Siddhartha is an interwar novel by Hermann Hesse. It was originally published in Germany in 1922, but was later published in America in 1951. The novel takes place between the fourth and seventh centuries BCE. The novel, Siddhartha, displays the troubles faced throughout Siddhartha’s life on his journey to find spiritual understanding of himself and the world. As a boy, Siddhartha was born a respected Brahmin; however, he begins to doubt that the religious practices of the group will help him achieve peace. Therefore, he leaves to find a different path toward nirvana.
He sees a wandering group of almost naked beggars, Samanas, looking for food and decides to experience their beliefs of rejecting the body and physical desire in order to become one with the world. After realizing that the path of selfdenial does not serve as a permanent solution for him, Siddhartha hears that a new holy man, Gotama the Buddha, has achieved enlightenment and bids his farewells to the Samanas. At Gotama’s camp, Siddhartha is taught the practices of Buddhism and the Eightfold Path until he notices that these religious beliefs with not help him find peace either.
Siddhartha decides to leave the path of meditation and religion for new experiences in the “material” world. On his new journey, Siddhartha comes across a river and a friendly ferryman, Vasudeva, who gives him a ride to the nearest city. Kamala, a courtesan, greets Siddhartha in the city and teaches him about love. A local merchant, Kamaswami, teaches Siddhartha how to be a businessman, and Siddhartha soon becomes wealthy. After many years of living an affluent life, Siddhartha recognizes that he is unhappy but continues to live a life of sex, gambling, and alcohol.
After reaching rock bottom Siddhartha has a dream through which he understands that his current lifestyle is not providing him with the enlightenment he has been longing for. He leaves the city and returns to the river. At this point Siddhartha considers drowning himself, but ends up falling asleep on the bank. When Siddhartha wakes up he senses the peace he has been looking for within Vasudeva. Vasudeva shares how he has attained enlightenment and Siddhartha eventually finds nirvana through years of studying the river. Throughout Siddhartha, Hesse utilizes Govina and Vasudeva as important major characters.
Govinda and Siddhartha are childhood friends, but their bond stretches deeper than merely acquaintances. The time they spent practicing meditation drew them closer together as children, causing Govinda to look up to Siddhartha as a role model. When Siddhartha decides to leave his home to pursue the life of a Samana, Govinda follows him in search of a greater religious identity. The two suffer the bare, desolate life of a Samana to shed reliance on food and worldly items; they learn to reject pain and search for oneness in all living things.
However, after Siddhartha and Govinda meet Buddha, Govinda begins to change. He is inspired by the Buddha’s words of salvation and new life. Thus, he decides to become a monk and follow Buddha. Although he leaves Siddhartha, Govinda reaches an important point in his development; he breaks away from his childhood to satisfy his religious needs, this time without the assistance of a friend. Towards the middle of the novel, Govinda appears to Siddhartha to guide him, both physically and emotionally, in times of need.
The final scene, during which Siddhartha and Govinda, both aged in years and experience, meet, culminates in Siddhartha bestowing some of his knowledge to Govinda. The scene illustrates the power of friendship in uniting people to make progress. Another major character is Vasudeva, the ferryman. Siddhartha stumbles across the ferryman as he pursues his mission of reaching nirvana in the beginning of the novel. Struck by the ferryman’s kindness, Siddhartha wishes the man well and continues his journey.
After falling into the ways of the world by dismissing religion and welcoming money and gambling, Siddhartha is roughly awakened and tries to rush away from the darkness of society. He wishes to start life again and deems the Vasudeva’s ferry a fitting place, as it was the vessel which transported him to a new life earlier in the novel. Vasudeva welcomes Siddhartha back, and the two characters become close friends. Siddhartha lives with Vasudeva, and Vasudeva teaches him to listen to the whispers of the river.
They run the ferry together for many years, during which Vasudeva supports and encourages Siddhartha in his religious journey. Their time comes to a close when Vasudeva passes on his legacy and departs for the forest, at which point Siddhartha runs the ferry by himself, continuing to listen to the river to attain oneness. There are also a plethora of notable minor characters, such as Buddha and Kamala, throughout the novel. Buddha is a character that exerts a great influence over Siddhartha in his religion journey. Siddhartha hears Buddha speak and is immediately aware of the Buddha’s perfection and calm demeanor.
The Buddha has learned to reject the world and its objects; he pours himself into the service and salvation of others. Due to a conversation with the Buddha, Siddhartha realizes that he must learn by again setting out into the world on his own. He cannot learn anything from the most exalted religious figure, and he will not pretend to be content with the life of a monk. Siddhartha recommits himself to religious studies, for he is now motivated to become like the Buddha in his thoughts and actions. The Buddha’s main contribution to the work is as a figure that allows Siddhartha to visualize his end goal.
Siddhartha wishes to achieve the perfection of a Buddha, and his feelings of discontent upon hearing the Buddha’s speech only reinforce his prior decisions. Kamala is another significant minor character. She transforms Siddhartha into a new man, a man who prizes worldly possessions such as clothes, shoes, and money. While Siddhartha loses his religion during this time, he is able to experience love. Initially, he is happy with his riches and relationships, but he soon craves for more. He often gambles, disregarding the consequences of losing money in a vain attempt to feel something, some genuine emotion, again.
Lost in the dark ways of the world, Siddhartha falls into a pattern of throwing himself into the world to mask his feelings of depression. Kamala supports him, but she soon tires of her life, as well. When Siddhartha is rudely awakened and leaves this life behind, Kamala never truly recovers. She finally realizes that Siddhartha impacted her in a deeper way, for he gave reason to hope. Kamala’s main contribution to the work is guiding Siddhartha through this time in his life. Despite the hardships and pain, Siddhartha eventually realizes that he had to experience the world in order to become more accepting of all people.
The whole novel, Siddhartha, is in third person point of view narrating the story of Siddhartha’s journey. In Siddhartha one of the main themes is seeking spiritual enlightenment. In the novel it is referred to as, “Nirvana,” but Siddhartha’s opinions on how, or if, it’s attainable, shift throughout the novel. The second most important theme would be discovering and utilizing his self-worth. Siddhartha, in the beginning, leaves home so that he can find Nirvana without the assistance of any material object or person.
At different times, he becomes too aggressive in trying to find Nirvana, too proud of his self wareness/intelligence, and too greedy with materialistic matters. The third theme is the man with nature. Throughout the story nature spiritually (and physically) guides him and ultimately ends up being the final lesson for him to reach unity. Lastly, the correlation between experience and knowledge is our fourth theme. Although Siddhartha was intellectual from the start, he didn’t have enough experience to solidify some of his thoughts. He used his logical thinking to reason through situations. Later on, he explored his emotional senses and naturally started using both his head and heart.
The climax occurs when Vasudeva encourages Siddhartha to listen to the river. Siddhartha concentrates intensely and is soon overwhelmed with a multitude of visions and sounds that represent all aspects of life. All of these individual sounds blend together to create one word: “Om. ” Siddhartha no longer feels suffering or pain and is left with a sense of serenity and complete understanding of the world. His realization is the climax because it is the culmination of exactly what he has been searching for. There are no more conflicts to be resolved.
It is the turning point in the story and marks the end of Siddhartha’s internal struggles. Important Quotes “Though Siddhartha fled from the self a thousand times, stayed in nothingness … the return was inevitable … when he found himself … and was once again his self and Siddhartha, and again felt the agony of the cycle which had been forced upon him” “When Siddhartha was listening attentively to this river, this song of a thousand voices, he neither listened to the suffering nor the laughter, he did not tie his soul to any particular voice and …
When he heard them all… the great song of the thousand voices consisted of a single word, which was Om: the perfection. ” “Deeply, he felt the love for the run-away in his heart, like a wound, and he felt at the same time that this wound had not been given to him in order to turn the knife in it, that it had to become a blossom and had to shine. ” Nine techniques throughout the novel: The river is a motif in the novel, for Siddhartha continually returns to the river as a place of peace and knowledge.
For example, Siddhartha is ferried across the river as he travels to Kamala’s village, and he again encounters the river when he attempts to wipe away his mistakes in the world of gambling and drinking. Contrasting settings are used throughout the novel, in the form of Kamala’s village and the forest. Kamala’s village, a setting that represents worldly prosperity and materialism, starkly contrasts with the forest, which represents religious discoveries and oneness. Buddha and Kamaswami are contrasting characters.
While Buddha is a character of the highest religious values who preaches salvation, Kamaswami focuses on personal improvement in business sphere, professing the power of gambling as a solution to the problems of life. Vasudeva and Govinda are comparable characters. Both characters encourage Siddhartha on his religious journey, and they remain supportive of the title character as he struggles to find nirvana. Each character leads Siddhartha through a different part of his life, but they both push him towards his final destination of oneness.
Recurring events can be found in the many scenes in which a character leaves a place of importance. For example, Siddhartha departs from his home and his father at the beginning of the novel in order to become a Samana. Later in the novel, Siddhartha abandons Kamala and her society to reconnect with religion. A snake is used to foreshadow Kamala’s death at the end of the novel. In the middle of the novel, Siddhartha falls into a deep sleep by a river, and when he awakes, Govinda is sitting next to him.
Govinda kept Siddhartha safe from snakes, which foreshadows Kamala’s death from a snakebite later in the novel. One important piece of vocabulary is the word “om. ” In Buddhism, “om” is a holy word and mantra which represents peace. Another crucial vocabulary word from the novel is “brahman,” or a Buddhist priest. Brahmans are situated at the top of the Hindu Caste System. Lastly, “samana” is an integral word to the understanding of the novel. A Samana is a wandering monk from India.