Summary and Analysis
Chapter 6 - Jacob Wrestling
At the onset of chapter six, Emil Sinclair is a young man of eighteen. Because of the teachings of Pistorius, he has learned a great deal about self-acceptance and self-reliance, as well as about human nature in a more universal sense. With Pistorius, Sinclair has been very open, sharing his inner feelings and dreams. There is one exception, though. Sinclair has never told Pistorius about his one dark dream, the haunting dream of his return home and of the forbidden embrace of the half-masculine, half-motherly figure.
Pistorius continues to encourage Sinclair to listen to his dreams, to seek after them, and above all, not to fear them. Much earlier, Demian had told Sinclair that he had to learn what was permitted and what was forbidden for him individually. This brought up the concept of individual morality and Emil's statement that evil acts are not justified simply because they exist. Sinclair questioned whether a wrong such as murder could be justified. Demian did not provide a definite answer at that time, saying only that Sinclair had to sense and do what he thought he should do. Pistorius and Sinclair also touch upon this concept.
This time, however, it is discussed from a psychological point-of-view rather than as a purely philosophical concept. Concerning the justification of murder, Pistorius claims that, at times, it could be permissible although most often not. He tells Sinclair that he must discern whether or not such urges are simply Abraxas interacting with the individual. His rationale is that if an individual hates another so much that he wants to kill him, it is usually because there is some specific characteristic in the other person that he hates. Pistorius adds that the hatred is directed toward that specific aspect which is also present in the person himself. What is not part of ourselves doesn't bother us. Therefore murder would be a mistake. Again though, Pistorius stresses that all of reality is relative to the individual.
During his final term in high school, Sinclair is suddenly approached one day by a younger student named Knauer. Knauer has been carefully observing Sinclair and is aware of his unique qualities, his "mark of Cain." It is Knauer's desire to befriend Sinclair and to learn whatever Sinclair can teach him, while he himself offers some interesting concepts to Emil. Knauer knows a bit about the mystical world and such things as white magic. Knauer's deepest problem is his fear of his own sexuality. He expresses his belief that continence is necessary for spiritual purity. Sinclair disagrees with this idea. Although he has never had any sort of sexual contact with a woman, he feels that he should and would have sex under the proper conditions, namely mutual love. Sinclair informs Knauer that he can tell him nothing; he must find his own way by listening to his inner voice. Disappointed and disillusioned, young Knauer leaves in a fit of anger after insulting Sinclair.
After painting another picture, once again in a dreamlike state, of his dark dream image, Sinclair begins to worship it. The words of the biblical Jacob exhorting the blessing of the angel he has wrestled into submission come to Emil's mind. This partly explains the significance of the chapter title. Emil is clinging to the figure he has imprisoned on canvas and is asking its blessing. During this particular trance, Sinclair's mind flashes to the remote past, even pre-existence, and then to the future.
Waking from his deep sleep, he finds the painting mysteriously missing. He is unable to remember what happened to it but thinks he might have burned it, and that possibly in his dream he burned it in his palm and then ate the ashes. The most probable answer is that the painting existed only in Sinclair's mind.
Restless, Sinclair ventures into the night and finds himself hurriedly drawn through the town by some unidentifiable force until he arrives at a new, partially constructed building. The setting is reminiscent of Sinclair's earlier liaison with Kromer. Here, inside the building, he finds the student Knauer, cowering in the dark, waiting for daybreak to implement his plan of suicide. Sinclair has saved Knauer's life. There is no rational explanation for this event. However, keeping in mind the chapter title, the occurrence seems fitting because Jacob also saved a life through his struggle with the angel. Once again Sinclair's progression, both inward and upward, is apparent through this scene, which is comparable to Demian's earlier salvation of Emil.
In the subsequent conversations with Pistorius, Sinclair learns a great deal more about religions. He learns about Abraxas, reads from the Vedas, and even speaks the sacred "Om." Shortly, however, Sinclair realizes that he has absorbed all the knowledge that Pistorius has to offer. Knowledge is communicable, but wisdom is not. Pistorius has been of great value in presenting knowledge, but when one considers Pistorius's utilizing or living all that he endorses, Pistorius is a failure. Unable to resist a sudden impulse caused by a moment of frustration, Sinclair blurts out this opinion to Pistorius, deeply wounding him and causing a breach between the two which will never really heal. Despite his immediate guilt feelings, Sinclair is unable to apologize because he feels the fundamental truth of what he had said. Thus, the student has surpassed his teacher.
Sinclair comes to believe that each individual has but one real function in life: He must find the way to himself. What his vocation might turn out to be, or whether the person turns out good or evil is of no real consequence. The important concern is simply for the individual to seek his own destiny. Any other approach to life leads to shallowness and unfulfillment.