Theme is a pervasive idea presented in a literary piece. Themes in Siddhartha, a masterpiece of Hermann Hesse, are aplenty. Not only do they present the dilemma of spiritualism and enlightenment, but they also demonstrate human nature quest for knowledge and wisdom but also their inner self. Some of the major themes in Siddhartha have been discussed below.
Themes in Siddhartha
Enlightenment and its quest are among the major themes of Siddhartha. Siddhartha and his father, friends, and acquaintances are in search of this enlightenment or have achieved it. Siddharta’s father has achieved enlightenment through his belief in his religion of Brahminism. Gotama, The Buddha has propagated an eightfold way for his followers to achieve Nirvana. Govinda has achieved this by following Buddha. It is interesting to see that Kamala achieved enlightenment in her urban lifestyle. However, Siddhartha finds his enlightenment after meeting a simple and innocent ferryman, Vasudeva, and follows his footsteps to get it from the river.
Siddharth’s father follows the path of his forefathers, while Govinda follows his teachers to achieve it. Buddhists follow the path of self-denial or deprivation to get self-control through the Samanas. Siddhartha finds enlightenment in the unity of life on this earth. He comes to know when he loves others, it means he loves himself and all simultaneously.
The protagonist, Siddhartha experiences this love in two ways. The first is familial love that he abandons for his quest for enlightenment. This is a platonic bond of Siddhartha with his family members. However, the second one is his love with Kamala which is not only spiritual but also physical, involving sensuousness and intimacy. There are two other aspects of the theme of love. One is love with the material aspect of the world and the second is the love for loneliness. In the first aspect, he falls in the hands of Kamaswami from who Siddhartha learns the tricks of the trade. In the second aspect, he acts upon the advice of Vasudeva and opts for the life of living near the river and hearing its voice. However, he learns lessons from all these acts of love; the love of family is selfless. Love with Kamala points out his desire for survival, while his love for loneliness and urban life makes him turn to find unity by communicating with nature. By the end, he learns that love is the most important thing in the world.
Cycles of Life
The cyclical nature of human life is an eastern concept. It means once a person dies, they will be reborn in another form. Siddhartha resolves to leave his father for enlightenment and wisdom. Later, his son, too leaves him to live the life he wants. In both cases, fathers try to stop their sons and both fail. The protagonist, Siddhartha, learns this cycle of life by losing young Siddhartha. The circle of life repeats itself showing him that life is a cyclical process. Vasudeva reminds him that the story might repeat itself. Even his personal life demonstrates this cyclical process when he ends one stage of his life and starts the other one. As a young man, he leaves Govinda, Gotama, The Buddha, and the Samanas. However, when his own son leaves to find his own Nirvana, he begins to believe in the cycle of life.
Search for Reality
Search for reality is the path to true life. Siddhartha embarks on his search for truth and meets Kamala, Govinda, and Vasudeva, among others. He does not come to grip the reality at first. When he meets Kamala, he leaves his lifestyle of self-negation and goes after the life of sensuousness and materialism. When he meets Govinda and Gotama, The Buddha, who are engaged in finding out their realities through living as hermits, that he does not find suitable for himself. Finally, Vasudeva, a simple and innocent ferryman, teaches him the reality of life that it is like a river. It always flows, always mirroring a person who sees it. His search for truth or reality ends when he finds his life’s purpose closer to the river.
Search for Satisfaction
Search for satisfaction or contentment is seen in Siddhartha at the beginning of the novel. He feels dissatisfied with his life despite having a good fortune, born in a wealthy family and to kind parents. Despite having all elders around him to teach him the Brahmin belief system and wisdom, he is not wholly satisfied. He does not find enlightenment and wisdom in all this. Hence, he goes to see life in different ways and remains dissatisfied. He is always in search of something that could satisfy the thirst of his soul. He wonders how Buddha and Vasudeva have found satisfaction in their lives.
Spirituality is linked to wisdom and enlightenment. Most main characters strive to achieve this spirituality in one or the other way through their own opted paths. Siddhartha tries to achieve it through his own carved path. Govinda achieves spirituality by following Gotama, The Buddha, who is in fact, Buddha. Kamala achieves it in urban life, while Vasudeva finds it in the waves and waters of the river. However, the materialistic persons cannot achieve the goal of spirituality, such as Kamaswami, whom Siddhartha leaves at the right time when he is quite wealthy.
Significance of Language and Communication
Significance of language and communication runs parallel to other themes in the novel. Siddhartha is trying to find out the secret of wisdom through language. However, he comes to know that though communication is necessary, it is highly deceptive and slippery. Its slippage quality stops a person from reaching it. He sees Vasudeva communicating through silence. Siddhartha comes to the conclusion that even silence can communicate wisdom, He learns later when he joins Vasudeva to speak to the river.
For Siddhartha, the great problem or question is whether time exists. He comes to a conclusion after spending his time at the riverbank, that time is just an illusion. He learns about the unity of the world that flourishes eternity. The major thing that a person achieves during his lifetime as wisdom is the comprehension of this time and its different shades; past, present, and future.
Siddhartha shows that death is not significant and that wisdom of life is more important than death. Whereas Kamala shows him that even after leading a materialistic life, it can give peace when death approaches a person, Siddhartha feels sorrow when he does not attain the condition of enlightenment.
Parental love is displayed through Siddhartha’s father when he does not let his son go on his quest. When Siddhartha’s son becomes quite young, he faces the same situation. He realizes how it is a difficult thing to be the father of a son who is persistent on leaving his father.