Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse
Siddhartha Hermann Hesse
The following entry presents criticism on Hesse's novella Siddhartha: Eine indische Dichtung (1922; Siddhartha: An Indian Poetic Work.
Siddhartha (1922) is often considered the high point of Hesse's art in fiction, as well as the pinnacle of his fascination with orientalism. The novella is concerned with the individual's search for truth and identity by means of what Hesse termed the Weg nach Innen (inward journey), a recurring theme throughout his works; in fact, Siddhartha was written after a difficult period of introspection in Hesse's own life. Although the novella was completed by 1922 and was widely recognized and appreciated in Europe, it did not become popular in the United States until the 1960s and 1970s. During that period, American youth, embroiled in an era of cultural upheaval, identified with the title character and his struggle to transcend meaninglessness and materialism through mysticism and love, and a near cult following for Hesse ensued. The popularity of Siddhartha, while no longer near that of the 60s and 70s, remains steady. It was written during Hesse's second and most productive period—1916 to 1925. A crisis initiated by multiple personal problems led Hesse to undergo psychoanalysis during the early part of this stage, an intensive therapy which provided Hesse the incentive to begin his Weg nach Innen toward self-awareness and ultimately to greater self-realization, all of which helped shape the writing of Siddhartha.
Plot and Major Characters
The title character of Siddhartha is the son of a Brahman who with his friend Govinda leaves home and caste to join the ascetic Samanas. For three years Siddhartha and Govinda deny the body's senses and external world, yet Siddhartha fails to find the true path he is seeking. He renounces this life of ritual and asceticism and departs with Govinda to hear Gautama Buddha speak. Govinda decides to stay with Gautama, but Siddhartha does not accept the Buddha's teaching and declares that one must seek truth through living, not preaching. Leaving Govinda and the Buddha, Siddhartha encounters a river, which becomes a symbolic motif throughout the narrative, representing the boundary between two universes and two lifestyles. Siddhartha now immerses himself in the world of the senses, the physical universe—the polar opposite of the austere nature of repressed sense perception he was previously pursuing. Siddhartha travels across the river to a city where he meets Kamala, a courtesan, who introduces him to a life of wealth and pleasure—sexual and commercial. Siddhartha eventually realizes that “sensual lust is related to death,” and that he must leave Kamala and the merchant way, unaware that she is now pregnant with his son. Siddhartha returns to the river, which now functions as the symbol of a turning point, rather than a boundary. There, in despair, he nearly commits suicide, but, in observing the mystical symbology of the river, does not. Siddhartha decides that both his years as an ascetic and as a profligate allow him “to live again,” as he explains to Govinda, who comes across Siddhartha sleeping. Determined to stay by the river, Siddhartha lives with the ferryman Vasudeva: a figure based on both Eastern attributes and Charon, the boatman of the river Styx. After twelve years Kamala visits the river bringing the son Siddhartha fathered and dies from a snakebite. Siddhartha cares for the boy and discovers that he loves his son desperately. But the child is spoiled and longs only to leave the two boatmen and return to the city, which he eventually succeeds in doing. Through his son's departure, Siddhartha experiences first the pain of love and then pure, unselfish devotion, eventually learning the lesson of the river: “All voices, all aims, all yearning, all suffering, all pleasure, all good and all evil, all together made up the world.” When Vasudeva dies, Siddhartha carries on the tradition and knowledge he has been taught by the ferryman and the river. When Govinda passes by, he sees that Siddhartha, like Buddha, has achieved absolute peace and harmony, that he has finally “found the Way.”
Hesse's Siddhartha reflects much of the literary and intellectual history of Germany and Western Europe during the first decades of the twentieth century. In particular, the work has many points in common with the romantic movement, neo-romanticism, and expressionism. The years after 1918 in Europe were filled with literary turmoil and experimentation, and the results of both the psychoanalytic movement and the new orientalism then in vogue are much evidenced in Siddhartha. The importance of what Hesse termed Weg nach Innen—the individual's struggle to transcend the materialism of bourgeois society through art, mysticism, and love—is especially palpable in Siddhartha. Highly influenced by the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, Hesse had vowed to reject traditional religion and morality and lead a life of individualism and isolation. Siddhartha also rejects traditional religion and morality, and ultimately finds that pure individualism is an embrace of unity, with love as the synthesizing agent. In his essay My Faith (1931), Hesse stated that “Siddhartha puts not cognition, but love in first place; that it disdains dogma and makes the experience of unity the central point. …” The inner perfection Siddhartha—and vicariously through him, Hesse—seeks is an awareness of the unity, totality, and simultaneity of all being. Siddhartha's life contains strong similarities to that of the historical Gautama Buddha, who, in addition to the proper name Gautama, was called Siddhartha in secular life, meaning “the one who has reached the goal” or “the one who has found the Way.” Other names in Siddhartha function similarly in their usage of Eastern religious motifs: Vasudeva is a name for Krishna, meaning “he in whom all things abide and who abides in all”; and Kamala can be associated with Kama, the Hindu god of love and desire. Hesse portrayed the dominant mythic overtones in Siddhartha by borrowing various facts from Gautama the Buddha: Gautama left his wife for a life of asceticism, much as Siddhartha left Kamala; the Buddha spent several years meditating on a riverbank and received his revelations under the Bo-tree, just as Siddhartha spends his final years beside a river and discovers enlightenment beneath a mango tree; and Siddhartha's final vision of the world as a simultaneity and totality corresponds to the Buddha's vision of interconnectedness. But there are also fundamental differences, due to the fact that Hesse's overall philosophy is explicitly opposed to that of Gautama the Buddha, who made a conscious attempt to put forth an established pattern of religious development. Hesse hoped, in Taoist fashion, “to fulfill the will of God precisely by letting myself drift (in one of my stories I called it ‘letting oneself fall’) …” The plot, characters, and setting of Siddhartha are indicative of Hesse's lifetime interest in the East: “I experienced religion in two forms,” the author commented, “as the child and grandchild of pious upright Protestants and as a reader of Indian revelations in which I give pride of place to the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita and the sermons of Buddha. … From early childhood I lived just as much in the atmosphere of Indian spirituality as I did in that of Christianity.” Hesse's interest in the East was partially reinforced by the popularity of orientalism in his time and by the influence of the book Travel Diary of a Philosopher (1919) by Count Keyserling, whom Hesse had praised as “the first European scholar and philosopher who has really understood India.” Hesse traveled to Ceylon, Malaya, and Sumatra in 1911, but, confronted with appalling poverty and a commercialized Buddhism, he found the trip a disappointment. He commented later to a friend that he had failed to get beyond “the charm of the exotic” and enter into “the world of the Indian spirit.” Disenchanted, Hesse returned home without actually visiting India. In contrast to his own physical journey to the East, he described Siddhartha as “an Indian poetic work,” a realistic narrative with a strong impulse toward lyricism, a symbolic projection of his internal vision through geographic symbolism. Thus, Siddhartha fits well both in the genres of the Erziehungsromane, or novel of education, and the Bildungsroman. Hesse addressed in Siddhartha, as in most of his other works, characters who struggle to come to terms with themselves, individuals who passionately attempt self-realization.
Siddhartha has generated a vast body of critical commentary and has profoundly affected readers throughout the world, though its popularity peaks most notably during periods of social ferment. During the Weimar Republic in Germany, from 1919 to 1933, much politically motivated criticism of Hesse was in evidence. Throughout the Third Reich Hesse experienced both political and literary rejection. After National Socialism collapsed and Hesse won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946, there was a rebirth of interest in his writing among German critics and scholars. During the last period of Hesse's life, when he wrote relatively little, his work was made more readily available in many reprints, new editions, and collections. Although Hesse's highly romantic prose style does not always lend itself easily to translation, many of his writings were translated into English after World War II, affording Hesse a wider audience. In the 1960s and 1970s Siddhartha was well received in the United States; the novella garnered an almost cult following, especially among the youth of the era. Hesse's extreme individualism and focus on the inner self, along with his disparagement of modern society and interest in the East, all spoke to a generation who often viewed America as a materialistic, mass-oriented, and morally bankrupt society. Hesse's belief in the ultimate meaningfulness of life became an inspiration for dissidents and seekers from both the establishment and the burgeoning counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s. The author's ability to universalize private agony and personal crises, as demonstrated in Siddhartha, has allowed Hesse to achieve an ongoing international popularity.
Eine Stunde hinter Mitternacht 1899
Knulp: Drei Geschichten aus dem Leben Knulps [Knulp: Three Tales from the Life of Knulp] 1915
Zwei Maerchen 1918
Klingsors letzter Sommer [Klingsor's Last Summer] 1920
Siddhartha: Eine indische Dichtung [Siddhartha: An Indian Poetic Work] 1922
Piktors Verwandlungen 1925
Die Morgenlandfahrt: Eine Erzaehlung [The Journey to the East] 1932
Weg nach Innen 1932
Romantische Lieder (poetry) 1899
Peter Camenzind (novel) 1904
Unterm Rad [Beneath the Wheel] (novel) 1906
Gertrud: Roman [Gertrud and I] (novel) 1910
Roßhalde [Rossalde] (novel) 1914
Demian: Die Geschichte einer Jugend von Emil Sinclair [Demian] (novel) 1919
Der Steppenwolf [Steppenwolf] (novel) 1927
Verse im Krankenbett (poetry) 1927
Narziss und Goldmund [Narcissus and Goldmund] (novel) 1930
Stunden im Garten: Eine Idylle (poetry) 1936
Krankennacht (poetry) 1942
Knecht sant Knechts...
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SOURCE: “The ‘Garden’ in the Works of Hermann Hesse,” in German Quarterly, Vol. XXIV, No. 1, January, 1951, pp. 42–50.
[In the following essay, Jehle discusses Hesse's use of the garden motif in Siddhartha and other works.]
A study of Hesse's works reveals the fact that through the garden motif much of his inner world and development can be studied, and the symbolic character of the use of gardens becomes more and more apparent. A number of critics of Hesse's works have suggested that a study of the use of water and clouds should be most interesting. It seems strange that the garden as a motif worthy of study was not mentioned, although Hesse's love for his own gardens is well-known. Hesse has often written about his different gardens, as in the sketch Einzug in ein neues Haus or the poem in hexameters Stunden im Garten. There is hardly a work of his without a garden. In a short paper like the present one the richness of this motif can only be indicated.
For Hesse the garden is first of all a symbol of childhood happiness, of the harmonious union between the child and nature. It is paradise before the entering of the serpent. How poignantly the wanderer Knulp expresses this when looking at his former childhood garden! He feels that no later experience can compare to the lustre of one single flower of that time.1 Hesse's heroes in the...
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SOURCE: “Hermann Hesse: Siddhartha,” in German Quarterly, Vol. XXV, No. 2, March, 1952, pp. 103–09.
[In the following essay, Malthaner discusses the relative “unpopularity” of Hesse's writing in the United States prior to the early 1950s, due to Hesse's preoccupations with autobiography and “Weltanschauung,” a philosophy of life, and how Siddhartha is such a work of literature.]
Herman Hesse, the German-Swiss poet and novelist, is relatively little known in this country although a good deal of publicity has been given him since he was granted the Nobel prize for literature in 1946. This “unpopularity” of Hesse is only partly due to the fact that he writes in a foreign tongue—until very recently only very few of his works have been available in English translations—, even now his books are little in demand outside of university circles. That means that Hesse has not caught the fancy of the American public, that he has so far no large popular following. The main reason for this is, as I see it, that his novels do not have a strong plot around which the action revolves and therefore lack suspense or excitement. They are largely autobiographical and deal with questions of “Weltanschauung”, of a philosophy of life. The plot is used by Hesse to drape his thoughts around it, to have an opportunity to present his innermost thoughts and the struggle for an understanding of...
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SOURCE: “Time and the Structure of Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha,” in Symposium, Vol. 11, No. 1, Fall, 1957, pp. 204–24.
[In the following essay, Shaw assesses Hesse's attempt in Siddhartha to transcend the limitations of time and to experience temporal unity.]
In 1911 Hermann Hesse set out upon a voyage to India, “to see,” he tells us, “the sacred tree and snake [of Buddha] and to go back into that source of life where everything had begun and which signifies the Oneness [Einheit] of all phenomena.”1 The vagueness of these words, written some ten years after his return to Europe, testifies to Hesse's uncertainty concerning the exact nature of his quest. The unity or oneness he sought may have been nothing more than a resolution of the conflicts developing within his own personality; it may refer to a cultural and political harmony he had not been able to find in Europe during the years before the Great War; or it may simply reflect the longing of someone steeped in the German Romantic tradition for a feeling of identity between the self and the world about one. Whatever the purpose of his search, however, it is clear that India, and more specifically the philosophy of Buddhism, which were familiar to Hesse from boyhood through his grandfather's scholarly and missionary activities,2 were supposed to contain the goal for which he was seeking....
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SOURCE: “Artist against Himself: Hesse's Siddhartha,” in History of Ideas Newsletter, Vol. 10, Summer, 1958, pp. 55–58.
[In the following essay, Spector comments on Hesse's belief that the communication of essential truth can take place only in a person's own experiential circumstances, and the effects of this belief on literary art.]
In Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, considered for what it has to say about the purpose of art, rests the fundamental failure of existentialist philosophy as a doctrine for the literary artist. Given the truth of Hesse's message, the artist must deem himself incapable of fulfilling the basic function of the creative writer. For at the heart of Siddhartha is the paradoxical statement that the teacher cannot teach and the student cannot learn, since communication of the essential truth is to be found solely in one's own experiential circumstances.
All the superficialities of knowledge are available to the Govindas of this world—those who are concerned not with the great secrets of life but with the falsity of salvation that comes through illusion. They may very well listen to the words of the wise men, to the Brahmins, to the Samanas, and to the Gotamas, and they may believe—as do those who listen to the novelist—that here, indeed, is the philosophy of life, but from Hesse's point of view this is no more than the art of...
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SOURCE: “Hermann Hesse and the Bhagavad-Gita,” in Midwest Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 1, October, 1959, pp. 27–40.
[In the following essay, Beerman explains the influences of the Bhagavad-Gita on Hermann Hesse and on his novella Siddhartha.]
It is difficult to overestimate Hermann Hesse's literary achievement. There are few works in modern literature comparable to his. When he received the Nobel Prize in 1946, an author of no less stature than Thomas Mann said of him: “his life work belonged to the highest and purest spiritual aspirations and labors of our epoch.” Unfortunately, Hesse's highly romantic prose style does not lend itself too well to translation, and many of his works are not available in English. He is thus not known too well in Anglo-Saxon countries. Hesse, a Swiss citizen but German-born, produced some twenty-five important works. While some of these belong to the realm of poetry, his most important novels are autobiographical in nature or fall into the category of Erziehungsromane. The Erziehungsroman, or novel of education, commonly shows the protagonist in his effort to cope with the demands that life throws up to him. How do I live best? How can I master the art of living the abundant life? These are most often the problems confronting Hesse's leading personalities. In nearly every one of his works there is thus some attempt...
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SOURCE: “The Turn Inward,” in Faith from the Abyss: Hermann Hesse's Way from Romanticism to Modernity, New York University Press, 1965, pp. 68–78.
[In the following essay, Rose comments on the artistic logic that prompted Hesse to use the influences of his own life experience in writing Siddhartha.]
Demian as well as Klingsor's Last Summer already had visualized an ironical acceptance of the world as a possible solution for the problem of human existence. Yet because of their contemporary connotations both stories were open to misunderstanding. It was not conformity that Hesse was advocating, but a reshaping of the world from within. The Turn Inward (Der Weg nach Innen) was the common title chosen by him, in 1931, when he brought Siddhartha and Klingsor's Last Summer together under the same cover. The “turn inward” was meant to be described in both Demian and Klingsor.
For the reader of Siddhartha (1922) no further misunderstanding was possible. The Indian locale at once removed Hesse from contemporary European realities and forced him to come to grips with the existential problem. The story also made Hesse's message universal by no longer addressing itself to occidentals only.
Siddhartha is based on the life of Buddha. (Siddhartha was Buddha's original name and means the man who is on the...
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SOURCE: “Siddhartha: The Landscape of the Soul,” in The Novels of Hermann Hesse: A Study in Theme and Structure, Princeton University Press, 1965, pp. 146–77.
[In the following essay, Ziolkowski discusses the influence Eastern thought and religion had on Hesse's writing of Siddhartha, and finds parallels between the life of Buddha and that of Siddhartha.]
One of the most salient characteristics of the reaction against the nineteenth century was a reawakening of interest in the Orient. The East, with its aura of mystery, has been a symbol of revolt against rationalism in Germany at least since the twelfth century, when the authors of medieval romances such as König Rother and Herzog Ernst sent their heroes off to Constantinople and beyond in search of adventure and magical knowledge that were no longer in evidence in Europe. Not until Herder, however, was a mythical image of India created that inspired, on the one hand, the scholarly investigations of Friedrich Schlegel, Friedrich Majer, and Josef von Hammer-Purgstall, and, on the other hand, the poetic vision that permeates the writings of Novalis, the older Goethe, and Schopenhauer—to mention but a few characteristic examples.1
With the reaction against positivism and the advent of modern mysticism that is so conspicuous in the works of Maeterlinck, Yeats, Hofmannsthal, and others, the...
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SOURCE: “Siddhartha,” in Hermann Hesse: His Mind and Art, Cornell University Press, 1967, pp. 121–57.
[In the following essay, Boulby describes Hesse's familiarity with the East, apparent in Siddhartha and many of the author's writings.]
Hesse's journey to the East began in his childhood. His parents' personal experience of Southeast Asia, the indological expertise of grandfather Hermann Gundert with his specimens, books, and mastery of several oriental languages, the Asian visitors who came frequently to the house at Calw—the sources were early and varigated. This was, in any case, the age of the “Oriental Renaissance” in Europe. That movement which began in Germany with the Schlegels and with Schopenhauer had turned into a fashionable cult by the mid-nineteenth century, and in the time of Hesse's own childhood was if anything accelerated and intensified by the reaction against the pseudoscientific banalities of the Naturalist school.
Hesse's conscious, intellectual interest in India came first from a study of theosophical writings, all of which led him back to the same sources, in particular the Bhagavad-Gita. He became acquainted with the work of Hermann Oldenberg, Paul Deussen, and Karl Eugen Neumann, as well as with that of Leopold von Schröder.1 Schopenhauer, whom he began now to prefer to Nietzsche,2 merely confirmed for him the...
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SOURCE: “Hesse's Use of Gilgamesh-Motifs in the Humanization of Siddhartha and Harry Haller,” in Seminar, Vol. 5, No. 2, Fall, 1969, pp. 129–40.
[In the following essay, Hughes strives to illuminate Siddhartha in light of motifs important in the Babylonian Gilgamesh epic.]
Hermann Hesse's indebtedness to oriental literatures and philosophies has been noted frequently. However, the ancient Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh has been neglected in the investigation of his Eastern sources, although Hesse knew and appreciated this work and recommended it in 1929 for inclusion in his ideal library of world literature.1 Reference to certain motifs of Gilgamesh illuminates Hesse's development of his heroes in Siddhartha and Der Steppenwolf and explains the striking parallels, which have gone undetected in Hesse criticism,2 in the motifs which these two novels use in embodying their common theme of the humanization or spiritual growth of a man towards a higher stage of personal individuation and self-realization.
As far as I can see, the only comment on the relation of Gilgamesh to Hesse's Steppenwolf-theme has come from Thomas Mann. In reporting the myths and legends which comprise the literary education of the young Joseph, Mann mentions one story which particularly struck the pupil's fancy: “… die des...
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SOURCE: “Siddhartha: The Way Within,” in Hermann Hesse, Twayne's World Authors Series Online, G. K. Hall & Co., 1999, pp. 1–13.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1970, Field comments on the background and social setting in which Siddhartha was written.]
I VITA ACTIVA
The first part of Siddhartha was written in the winter of 1919, at the end of that first exuberant productive year in Montagnola. Hesse has told us how the composition was borne along on a surge of creative energy which suddenly came to an end, and he was not able to complete the work until two years later:
Nearly two years ago [i.e. 1919] was my last high point … the fullest, most exuberant, most industrious and most glowing [year] of my life. … And now for almost a year and a half I have been living like a snail, slowly and thriftily. … I have produced nothing but the first part of Siddhartha and the beginning of the second which has bogged down. Instead I have painted and read and inwardly moved closer to the India of gods and idolatry. …1
One of the difficulties was no doubt the finding of a suitable conclusion, since it involved conveyance in the logic of language of something essentially beyond words, i.e., magical insight.
In a later edition,...
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SOURCE: “Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha: Some Critical Objections,” in Monatshefte, Vol. LXIII, No. 2, Summer, 1971, pp. 117–24.
[In the following essay, Butler opposes Hesse's presentation of human existence in Siddhartha, adding that he finds the novel “laboured and unconvincing.”]
Like all the novels on which Hesse's reputation chiefly rests, Siddhartha is a fictitious biography. A sort of Bildungsroman, it records the passage of a special individual through selected key experiences until he attains to a position of competence in dealing with what little life is left to him. The nature of Siddhartha's preoccupations and development, and the stylistic devices used to relate them, suggest that the work is the repository of certain truths regarding human existence in general; and so the question naturally arises as to how acceptably Hesse presents and discusses them. In order to decide this, what is being offered must be defined as exactly as possible. In this undertaking, Hesse proves less than helpful.
Although generously endowed with intelligence, good looks, a winning personality, and all other requirements for what would normally be considered a successful life, Siddhartha is not content. He is conscious of a discrepancy between conventional assumptions and personal satisfaction which neither adulation nor material advantage nor received...
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SOURCE: “Paths to the Future,” in Hermann Hesse's Futuristic Idealism: The Glass Bead Game and its Predecessors, Herbert Lang/Peter Lang, 1973, pp. 45–53.
[In the following excerpt, Norton examines the future as a significant component of idealistic projection in Hesse's writing.]
Hesse's novels of the 1920's and early 1930's—Siddhartha, Steppenwolf, Narcissus and Goldmund, and Journey to the East—continue to draw the consequences of the new outlooks which arose from his personal crisis of the war years. Like Demian they focus on the problems of the creative individual and his way to self-knowledge. At the same time, as also prefigured in Demian, they explore ways to establish relationship with that which lies beyond the individual without compromising his need for distance and perspective in his observation of the world. In this exploration there is movement from the specific to the general and a linking of the temporal with the transtemporal which is reflected in both structure and theme.1 From works which, as various commentators have noted, have a basically closed, rounded-off form, there is seen a progress toward open endings where previously unknown possibilities beckon. Although the future does not appear as a clearly defined plot setting in these novels it is a very significant component of idealistic projections which,...
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SOURCE: “Toward a Perspective for the Indian Element in Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha,” in German Quarterly, Vol. 49, No. 2, March, 1976, pp. 191–200.
[In the following essay, Brown discusses various theories about the Indian elements in Siddhartha.]
First contact with Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha indicates quite clearly that things Indian abound in the novel. Titles, names, settings, and cultural background are all Indian. For an author who grew up in a household having close ties to India and who was the enthusiastic inheritor of the eighteenth and nineteenth century German interest in India, such a preoccupation with the subcontinent and its culture in a novel is not surprising. Nor is it surprising that an author who was deeply concerned with religious questions but unable to accept wholly any orthodox form of Christianity would be open to non-Christian, e.g., Indian religions, in his quest for a belief. Hesse's trip of 1911 to Malaya, Sumatra, and Ceylon was likewise a manifestation of this interest. However, just as one cannot take the subtitle Eine indische Dichtung literally, one cannot take the whole of the Indian element at face value. Hesse's relationship to things Indian is complex, his response to Indian culture is selective, and his use of it is varied.
A survey of those critics who have dealt with the Indian element in Siddhartha reveals...
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SOURCE: “Rebel-Seeker: Montagnola 1919–1931,” in Hermann Hesse: Life and Art, University of California Press, 1978, 159–72.
[In the following excerpt, Mileck examines the influences that led Hesse to write Siddhartha, which he calls “a depiction of the human condition … and a sublime statement of faith in man and life.”]
SIDDHARTHA: IDEAL POSSIBILITY
INDIA AND CHINA
Klingsors letzter Sommer marked the end of the wildest and the most prolific summer of Hesse's life. His frenzy of activity subsided when autumn set in and, before winter, he had again become withdrawn, given to reflection and to plans for his next story. Part I and much of Part II of Siddhartha were written in the winter and spring of 1920. Dissatisfied with the chapter “At the River” (Am Flusse), Hesse put the novel aside in June 1920. He did not resume work on it until the end of 1921, and did not finish it until May 1922. The book appeared that October.
Like Demian, Siddhartha was basically a cerebral experience. Sinclair's tale was a reexamination of Hesse's youth in psychoanalytical terms, and Siddhartha's was a review, and a systematization and culmination of his evolving thoughts of the immediately preceding years. Neither was an artistic rendering of immediate life but of immediate thoughts and hopes. Up to...
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SOURCE: “Herman Hesse. Siddhartha: Between the Rebellion and the Regeneration,” in The Literary Criterion, Vol. 16, 1981, pp. 50–66.
[In the following essay, Narasimhaiah discusses several shortcomings in Siddhartha, writing that Hesse's novel is hopelessly deficient in enactment, frequently confusing, and that the novelist becomes a perpetual commentator instead of letting the characters define themselves.]
Herman Hesse first came to Indian attention with his Siddhartha, not as novel but in its film version. It was one of those films which drew to the cinema house even those normally indifferent to films, largely because of the title. From the starchy public school snob to the credulous film goer, almost everyone, however, thought the film had not done justice to the novel. One suspects it was a stock response in vogue to any great novel when it appeared on the screen, for it is very likely that not even a small fraction of those that saw the film had read the novel. We are not a book-reading nation. Once it was the oral tradition and today the visual has replaced everything else. Largely for this very reason an attempt should be made to assess the novel.
Now how far does Herman Hesse's Siddhartha answer to D. H. Lawrence's criterion of the novel as ‘the one bright book of life’? On the face of it what seems to threaten the novel is the exclusion...
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SOURCE: “Siddhartha,” in The Reception of Hermann Hesse by the Youth in the United States: A Thematic Analysis, Peter Lang, 1982, pp. 317–35.
[In the following excerpt, Marrer-Tising provides an analysis of thematic elements in Siddhartha.]
Siddhartha, the most ‘Indian’ of Hesse's works outwardly, is, in actuality, more Chinese in its solution; the setting of the story is Indian, the names of the characters are Indian, but, as will be demonstrated, the Chinese influence is ultimately the key to understanding the conclusion of the work as well as Hesse's intention. In a letter to Stephan Zweig, Hesse mentions Siddhartha and confirms the Chinese preponderance, writing: “Mein Heiliger ist indisch gekleidet, seine Weisheit steht aber näher bei Lao Tse als bei Gotama.”1 As Hesse outlines the plot, his protagonist, the son of a Brahman, becomes an ascetic; he then hears Buddha's teachings, which he rejects, going into the world where he becomes a successful businessman. Only after undergoing a period of despair—as did Sinclair—does Siddhartha seek and find the Tao.2
REJECTION OF TEACHINGS
The first step which Siddhartha takes on his path to self-realization is to reject the Brahmanism practiced by his father because he feels the religion is incapable of teaching him how to permanently attain the Atman, the...
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SOURCE: “From Demian to The Glass Bead Game: Themes and Variations,” in The Hero's Quest for the Self: An Archetypal Approach to Hesse's Demian and Other Novels, University Press of America, 1987, pp. 105–11.
[In the following excerpt, Richard examines Hesse's idea of unity in Siddhartha, and asserts that it is an intellectual construct not based on personal experience.]
In Siddhartha it is the river that serves as a symbol of the pleromatic fullness and synchronistic timelessness of the unconscious. Unlike Klein, who must actually drown himself to be reborn, Siddhartha is saved from drowning by the illumination that comes to him in the sound of the holy syllable “Om.” The “terrible emptiness in his soul” that causes him to contemplate suicide is itself a symbolic death. The sacred symbol reestablishes his contact with “all that he had forgotten, all that was divine” and fills his soul again with the fullness he soon comes to recognize in the river, just as he had previously seen his empty soul reflected from the water as “a horrible emptiness” (GS.3.682–83 [Gesammelte Schriften, collected work, 1957] ). Siddhartha's rebirth takes place in deep sleep at the foot of a tree next to the river: “What a wonderful sleep it had been! Never had a sleep so refreshed him, so renewed him, so rejuvenated him! Perhaps he had really died, had...
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SOURCE: “Ticino Legends of Saints and Sinners,” in Hermann Hesse's Fictions of the Self: Autobiography and the Confessional Imagination, Princeton University Press, 1988, pp. 173–87.
[In the following excerpt, Stelzig discusses Siddhartha in terms of authobiography, biography, life and art, and the subjectivity evident in modern literature.]
Hesse began his “Indian legend”1 in the winter of 1920; the writing proceeded rapidly, and by spring, he was halfway through Part 2, when he bogged down in the “By the River” chapter. For a time it seemed that the book would be consigned to his collection of unfinished works, but after a painful hiatus of nearly two years, he tackled it anew, and by May 1922 Siddhartha was finished. What had been the obstacle? One explanation is that Hesse, like many artists, experienced a letdown after a spell of intensive work, for, as he laments in the journal he kept to fill the void of not working on the novel, after the sustained creative high of 1919, 1920 turned out to be “certainly the most unproductive [year] of [his] life.”2 Another reason for the prolonged cold spell is that in the second part of Siddhartha, Hesse was reaching, as it were, beyond his confessional shadow: “My Indian poem proceeded splendidly so long as I composed what I had experienced: the mood of the...
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SOURCE: “Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha as Divine Comedy,” in University of Dayton Review, Vol. 22, No. 2, Winter, 1993–94, pp. 71–79.
[In the following essay, Bardine explains his view that Hesse's Siddhartha should be categorized as a divine comedy, evidenced by the fact that the work contains all eight characteristics of divine comedy suggested by Eugene R. August.]
Comedy has always been more difficult to define and pin down than tragedy. Part of the difficulty may be that comedy is, by its very nature, more protean than tragedy: comedy often takes delight in breaking the rules. Moreover, tragedy has been so memorably described in The Poetics that Aristotle may have unintentionally molded the shape of tragedy through the ages. There are different kinds of tragedy, to be sure, but they are usually variations of a similar theme and form. Perhaps because Aristotle's treatise on comedy has been lost, comedy was left free to develop in numerous ways. In any event, comedy can range from the slapstick to the sublime, from the misadventures of Don Quixote to the mysticism of Dante.
The fact that Dante named his poem the Commedia indicates that comedy ranges far beyond the narrow confines of “funny” material that most people think of as comic. Challenging this popular notion of comedy as a narrow, second-class art form are the writings of Northrop Frye,...
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SOURCE: “Oxherding Tale and Siddhartha: Philosophy, Fiction, and the Emergence of a Hidden Tradition,” in I Call Myself an Artist: Writings by and about Charles Johnson, Indiana University Press, 1999, pp. 305–17.
[In the following essay, Byrd explores how Charles Johnson—American author and scholar who won the National Book Award in 1990 for Middle Passage—was influenced by Siddhartha in writing his novel Oxherding Tale.]
Charles Johnson has written a searching introduction to the Plume edition of Oxherding Tale, originally published in 1982, in which he carefully sets forth the genesis and publishing history of his second novel. This edition of Oxherding Tale is the first instance in which Johnson, within the framework of introductory or prefatory remarks, has chosen to reflect upon the processes, both hostile and nurturing, undergirding the writing of a particular work of fiction. Given the novels that bracket Oxherding Tale, Faith and the Good Thing (1974) and Middle Passage (1990), respectively, it is significant that Johnson chooses to begin this much welcomed public reflection upon the setbacks and advances of literary production with Oxherding Tale. There are, I believe, certain motivations for Johnson's decision to bring, as it were, his enlarging readership into his confidence.
Oxherding Tale is...
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Buber, Martin. “Hermann Hesse's Service to the Spirit.” In A Believing Humanism: My Testament, 1902–1965, pp. 70–79. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967.
Major twentieth century philosopher, Buber, compares and contrasts Hesse's works as parts of a series, with central consideration given to the position of the spirit in each.
Casebeer, Edwin F. “Siddhartha: The Completed Hero.” In Hermann Hesse, pp. 23–54. New York: Warner Books, 1972.
Presents Siddhartha as the best introduction to studying and understanding the life of its author.
Additional coverage of Hesse's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 2; Contemporary Authors, Vol. 17–18; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 2; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 17, 25, 69; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 66; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-Studied Authors, Novelists; DISCovering Authors 3.0; European Writers; Exploring Novels; Literature and Its Times, Vol. 1; Literature Resource Center; Major...
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