In the book Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, how does Kamala's songbird symbolize Siddhartha's time in the essential world?
The songbird represents Siddhartha’s inner voice, which he vowed to listen to as he explored the sensual side of himself. In the beginning of the fifth chapter (“Kamala”) Siddhartha told himself, “He wanted to strive for nothing but what the voice commanded him to strive for” (19).
Slowly through his time spent learning the sensual and physical side of himself with Kamala and Kamaswami, Siddhartha’s inner voice gradually becomes quiet. He indulges his senses through food and drink, gambling and Kamala. “Siddhartha's new life after he separated from Govinda had become old, losing color and splendor as the years went by, or gathering wrinkles and stains, and showing ugliness here or there. Hidden at the bottom, disappointment and disgust were waiting; Siddhartha did not notice it” (31). Siddhartha only noticed that his life had become stale and miserable. He had reached such a point of self-loathing that he had giving himself to the idea of suicide. Siddhartha felt that the bird, which was a symbol of his inner voice, had died. “Dead was the bird in his heart” (34).
He went to the river to throw himself in and end his life when he heard the holy word, “om,” which reminded him of the indestructibility of life and wheel of reincarnation. He has a wonderful epiphany and realizes that his inner voice has not died. “He laughed because the bird, that joyful source and the voice within him was still alive after all” (38).
So in that sense, the songbird (and Siddhartha’s dream that it had died) symbolized the effects of the “essential” (physical/sensual) world on Siddhartha’s inner voice.
Kamala keeps her bird in a golden cage. It may be golden, valuable, and beautiful, but it is still a cage. Similarly, during Siddhartha's time in the essential world, the city, he may be surrounded by things that seem very valuable and important, but they are, ultimately, a cage for him, too. His pleasure garden does not truly bring him anything worthwhile or important. He must escape his "golden cage" in order to reach enlightenment because it will not be possible when he is weighed down by the material world.
In a dream, Siddhartha hears that Kamala's bird has gone silent. He looks inside the cage and notices that the bird is, in fact, dead. He takes it out of its cage and weighs it in his hand for a moment. Then, he throws it away into the street, and "in the same moment, he felt terribly shocked, and his heart hurt, as if he had thrown away from himself all value and everything good by throwing out this dead bird."
The golden cage may seem to be the thing of value, but it is really the life inside, symbolized by the bird, that is important and valuable.