Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Siddhartha combines two universal myths, that of Everyman searching for enlightenment and that of the hero on the way to sainthood. Siddhartha takes the journey common to all of Hesse’s later heroes, passing from the irresponsible paradise of childhood through the purifying conflicts of youth to the liberation of adult wisdom, the “higher irresponsibility” of absolute faith. Throughout Hesse’s works is the reminder that one can learn how to live only from life itself, not from books or teachers. Thus, Siddhartha, the eternal seeker, goes his own way, bowing to no one. He must disregard the wishes of his father, the advice of his friend Govinda, and finally even the counsel of the great Buddha. Only thus can he find his way to his true self.
The story of Siddhartha is also built on the myth of the quest. For Siddhartha, the quest begins when he feels that the teachings of Brahmanism do not lead to salvation and decides to try other paths. He leaves home with his friend Govinda to join the ascetic Samanas, with whom he spends three years. When he realizes that asceticism and yoga are only leading him further away from himself, he goes with Govinda to hear the teachings of Guatama the Buddha. Govinda remains with the great teacher, but Siddhartha decides that he must seek his own path through immersion in the world of the senses.
He travels to a large city, where he falls in love with Kamala, a famous courtesan. With her...
(The entire section is 766 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: World Fiction Series)
Siddhartha centers on the lifelong search of Siddhartha, the young son of a Brahman, for enlightenment. As a boy, he is trained in the traditional rituals and meditations of the learned, but there is a restlessness in his soul. He cannot stop questioning and speculating, and he doubts whether any of his teachers is truly enlightened. Against his father’s wishes, he decides to join a group of Samanas, wandering ascetics, and his friend Govinda accompanies him. For three years, Siddhartha lives the ascetic life of self-denial. He cultivates a dislike of the sensual world and tries to empty himself of desires in order to reach the innermost core of his being. Eventually, however, he becomes dissatisfied, and guesses that the Samanas are no closer to enlightenment than the Brahmans who had taught him in his early youth.
Leaving the Samanas, Siddhartha and Govinda travel to see Gotama the Buddha, who has the reputation of being a wise man and supreme teacher. The young men are impressed by the Buddha’s quiet bearing and peaceful countenance, but Siddhartha, unlike Govinda, does not become his disciple. Siddhartha is skeptical of all teachings, convinced that enlightenment cannot be taught but can only be experienced by the individual for himself. He resolves to leave behind all doctrines and teachers. This decision is a major turning point for him, as he becomes more accepting of himself and more ready to appreciate the beauty of the sensory...
(The entire section is 799 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Siddhartha is a Brahmin’s son. He grows up with his friend Govinda. Handsome, intelligent, and graceful, he is loved by everyone—his parents, friends, society, and especially Govinda. At an early age, he listens to the teachings of his learned father, masters the required Brahminical texts, performs all prescribed religious rites, and practices the art of meditation. Govinda admires his friend’s superior intellect, strong determination, and high vocation. He knows that Siddhartha will be a great man someday, and he wants to be his friend and follower.
Siddhartha himself is, however, not happy. His soul is restless. Dissatisfied with what the scriptures tell him, he wants to experience knowledge himself. An inward voice compels him to leave the idyllic peace and harmony of his father’s home and join the Samanas, a sect of ascetics who live a life of rigorous austerity in the forests. Govinda follows him like his shadow.
While living with the Samanas, Siddhartha learns many ways of losing the self. He learns how to mortify his flesh, to kill his senses, to suppress his ego, and to dwell at will in the bodies of dead birds and animals. He soon realizes that this flight from the self is only a temporary escape, not a permanent release from the life cycle. Still athirst for self-knowledge, he decides to leave the Samanas and goes with Govinda in search of Gotama Buddha.
Siddhartha meets Gotama Buddha in the Jetavana grove. He...
(The entire section is 1116 words.)
Hermann Hesse's novel Siddhartha tells the story of a young Brahman who explores the deepest meanings of life and the self. Siddhartha's quest for knowledge passes through several phases. During the first phase, he seeks wisdom in various religious philosophies such as Hinduism, asceticism, and Buddhism. He eventually abandons these paths, however, when he realizes that they all disrupt the unity of life by denying the physical body. After coming to this realization, Siddhartha pursues a life of physical pleasures and worldly success. He becomes a great lover and a successful businessman, but he eventually abandons these pleasures after they prove to be too superficial to satisfy his deeper spiritual side. In the third phase of his quest, he tries to reconcile the spiritual and physical sides of himself by becoming a simple ferryman. While performing his daily task of ferrying people across the river, he listens closely to the natural beauty of the river, and the river gradually teaches him how to recognize the essential unity of all life.
Part I—Siddhartha's Religious Quest for Knowledge
The first section of the novel describes Siddhartha's attempts to follow various religions. At first, he follows his father's example by performing the daily rituals of the Hindu religion. Everyone loves the handsome, happy, young Siddhartha, and they are convinced that he will soon become a successful...
(The entire section is 1516 words.)