Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Hermann Hesse often dealt with the need for humanity to overcome dualistic thinking and realize the unity of all reality. For Hesse, the attempt to constrict experience to technological control and objective rationality resulted only in a painful separation from the more sensual aspects integral to the human spirit. He believed that World War I was the result of that sort of spiritual crisis in Europe. Afterward, Hesse devoted himself to urging the German people to turn away from materialistic attitudes toward the inward search for healing and insight. Many of Hesse’s postwar works, such as “Inside and Outside” or the later Siddhartha (1922), also show his fascination with the spiritual insights of Buddhist and Taoist mystical traditions, which teach the dynamic unity of opposites in one interconnected reality. Everything is related to everything else; each thing is involved in all other things. For Hesse, the recognition of this reality was the key to uniting the diverse aspects of human consciousness into one integrated whole. It was also the key to becoming free from the existential anxieties caused by people’s mistaken views of themselves as isolated from one another or from nature.

In “Within and Without,” Friedrich is engaged in a struggle, not only against what he perceives as the superstitions of others but also against reality itself. His attempt to mold the world to his conscious ideal of logical reasoning is a war against...

(The entire section is 430 words.)