Many plays and novels use contrasting places to represent opposed forces or ideas that are central to the meaning of the work. In Hermann Hesse's Demian, the author introduces the concept of two diametrically opposed worlds through which the protagonist must travel in order to obtain enlightenment. Although Emil Sinclair initially sees the realms as mutually exclusive and attempts to conform entirely to the world of "light" as opposed to the world of "darkness," he, through the guidance of Demian, comes to the realization that both worlds coexist in every individual, and those with what Demian refers to as the "mark of Cain" manage to straddle both worlds. These two extremes thus contribute to the meaning of the work as a whole by serving as two poles through which Sinclair must progress, contrasting forces that permeate the characters, and a hybrid philosophical conglomeration that characterizes the enlightenment that Hesse seeks.

Hesse establishes this motif of darkness and light in the novel's opening pages - "Two worlds and night issued from two poles." From the outset, the author intimates that all unenlightened souls must dwell in only one of the realms, shown by the archetypes found in the first chapters such as Sinclair's family, Franz Kromer, and the narrator himself. Sinclair describes the world of light - the realm in which he initially believes himself to belong exclusively - as the home of "mother and father, love and severity, exemplary manners, and school." He sees the rest of the corrupt society as existing in the alien "other world," "a motley flow of uncanny, tempting, frightening, puzzling things." However, Sinclair's rite of passage eventually leads him to confront this threatening world of darkness directly.

Before the character embraces his all-encompassing Abraxis mentality, he vacillates wildly between the extremes symbolized by each force. As Sinclair's station in life matures, he evolves from naiveté in the world of light to drunken hedonism in the realm of darkness. Ironically, however, the objects of the character's fluctuating obsessions follow a different progression, beginning with the stereotypical bully Franz Kromer as Sinclair futilly grips the world of his parents, and leading to the maiden Beatrice as he languishes in the throes of worldliness. However, once he encounters the embodiments of both worlds in Max Demian and the matriarchal Frau Eva, Sinclair realizes that a spiritual conquering of the world must encompass both extremes. Thus, the two worlds provide the foundations through which the character must evolve, as well as the forces of good and evil that must manifest themselves in each individual.

With the introduction of Hesse's unique conception of Abraxis, he reveals that the two worlds permeate every aspect of the universe, and ideas, such as Christianity and the Bible, that may initially seem to exist only in one of the two realms in actuality manifest themselves in both, as symbolized by the novel's two disparate portrayals of the story of Cain and Abel. Sinclair himself experiences this dichotomy even as he grasps at the realm of his parents - in order to remain in this supposedly idealistic world, he must tell lies about his dealings with Kromer. As the character encounters the personification of these ideas in the morally ambiguous Demian and Abraxis' apotheosis in the all-encompassing Frau Eva, Sinclair, and therefore the reader, receives the ultimate revelation of the mark of Cain and unencumbered control of his destiny. Hesse seems to mirror T.S. Eliot's conception in Murder in the Cathedral of fate as an ever-spinning (and absolute) wheel over which the embracer of both worlds has complete control.

Thus, this portrayal of the two worlds demonstrates the opposite poles that individuals must straddle, the incongruous forces that grip the characters, and the synthesis of good and evil that Hesse's nearly Nietzschean Übermensch must represent. The author's own conception of the superman therefore embraces both Demian and Frau Eva, as well as Abraxis and the alternate take on the will to power that the entity represents.

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