Heman Hesse’s novel Siddhartha documents the troubled spiritual journey of Siddhartha in his quest to seek enlightenment and inner peace that the world was not ready to offer to him when he needed it the most. After getting dissatisfied by what life had offered him, Siddhartha and a close friend called Govinda found themselves joining a group of ascetic Samanas upon the influence of the former as he continued to grow disillusioned with everything including the teachings of Brahmanism. It soon becomes apparent that all of Siddhartha’s initial efforts do not meet his expectations as marriage, parenting and a life of luxury fail to satisfy his spiritual needs which ultimately drives him to the brink of suicide (Smith 197). The thesis of this paper is therefore premised on the background understanding and analysis of Siddhartha’s life through the lens of coming of age elements. The coming of age elements is discussed below.
Loss of Innocence
Born to a religious family, Siddhartha grew as any other normal child and is described as handsome, intelligent and insightful which makes him a darling of everyone in the society. He develops a close friendship with Govanda which borders fanaticism as the later would literally do anything for Siddhartha. From humble beginnings Siddhartha soon becomes restless and dissatisfied with the life around him and feels a compulsion to quit the idyllic peace of his parents’ home to go and join Samanas where he learns many ways of losing self.
Defining one’s Own Rules
As Siddhartha’s lifestyle takes a turn for the worst, he becomes obsessively stubborn and preferring to live by his rules and follow his heart’s feelings. Despite receiving teachings from his father and prominent teachers like Gotama Buddha who had achieved his personal nirvana, he still feels empty and continues with his pursuit of self-discovery even if it means going alone. With an indelible impression about self, Siddhartha turns to himself and says, “I will learn from myself, be my own pupil; I will learn from myself the secret of Siddhartha” (Smith 197).
Finding a Place in the World
Through his journey for self-actualization, Siddhartha tries the best he can to find a permanent solution to satisfy his curiosity and need for a deeper understanding of self. Siddhartha’s journey takes through different places, from his home to join the Samanas, meeting Gotama Buddha before escaping to the city where the allure of wealth still does not satisfy him.
Experiencing Trials, Irritations or Rites of Passage
Siddhartha’s life is that of frustrations and unending tribulations emanating from an unsatisfied consciousness about self. He experiences numerous trials in his quest for self-discovery, learns different ways to lose self, mortifies his flesh, suppresses his bloated ego and even kills his senses to achieve the ultimate peace (Smith 198). The transition he makes from a humble beginning to a complicated lifestyle to eventually finding internal peace provides the transformation that one undergoes as a rite of passage.
Testing Boundaries and Limits
In his quest for a unified sense of belonging, Siddhartha has to test the extreme boundaries of self-conceit and mental consciousness to feel whole again. The extreme measures taken by Siddhartha leads him to reject the world and indulge his senses in things that only bring him hopelessness and misery. His refusal to accept the world and failure to discover himself leads him to contemplate suicide (Smith 199). He is so disillusioned that he does not care about his marriage and family. After achieving the inner peace, he lost touch with reality and when his son eventually leaves him for a similar quest as himself, he does not restrain him or offer life experiences as he believes inner peace is only discovered individually.
Having an Epiphany
Life challenges have made Siddhartha become the man he is at the end of the novel. He has undergone a moment of personal revelation and gained absolute peace. He is more rational and philosophical in equal measure. He seems to understand the reality of the fact that to find one’s self, you do not necessarily have to lose yourself. The fact that he spent considerable time with Vaseduva the ferryman might have impacted on his spiritual life as he became more understanding.
Imagery and Symbolism (Loss of Innocence)
Heman Hesse’s use of symbolism greatly highlights the transition that Siddhartha undergoes after supposedly losing his innocence. Symbolism helps in understating the meaning of life. The ferryman symbolizes reality and enlightenment as he provides direction to Siddhartha in the same way he guides the people through the rivers. The smile on Siddhartha face towards the end of the novel symbolizes a balanced soul that has come to know peace while the river symbolizes unity and eternity by flowing towards different places at once, reminiscent of Siddhartha’s life journey.
Experiencing a Journey (Literal or Symbolic)
Siddhartha’s life can be said to be both literal and symbolic. The experience Siddhartha underwent was a real life situation that provides a literal understanding of his pains, misery and struggles which is also symbolic of resilience and commitment to achieve a definite purpose (Smith 201).
As the main protagonist, Siddhartha as having undergone personal conflict with his conscience which makes him curious and unsatisfied with the existing reality of the world. He feels he needs a personal justification of a divine nature about the inner peace which ends up eluding him for the better part of his life. Siddhartha also undergoes social conflict which sees him reject his family in his quest for personal identity.
The novel reveals the unsettled life of Siddhartha who ultimately rejects every form of plausible and logical thinking to explore the world in his own terms and find his path while his friend Govinda takes the alternative option of staying with the Buddha to learn about the teachings of life. The journey takes Siddhartha to the big city where he soon experiences love, parenthood, life struggles, redemption and ultimately attaining his much sought nirvana. In contrast to his initial desires, it eventually becomes apparent that Siddhartha’s quest for spiritual fulfillment might not materialize until he meets the ferryman who guides him to personal fulfilment. Only then does he realizes absolute peace with his inner self.
Smith, H. Elizabeth. “The Search for Emancipation in Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha.” Bloom’s Literary Themes. Enslavement and Emancipation, ed. Bloom and Hobby: 197-208.