Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Goldmund, an extroverted and worldly individual whose name means “Golden Mouth.” He is a highly sensual, handsome man who is very attractive to women. An intuitive and artistic person, Goldmund devotes himself to a life in pursuit of the senses and to a quest to find the archetypal figure of the nurturing mother. At the beginning of the novel, he is sent by his father, at the age of eighteen, to the medieval monastery of Mariabronn, where he plans to study and become a monk. His teacher, Narcissus, helps him to realize that his inner nature is not suited to the vita contemplativa of the monk and scholar but rather to the vita activa. Goldmund embarks on a series of adventures involving numerous seductions of women, war and violence, and the threat of death from the plague. Later, he studies with a famous artist and himself becomes an excellent woodcarver. He ends up in prison, to be executed, but is saved at the last minute by his friend. He returns, sickly and aged by life, to the monastery. He dies before he is able to finish his final masterpiece, a carving of the eternal “Eve-Mother” figure.


Narcissus, a monk and scholar in the monastery of Mariabronn. He is a highly intellectual and analytical individual who is devoted to the reclusive life of the scholar. He serves, in the allegorical mode of the novel, as the opposing pole to the artistic Goldmund. As the latter’s teacher, he realizes that the young boy is temperamentally unsuited to the monastic life and that Goldmund seeks to recapture the lost union with his mother. Narcissus gives him the courage to leave. When Goldmund returns after roughly ten years, his former teacher cares for him until his death.

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In Greek mythology, Narcissus is the youth who rejected love from others and, as a consequence, contemplates only himself. He falls in love with his own reflection in a pool and eventually turns into a flower. In Narcissus and Goldmund, Narcissus represents one pole in the dichotomy of human nature, the mind. Hesse writes, “All was mind to him, even love; he was unable to give in to an attraction without thinking about it first.” His home is the world of ideas rather than of experience and the senses. Even as a novice in the monastery, he was singled out as the disciple of Aristotle and Saint Thomas, as a man worthy of teaching his peers.

Narcissus is attracted to his opposite, the sensual Goldmund, but he knows that they will never understand each other completely. Yet Goldmund teaches Narcissus that there are many paths to knowledge, that the path of the mind is not the only one. Narcissus also learns that the artist translates thought into art, thus re-creating God’s order. Narcissus has been enriched by Goldmund, but at the same time he has been weakened: “The world in which he lived and made his home, his well-constructed edifice, had been shaken and now filled with doubt.”

Although at peace with the spiritual life in the monastery, Narcissus is challenged by Goldmund: “But how will you die when your time comes, Narcissus, since you have no mother? Without a mother, one cannot love. Without a mother, one cannot die.”


(The entire section is 604 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Boulby, Mark. Hermann Hesse: His Mind and Art, 1967.

Digan, Kathleen E. Hermann Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund: A Phenomenological Study, 1975.

Field, George Wallis. Hermann Hesse, 1970.

Mileck, Joseph. Hermann Hesse: Life and Art, 1978.

Ziolkowski, Theodore. The Novels of Hermann Hesse: A Study in Theme and Structure, 1965.