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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