Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: World Fiction Series)
The single theme of the novel is Siddhartha’s search for unity, which is identical with his search for the true nature of the self. He cannot find either by rejecting the world, but neither can he take the opposite route and indulge the senses. He must indeed embrace the world, but only when he is able to experience it sub specie aeternitatis, in its essential form. He must come to know that the individual self, the Atman, is identical to the universal self, the Brahman, although by the end of the novel the terms have shifted. He has, even while remaining an individual, become indistinguishable from the universal nature of the Buddha.
To attain this enlightenment, the most important lesson he learns is the ability to be passive, to wait and listen. If he can cease his own small willing and striving, he can learn to embrace the great contradictory harmonies of the world. He can, in his own person, reconcile all the strife of opposites; he can overcome the illusion of time and thus experience the myriad, diverse forms and events—past, present, and future—as a simultaneous present, and hold them in a quiet serenity which accepts and loves everything, seeing no fault.
Hesse’s great image, in which the whole meaning of the novel is contained, is the river. Siddhartha is reborn as he sleeps by the river’s edge, and he resolves to stay there and learn from it. Vasudeva has spent a lifetime ferrying travelers across the river (in Buddhist...
(The entire section is 490 words.)
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Siddhartha contains four prominent themes, all of which are related to a discovery of Self. The first of these, the father-son theme, would strike most the readers as familiar — perhaps even in their own personal lives. Although Siddhartha admires and loves his father, an orthodox Brahmin, he knows he cannot rely on his father's wisdom but must seek his own way to truth. Siddhartha is, therefore, a conventional rebel within his family. He knows that no one — not even his learned father — can lead him to find his true Self. He calls into question the effectiveness of his father's attempts at cleansing away guilt by frequent ablutions in the river and leaves home in his search for Aiman, that individual spirit within each human being. For Siddhartha it is a search which is based on personal experience, not on secondhand knowledge. The father-son theme reappears at the end of the novel when Siddhartha's son leaves him for many of the same reasons.
The river is mentioned in the very first sentence of the novel and provides the setting for the beginning chapter. At this sacred stream gather family and friends for the rite of purification. At its simplest level, the river represents tradition and permanence. But rivers flow and thus contain an element of movement and change. For this reason the symbolic effect of the river is strong, for in his search for Self, Siddhartha underwent much change, yet clung to traditional values of permanence. Siddhartha is...
(The entire section is 447 words.)
The Search for the Meaning of Life
Hesse's works are largely confessional and autobiographical and deal with questions of "Weltanschauung," of a philosophy of life. Typically, as in Siddhartha, the individual's search for truth and identity through what Hesse called the "inward journey" is draped around the plot. Siddhartha, the obedient son of a rich Brahman, awakens one day to the realization that his life is empty and that his soul is not satisfied by his devotion to duty and strict observances of religious ordinances. He leaves home with his friend Govinda to begin his journey. First, he becomes an ascetic mendicant, but fasting and physical deprivation do not bring him closer to peace. Subsequently, he speaks with Gotama Buddha, who has attained the blissful state of Nirvana. Siddhartha realizes that he cannot accept the Buddhist doctrine of salvation from suffering or learn through the Buddha's teaching. He must proceed on his own path. Turning from asceticism, he lives a life of desire and sensual excitement but years later again finds himself disgusted and empty. Suicidal, Siddhartha finds his way back to a river he had once crossed. He stays there, learning from the ferryman to listen to the river. It is here that he finally achieves peace.
In Siddhartha's final conversation with Govinda, he tries to enumerate the insights he has gained. These include the idea that for each truth the opposite is equally true; that...
(The entire section is 1222 words.)