed a great deal. Emil actually now possesses some of the traits peculiar to Demian when he was first introduced to him. Sinclair also can intuitively analyze people and occasionally startles his fellow students with his mystical skills.
Still in the habit of taking evening walks to pass the time, Sinclair is attracted one night to a small church by the sound of some rather unorthodox organ music. After listening outside for a number of nights, he finally gains enough courage to follow the organist to a tavern. During the conversation with the organist, Pistorius, Sinclair states that the quality he admires most about his music is its amorality: It combines both heaven and hell, and he associates it with Abraxas, whose name he mentions.
Pistorius, the son of a respected clergyman, and a renegade theologian himself, is shocked by Sinclair's mention of Abraxas and is further drawn to Emil. Pistorius is also familiar with Abraxas; in fact, he knows a great deal about him, which he promises to discuss with Sinclair at a later time. During the course of an evening at the house of the organist's father, Pistorius explains his interest in studying all religions and his fascination concerning what sorts of gods people have created. His viewpoint of religion as mythology is what has made it inappropriate for him to serve as a clergyman. It is here in his room, before the fireplace, that Pistorius teaches Sinclair the art of meditation.
At their next meeting, Pistorius assumes his role as a psychologist, again utilizing Jung's concept of the collective unconscious. Many critics have stated that Hesse is actually portraying his own period of psychoanalysis and that Pistorius represents, in actuality, Dr. J. B. Lang. Pistorius teaches Sinclair that all human possibilities and potentialities are contained within each one of us. Sinclair's reaction to this is to question. If all things are complete within us, why do we keep striving? The answer Pistorius provides is that most people are simply unaware that completeness and potential exist. It is this very awareness that should be sought.
The psychological skills of Pistorius also include the interpreting of dreams. Sinclair's dream of fear, at finding himself able to fly, is interpreted by Pistorius. The ability to fly in dreams is common to many people. Its source is our own innate awareness of our power. However, most people are afraid to recognize their own potential and thus refuse to fly. The earth offers more security. Others become too exhilarated with the free feeling and soar off into infinity and are subsequently labeled insane. Still others, like Demian and Sinclair, become aware of their power and develop means to harness it and use it effectively. The means of control, however, is not invented; it comes from within. Pistorius concludes with an analogy of certain types of fish which possess a type of air bladder which can function as a type of lung left, a relic ages ago, still remaining after thousands of years of evolution.