Sinclair is the protagonist and the narrator of Demian. The book is a chronicle of his intellectual development from the time he was ten until his late teens. An older Sinclair (who is at least middle aged) tells the stories of his youth that played a key role in his personal growth. Demian recounts the story of Sinclair's interactions with Demian and a host of other characters who are instrumental in his intellectual transformation. This intellectual transformation is one that changes Demian from a religious boy who follows others' commands to a man who seeks to be aware of, and fulfill the deepest desires of, his soul.
An almost unnaturally precocious youth who first meets Sinclair while still in grade school. From early on, he is always seen as out of the ordinary. He is an outcast from society, but an immensely special outcast. He inspires Sinclair at many of the steps along his route to self-discovery. Even when the two are not together, Sinclair often feels Demian's influence. Demian is, more than anyone else, the character responsible for getting Sinclair to recognize the importance of living for himself and breaking free of societal constraints. Demian, who seems to have all this figured out at quite a young age, mentors Sinclair, remaining present in his life until he has fully matured.
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Demian's mother. An all-encompassing character, she has both male and female features, meant to symbolize her superiority and timelessness. She is not bound by the traditional societal idea of what a woman should be and for this reason she becomes Sinclair's ideal woman. She is the woman who looks like the portraits Sinclair paints. She is Sinclair's protector and, for him, the ultimate symbol of love, beauty, and perfection. Sinclair falls deeply in love with her, the combination of a romantic and a motherly figure, even before he meets her.
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A girl Sinclair sees in a park by his boarding school. She becomes a symbol of love for him and is the person whom he is inspired to try to paint. She has both male and female physical features and in this way she contains features of two realms that were thought to be opposed. She therefore symbolizes the type of life Sinclair strives to lead—one in which elements from the two seemingly opposed realms of light and darkness come together.
An organist at a church in the town of Sinclair's boarding school. Sinclair stalks him, secretly listening to him play music. They eventually meet when Sinclair follows him to a bar. He teaches Sinclair a lot about Abraxas. Pistorius is a foil for Demian—he is Sinclair's mentor during a period of time when Demian is absent from his life.
A God known to mystics in ancient times who contains both good and evil aspects. Abraxas captures Sinclair's imagination more than the Christian God, who is only a God of the good, the holy. The later part of Sinclair's preparatory school years are spent in search and study of Abraxas.
A local bully who blackmails the ten-year-old Sinclair. He is a manipulative figure, who first shatters Sinclair's innocence. Sinclair is deathly afraid of him until Demian saves Sinclair from Kromer. Throughout the book, Kromer comes up as a reminder of how Demian and Sinclair formed their early bond.
A student who seeks out Sinclair for intellectual guidance toward the end of Sinclair's time at preparatory school. Sinclair seems to find him mostly annoying and their interaction does not go very far. He is interesting because he tries to make Sinclair his mentor. Sinclair, however, is used to being the one who is mentored and is unable to make this role reversal.
A boy Sinclair meets at boarding school, who first takes him to a bar. He is the character who leads Sinclair into a world of misbehavior during his time at boarding school. He is another in a string of older, more dominating characters to whom Sinclair looks for validation.