In Narcissus and Goldmund, Hesse reaches into the past to explore the theme of the reconciliation of opposites. The conflict between artistic and scholarly existence had always been a problem for him, and in this novel Hesse embodies those opposites in the personalities of two close friends whose interdependent lives take meaning from each other. Both young men meet as novitiates in a monastery, but it is clear from the beginning that they are destined for very different vocations. Narcissus is a scholar who searches for meaning in abstractions, whereas Goldmund is a sensualist who seeks meaning in the concrete world of the senses.
At the end of his novitiate, Narcissus takes final vows and starts his prescribed ascetic exercises, dedicating himself to a life of service to the spirit even though he is aware of its one-sidedness. Goldmund, on the other hand, runs away from the monastery and meets a young gypsy who surrenders herself to him and then leaves him to return to her husband. Thus Goldmund’s first experience in the world of the senses teaches him how unstable and fleeting it is. Yet he continues his search for worldly satisfaction. He has an adventure with a peasant woman, then joins the household of a knight, from whom he flees after getting involved in a triangle with the knight’s two daughters. Shortly thereafter Goldmund experiences the violence of the world when he kills a thief, hides the corpse, and escapes.
Goldmund next becomes a disciple of Master Nicholas, a sculptor whose statue of St. Mary he admires. When Goldmund fashions a statue of the disciple John, the features are clearly those of Narcissus. Master Nicholas realizes Goldmund’s...
(The entire section is 691 words.)