My favorite book when I was 16/17, given to me by someone very special and very dear, who 'entrusted' me with her copy.
Demian about the story of Cain and Abel:
Demian about the story of Cain and Abel:
We walked on. I felt very self-conscious. Suddenly
Demian laughed as though something had struck him as
"Yes, when we had class together," he burst out. "The
story of Cain who has that mark on his forehead. Do you
No, I didn't. It was rare for me to like anything we had
to learn. Yet I didn't dare confess it, for I felt I was being
addressed by an adult. 1 said I didn't much mind the story.
Demian slapped me on the back.
"You don't have to put on an act for me. But in fact the
story is quite remarkable. It's far more remarkable than
most stories we're taught in school. Your teacher didn't
go into it at great lengths. He just mentioned the
usual things about God and sin and so forth. But I be-
lieve—" He interrupted himself and asked with a smile:
"Does this interest you at all?"
"Well, I think," he went on, "one can give this story
about Cain quite a different interpretation. Most of the
things we're taught I'm sure are quite right and true, but
one can view all of them from quite a different angle than
the teachers do—and most of the time they then make
better sense- For instance, one can't be quite satisfied with
this Cain and the mark on his forehead, with the way it's
explained to us. Don't you agree? It's perfectly possible
for someone to kill his brother with a stone and to panic
and repent. But that he's awarded a special decoration for
his cowardice, a mark that protects him and puts the fear
of God into all the others, that's quite odd, isn't it?"
"Of course," I said with interest: the idea began to fas-
cinate me. "But what other way of interpreting the story is
He slapped me on the shoulder.
"It's quite simple! The first element of the story, its
actual beginning, was the mark. Here was a man with
something in his face that frightened the others. They
didn't dare lay hands on him; he impressed them, he and
his children. We can guess—no, we can be quite certain—
that it was not a mark on his forehead like a postmark—
life is hardly ever as clear and straightforward as that. It
is much more likely that he struck people as faintly sinister,
perhaps a little more intellect and boldness in his look
than people were used to. This man was powerful: you
would approach him only with awe. He had a 'sign.' You
could explain this any way you wished. And people always
want what is agreeable to them and puts them in the right.
They were afraid of Cain's children: they bore a 'sign.'
So they did not interpret the sign for what it was—a mark
of distinction—but as its opposite. They said: "Those
fellows with the sign, they're a strange lot'—and indeed
they were. People with courage and character always seem
sinister to the rest. It was a scandal that a breed of fearless
and sinister people ran about freely, so they attached a
nickname and myth to these people to get even with them,
to make up for the many times they had felt afraid—do
you get it?"
"Yes—that is—in that case Cain wouldn't have been
evil at all? And the whole story in the Bible is actually not
"Yes and no. Such age-old stories are always true but
they aren't always properly recorded and aren't always
given correct interpretations. In short, I mean Cain was a
fine fellow and this story was pinned on him only because
people were afraid. The story was simply a rumor, some-
thing that people gab about, and it was true in so far as
Cain and his children really bore a kind of mark and were
different from most people."
I was astounded.
"And do you believe that the business about killing his
brother isn't true either?" I asked, entranced.
"Oh, that's certainly true. The strong man slew a
weaker one. It's doubtful whether it was really his brother.
But it isn't important. Ultimately all men are brothers. So,
a strong man slew a weaker one: perhaps it was a truly
valiant act, perhaps it wasn't. At any rate, all the other
weaker ones were afraid of him from then on, they com-
plained bitterly and if you asked them: 'Why don't you
turn around and slay him, too?* they did not reply 'Be-
cause we're cowards,* but rather 'You can't, he has a sign.
God has marked him/ The fraud must have originated
some way like that.—Oh well, I see I'm keeping you. So
He turned into the Altgasse and left me standing there,
more baffled than 1 had ever been in my life. Yet, almost
as soon as he had gone, everything he had said seemed in-
credible. Cain a noble person, Abel a coward! Cam's-mark
a mark of distinction! It was absurd, it was blasphemous
and evil. How did God fit in in that case? Hadn't He
accepted the sacrifice of Abel? Didn't He love Abel? No,
what Demian had said was completely crazy. And I sus-
pected that he had wanted to make fun of me and make me
lose my footing. He was clever all right, and he could talk,
but he couldn't put that one over, not on me!
I had never before given as much thought to a biblical
story or to any other story. And for a long time I had not
forgotten Franz Kromer as completely; for hours, for a
whole evening in fact. At home I read the story once more
as written in the Bible. It was brief and unambiguous; it
was quite mad to look for a special, hidden meaning. At
that rate every murderer could declare that he was God's
darling! No, what Demian had said was nonsense. What
pleased me was the ease and grace with which he was
able to say such things, as though everything were self-
evident; and then the look in his eyes!
Something was very wrong with me, though; my life
was in very great disorder. I had lived in a wholesome and
clean world, had been a kind of Abel myself, and now I
was stuck deeply in the "other world," had fallen and sunk
very low—yet it hadn't basically been my fault! How was I
to consider that? And now a memory flashed within me
that for a moment almost left me breathless. On that fatal
evening when my misery had begun, there had been that
matter with my father. There, for a moment, I had seen
through him and his world of light and wisdom and had
felt nothing but contempt for it. Yes, at that moment I,
who was Cain and bore the mark, had imagined that this
sign was not a mark of shame and that because of my
evil and misfortune 1 stood higher than my father and the
pious, the righteous.
I had not experienced the moment in this form, in
clearly expressed thoughts, but all of this had been con-
tained within it; it had been the eruption of emotions, of
strange stirrings, that hurt me yet filled me with pride at
the same time.
When I considered how strangely Demian had talked
about the fearless and the cowardly, what an unusual
meaning he had given the mark Cain bore on his forehead,
how his eyes, his remarkable adult eyes had lit up, the
question flashed through my mind whether Demian himself
was not a kind of Cain. Why does he defend Cam unless
he feels an affinity with him? Why does he have such a
powerful gaze? Why does he speak so contemptuously of
the "others," of the timid who actually are the pious, the
chosen ones of the Lord?