In Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, the protagonist, Siddhartha, endures a wearisome quest for Nirvana. All his life, Siddhartha had been told to refrain from allowing the six Ripus to besiege him, with their lustful features. Although very knowledgeable, Siddhartha does not feel fulfilled and wishes to enter Maya to become one with his Atman. He believes that enlightenment can only be attained through experience, rather than through the words of others. Hesse suggests that knowledge is communicable, but wisdom must be gained from experience. Hesse conveys this message through figurative language, foils, allusions, and symbols.
Hesse’s theme in regards to knowledge only being communicable, and that true wisdom can only be acquired from trial and error, is evident in the figurative language that he uses so eloquently. Shortly after Siddhartha embraces the enduring Samanas, he realizes that completely denying the six Ripus is folly and will not break the endless cycle of Samsara. In one instance, Siddhartha tells his close friend, Govinda, that the methods of the Samanas are merely “tricks with which we deceive ourselves” (Page 16).
This metaphor makes reference to the Samana’s great will to tolerate great pain and suffering. It is apparent that Siddhartha no longer wants to live the life of a vagabond, because he believes that self-mutilation will get him no closer to Nirvana. After his departure from the Samanas, Siddhartha’s quest brings him to the Jetavana grove, which is home to the Buddha. Siddhartha is mystified by the Buddha’s words, which carried to his listeners “like a star in the heavens,” (Page 23).
Published in 1922, Siddhartha is the most famous and influential novel by Nobel prize-winning German author Hermann Hesse. Though set in India, the concerns of Siddhartha are universal, expressing Hesse's general interest in the conflict between mind, body, and spirit. While people have contemplated this conflict since the beginning of existence, it took on a special importance for Hesse. ...
Hesse uses a lofty simile to describe the holiness and incredible influence of the Buddha’s words, to make it all the more surprising that Siddhartha rejects the teachings. According to Siddhartha, he could never accept the wondrous words of the Buddha because he believes that self discovery can only come through experience. “The world was sick,” (Page 17) with the new promises of the Buddha, and yet they could not sway the judgment of the young Brahmin. Hesse continues to engrave Siddhartha’s conviction that Nirvana is only reachable by way of experience, using personification. Once again, Hesse applies personification, only this time to the river. Vasudeva informs Siddhartha that “the river has taught” (Page 86) him to listen, giving the river a human characteristic. By experiencing and understanding the ever changing river, Siddhartha can finally become one with Atman. Herman Hesse clearly elucidates the theme with impeccable figurative language.
Govinda, the foil of Siddhartha, is used by Herman Hesse to further convey the theme. Govinda is employed in Hesse’s work to reveal a more in depth analysis of Siddhartha’s character, and to show a possibly different scenario. Both men seek self discovery but do so in different ways. Govinda is seen as a “companion,” and a “shadow” (Page 2) in the eyes of Siddhartha. The qualities of Siddhartha are highly acclaimed by Govinda, which is why he “wanted to follow Siddhartha, the beloved, the magnificent,” (Page 2) on his journey with the Samanas. Govinda believes that he can learn how to break the cycle of Samsara as a disciple of Siddhartha. However, upon hearing of the Buddha, Govinda is astounded and immediately is “filled with longing” to “hear the teachings from the lips of the Perfect One” (Page 18).
Clearly, Siddhartha’s silhouette is eager to be taught through the infectious words of others, rather than gain wisdom on his own, through trial and error. Contrary to the ideologies of Govinda, Siddhartha refuses to be a disciple to another man. Siddhartha deems that “nobody finds salvation through teachings” (Page 27).
Siddhartha Plot Analysis Siddhartha decides to join the Samanas." Tomorrow morning, my friend, Siddhartha is going to join the Samanas. He is going to become a Samana." Govinda blanched as he heard these words and read the decision in his friends. Determined face, undeviating as the released arrow from the bow. Govinda realized from the first glance at his friends face that it was now beginning. ...
A split amongst the two Brahmins occurs; Govinda stays with the Illustrious One, and Siddhartha continues his search for his Atman. Siddhartha feels as though the Buddha had “robbed me of my friend” (Page 29).
During their separation, Siddhartha experiences Samsara through the unreliable dice, Kamala’s enticing body, and Kamaswami’s deceitfulness. Meanwhile, Govinda remains adept in the ascetics and becomes a loyal student of the Buddha. Herman Hesse creates a noticeable contrast between the two men during their next meeting. While Siddhartha is clad up in the attire of a rich man, Govinda is dressed in a simple gown. It is apparent that neither of the two men have attained Nirvana, although they have endured very different paths. Siddhartha underwent a trial of experience and error, and Govinda endured the simple life of a Brahmin via the teachings of the Buddha. Because of Govinda’s role as a foil of Siddhartha, it shows that Siddhartha would be no better off if he had followed the Buddha. The theme of knowledge being incommunicable and wisdom being gained through experience is once again established with Govinda as a foil.
Another way in which Herman Hesse demonstrates the theme is with allusions. Hesse invokes an obvious allusion with the river that Siddhartha frequently crosses to enter two entirely different worlds. This stream alludes to the River Styx, which is located in the underworld, according to Greek Mythology. The River Styx separates the world of the living from the world of the deceased. This is a symbolic representation of the river in Siddhartha. In order for Siddhartha to depart from the world of the ascetics and into the world of impurities, he must cross the river. Hercules is one of the few mortals to ever cross the River Styx, and return, according to Greek Mythology. On the opposite side of the River Styx dwells the infamous three-headed dog, Cerberus, as a sentinel and enforcer of the souls. Just as Hercules must overcome Cerberus before he can escape to the light, Siddhartha must overcome Kamala’s sexual grasp before he may return to his days of piety. Siddhartha’s trying venture into the world of impurities leaves him on the verge of committing suicide. “Fatigue and hunger had weakened him,” (Page 71) where as before he claimed “I can think, I can wait, I can fast” (Page 46).
In the days of Siddhartha, there were different ways of achieving the Enlightenment. Learning about the Enlightenment couldn't be taught with words, but can be taught mentally, and individually. Siddhartha went on a voyage to achieve enlightenment and finally learned about it. It all takes place in ancient India where he lived with his father who is a Brahmin. Siddhartha was a handsome man who ...
He wishes for the “fishes and crocodiles to devour him,” (Page 71) on account of his sinful past. The drifting souls of the underworld acquire knowledge from the wise ferryman, Charon. Similarly, Siddhartha gains knowledge from his mentor and guide, Vasudeva, who is also a ferryman. Vasudeva teaches Siddhartha to love and cherish the river. He teaches him that “the river knows everything,” and “one can learn everything from it” (Page 86).
There was no river as sacred and beloved as the River Styx to the Greek Gods. Likewise, Siddhartha is taught the river’s significance, being the source of life. Hesse’s profound allusion to the River Styx is simply another way to show that knowledge is communicable, and wisdom comes from experience.
Herman Hesse masterfully uses figurative language, foils, and allusions to reveal that knowledge is communicable, but wisdom must be gained from experience.
Siddhartha’s struggle to discover Nirvana has a universal appeal because its theme is typical in modern society. Siddhartha’s experience teaches us not to always live life by the book. It is good to go out into the world and discover things for yourself by making mistakes and learning from them.