'For ages, the river has been a sign of eternity and has served as a symbol of spiritual awareness to many people'(Rahula 39). The river in Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse, is an important symbol. Hesse provides many references to the river throughout his novel, and it serves many purposes in his writing.
Siddhartha who is the main character, grows up with his father and mother on a riverbank, in India. He decides to leave the world of the Brahmins to seek his own way. Govinda, Siddhartha's companion, follows him to the world of the Samanas. After a few years with the Samanas, Siddhartha decides that he wants to move on yet again. He and Govinda go to listen to the teachings of the Buddha. Siddhartha once again decides to move on, but Govinda chooses to stay with the Buddha. Siddhartha next experiences the world of Kamala, a world of lust. Siddhartha leaves this world and finally ends up on a riverbank, where he discovers the importance of the river from the ferryman, Vasudeva. He finally attains Nirvana through listening to the river. Throughout the life of Siddhartha, the river takes on many important meanings, making it the most important symbol in the novel.
The river represents the circularity of life. This is illustrated by the fact that Siddhartha grew up "In the shade of the house, in the sunshine on a river bank by the boats, in the shade of the sallow wood and the fig tree" (Hesse 3) and that he spent the final few years of his life living on a river bank. The circularity is apparent here, because he ends up back by the river, where he started his life. The river also shows how, although everything is moving, it all stays the same. "He saw that the water continually flowed and flowed and yet it was always t...
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... to find Nirvana, and guides him through his many journeys. It serves many purposes and is profoundly emphasized in Hesse's writing. The river remains a symbol of spiritual awareness and of eternity.
Fickert, Kurt J., Hermann Hesse's Quest York Press, 1978.
Freedman, Ralph,"Romantic Imagination: Hermann Hesse as a Modern Novelist," PMLA 73 June 1958.
Hesse, Herman. Siddhartha. Dover Publications, 1998.
Mileck, Joseph, "The Prose of Hermann Hesse: Life, Substance and Form," German Quarterly 27 May 1954.
Otten, Anna, ed. A Hesse Companion Suhrkamp, 1970.
Radhakrishnan, C. A. Moore, A Sourcebook of Indian Philosophy Princeton University Press, 1957.
Rahula, Walpola, What the Buddha Taught Grove Weidenfield, 1959.
Tusken, Lewis W., Hermann Hesse: The Man, His Myth, His Metaphor University of S. Carolina, 1998.
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