Cyclical Structure of Narcissus & Goldmund by Herman Hess

Cyclical Structure of Narcissus & Goldmund by Herman Hess

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Cyclical Structure of Narcissus and Goldmund


Narcissus & Goldmund, by Herman Hess, contains a distinct cyclical structure. This structure is contributed to through characters, themes, ideas, times, and places. Each of these elements facilitate the development of an organized, creative work, delving deep into the human psyche to reveal that both Narcissus and Goldmund are players in the same game. There are three separate cycles present in the novel. The first cycle occurs during the first year or two after Goldmund has left Mariabronn. It concludes with Goldmund witnessing a woman giving birth. He sees in her face the face of all of the women he has ever been with, and this connection between love and birth purges him of the sterile passion he felt for Lydia. Characters in this cycle, almost exclusively women, are seen as objects. They are erotic, sensual, and physical, but nothing else. They have no dimension beyond that of a sexual outlet for Goldmund’s blind passions. There is an impression of a transience present in the mother-world, manifested in Goldmund’s many relationships. This is demonstrated most clearly through Lise, when, after she and Goldmund make love together, returns to her home for the night. This happens with other characters as well, most of them having husbands to return to, and Goldmund feels pain because of this knowledge. All of the meetings between Goldmund and his lovers occur at night, and bears a strong relationship with nature, specifically, animals, trees, and plants. As the cycle continues, Goldmund experiences death as well as life, demonstrated by his killing Victor over a gold coin. Ideas presented within this cycle include the need for commitment. As Goldmund was before a spring lover, he is now a hunted murderer, but he does not at this point in the novel, realize that death, equated with the season of winter, are elements of the mother world. The second cycle beings after Goldmund witnesses the woman giving birth. In this cycle, Goldmund sees death and decay, and the beauty present in each. From Niklaus’ statue, Goldmund begins to see the blending of beauty and pain, and he decides to pursue the world of art, under Niklaus. Goldmund sees in art a blending of the mother and father world. The characters Goldmund comes in contact in this cycle give a definite image of pain and death. This is exemplified in the plague scene, wherein Goldmund comes to terms with death, and understands how it transcends, as art does, the mother and father worlds.

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Ideas presented in this cycle concern the Eve-mother, whose face represents all of the women Goldmund has ever known, and the principle which unites them all together. There is a complete range of characteristics in this cycle, including moth love, bliss and birth as well as cruelty, decay, and death. Time and place play an important role in this scene, especially in the Plague episode where everything was hurried, and then Goldmund lived with Robert and Lene outside the city in a house together while the Plague killed many people that remained in the town. In the third and final cycle, Goldmund experiences a relationship with Agnes. On the first day he meets her, he experiences his greatest exctasy, but on the second day, her husband finds him and sentences him to death. Only through Narcissus does Goldmund escape with his life. He returns to Niklaus, but finds him to be dead. Characters in this section are more spiritual than physical, as Niklaus’ aged, worn daughter, as well as Agnes. Goldmund finishes a full spectrum of human experiences, but only after the Agnes-episode. In this cycle, ideas such as everything being transitory are explained, as well as the need for Goldmund to create something concrete with his life, something that will outlast him. Time was important here, as it played a role in Goldmund’s capture. Place was important as well, in regard to his meeting Agnes in the open fields, and his leaving for his final adventure. The book concludes with Goldmund dying as Narcissus watched. Goldmund’s final revelation to Narcissus was that in order to die, you must first have had to live, and living meant transcending both the mother world and the father world. In death, Goldmund has surpassed Narcissus, because Narcissus will have to someday die as well.

Narcissus & Goldmund, by Herman Hess, contains a distinct cyclical structure. This structure is contributed to through characters, themes, ideas, times, and places. These elements help to present an intricate and carefully laid portrayal of the human psyche and the transcendence of the mother and father world.

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