Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Siddhartha, a Brahman’s son, tall and handsome. He decides in his youth to seek enlightenment. As a result of this quest, he and his friend Govinda leave their comfortable homes and join a group of wandering ascetics, the Samanas. Later, they go to hear the Buddha. Although Siddhartha admires the man, he feels that the life of this monk is not what he is seeking, so he leaves. In his wanderings, he sees a beautiful courtesan and decides that he must know her. She sends him to a merchant to learn a trade. While she teaches him about love, the merchant teaches him about business. By the time he reaches the age of forty, he realizes that he has not found enlightenment. He wanders into the forest, where he meets a ferryman. He stays with him and finally achieves enlightenment by listening to the songs of the river.
Govinda, a monk. A childhood friend of Siddhartha, he insists on accompanying him and joining a group of wandering ascetics. When he hears the Buddha speak, he decides that he must remain with this man, and the friends part. Much later, he encounters a wealthy man sleeping in the woods and stands guard over him until he awakes. It is only then that he discovers that it is his old friend Siddhartha. He is surprised at the changes he finds but makes no judgments. In old age, after the death of the Buddha, he hears of a ferryman who is considered a sage and a holy man, and he goes to see him....
(The entire section is 600 words.)
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The Characters (Masterplots II: World Fiction Series)
In keeping with this novel of ideas, all the major characters in the novel, with the exception of the merchant Kamaswami, are spiritual seekers, each after his own fashion. Most important among them is the protagonist, Siddhartha. Siddhartha is a romantic in the sense that he rejects familial and institutional ties in order to discover truth through his own personal experience. He must make his own mistakes and learn from them, just as his son must do in his turn. Yet Siddhartha possesses a superior soul; his intrinsic purity inevitably reasserts itself, even though he is caught for many years in the false life of sensual pleasure. His personal qualities are less important, however, than the philosophical nature of his quest for enlightenment.
Govinda is always the loyal disciple, never the leader or trailblazer. He accepts a position subordinate to Siddhartha from the outset. Siddhartha is the one who will do great things, and Govinda wants no more than to be his servant and companion. It is Siddhartha’s decision to join the Samanas, and it is also his decision to leave them. It is appropriate that Govinda remains as a disciple of the Buddha; he is happier when he can follow a set of teachings along a prescribed path. By the end of his life, he has won the respect of the younger monks, but he still remains a seeker. Following the conventional path, he has not found peace, a fact which confirms Siddhartha’s earliest suspicions.
(The entire section is 448 words.)