Existentialism in Demian and Crime and Punishment

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Existentialism is fairly common in literature, despite being a relatively new school of thought, and both Demian and Crime and Punishment show existentialist traits. This gives each book not just a philosophy, but also a certain feeling and mindset.

Existentialism starts that with the idea that existence precedes essence, or purpose. We come into this world without a purpose, and we simply exist. Our task is to find a purpose. The world around us is an alien chaos, a circus that we stumble through, trying to find a meaning for our life.

In Demian, it is clear that Sinclair does not know his purpose. His struggle is to find out what it is. Jean-Paul Sartre says, "Life has no meaning a priori…it's up to you to give it a meaning." Hesse declares that "[e]ach man had only one genuine vocation—to find the way to himself…. His task was to discover his own destiny" (Hesse, 132). It is clear, then, that we come into the world with nothing, no purpose at all. The only genuine task we have is to figure out what we are going to do here.

According to Existentialism, no one can find it for you, and, similarly, no doctrine or philosophy can find it for you. Sinclair learns these same lessons. Demian pulls Sinclair away from mainstream religion early in the story, saying that the division of good and evil has no real meaning. Later, Pistorius tries to teach Sinclair about myriad past religions, but Sinclair rejects him, feeling that he should try to come up with something original instead. Throughout the story, Sinclair engages in different mentor-pupil relationships (like his relationships with Demian and Pistorius) but eventually he shrugs those off, taking his friends' wisdom with him and facing the world alone. That is what everyone must do, eventually—face the world alone.

And alone is exactly how we feel, as we stumble through this circus of a world. Sinclair spends most of his time not just feeling but also being by himself, adrift. When he...
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