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The Theme of The Importance of Gaining Knowledge from Others in Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha

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The knowledge that one has cannot be simply given to others. Rather, being guided by a familiar person allows for this knowledge to be gained and interpreted. In his novel Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse gives the story of a young adult, Siddhartha, who is set off to find enlightenment and fulfillment of life. Throughout the novel, Siddhartha is constantly interacting with those around him, including Govinda, a life-long friend, Vasudeva, the ferryman who is influential in Siddhartha’s life, and his son, whom he meets many years after his birth. In this novel, Hesse conveys that the key to living a realized and fulfilling existence is that one must learn and gain knowledge from others, thorough connections and interactions with those around them. He uses these interactions and connections of Siddhartha and those around him, including Vasudeva, Govinda, and his son, in order to convey this message.

The characterization of Siddhartha and those who surround him are important when considering how individuals must not learn from isolating themselves, but rather how wisdom is guided and inspired by others. At the beginning of their journey, Govinda leaves Siddhartha in order to follow the Buddha. Ultimately, this leaves Siddhartha alone for portion of his path, but on his way to a small village he meets a ferryman, Vasudeva, that lives on the river. Siddhartha has no money to pay the ferryman for taking him across the river, but the ferryman dismisses this because “Vasudeva did not expect any payment or gifts from Siddhartha… Vasudeva has learned that from the river too; everything comes back. Siddhartha, too, Samana, will come back. Now farewell, may his friendship be his payment,. This part of the novel is very important to Siddhartha because it is when he starts to head down a path of desires, in order to find his fulfillment. The kindness the Vasudeva exerts is very reflective of his character throughout the rest of the novel. Siddhartha is able to find comfort in Vasudeva’s words, since he is able to carry on without a payment. The word Vasudeva speaks foreshadows not only to the importance of the river in Siddhartha’s journey, but the fact that Siddhartha himself will be returning to the river. This foreshadowing and prediction is what may cause Vasudeva to be openly kind to Siddhartha, and with that said, is the start of the friendship between the two. The very small connection that the two have at this point allows for Siddhartha to push through and carry on his journey for fulfillment. Siddhartha’s son runs away from him, and he “felt something die in his heart,” sat by the river and “sank into emptiness, and let himself sink without seeing a way out”. After a long time has passed since his son had left him, Siddhartha was left alone with Vasudeva, sitting by the river together. While sitting at the river, “Vasudeva’s smile was radiant; it hovered brightly in all the wrinkles of his old face… His smile was radiant as he looked at his friend, and now the same smile appeared on Siddhartha’s face. His wound was healing, his pain dispersing; his Self had merged into unity”. Human connections and relations are necessary when one’s goal is to live a realized and fulfilling existence. Between two individuals who may not know each other well, these connections are not as important; it is much easier to be guided by a familiar person, and this can be seen through the relationship that exists between Vasudeva and Siddhartha. Even so, the relationship that exists over an extended period of time, such as the one with Govinda, is also important to Siddhartha’s journey.

Siddhartha and Govinda are two inseparable teens at the beginning of the novel. The two have grown up together most of their life, which allows Govinda to “love him more than anybody else”. As he grew more mature, Siddhartha feels a disconnection between those around him, and discontent for the path that has been paved out for him. When explaining to Govinda about how he will join the Samanas in order to find enlightenment, “Govinda blanched as he heard these words and read the decision in his friend’s determined face. Govinda realized from the first glance at his friend’s face that it was now beginning… And he became as pale as a dried banana skin”. Although Govinda has always been there for Siddhartha, he does not believe that his friend has made such a decision. Since he cannot let Siddhartha know this opinion, Govinda must follow along throughout Siddhartha’s choice. This reaction is important because not only is their disbelief in Siddhartha’s decision, but this disbelief is coming from a close friend and companion. Ultimately, Govinda knows this day was to come, and how in the end he would support Siddhartha will all his heart. This reaction does not end the relationship between the two, but rather makes it stronger since Govinda follows Siddhartha. Even if Govinda does not fully support this idea, he must full heartedly follow Siddhartha, as to keep their friendship alive, and push him forward to finding enlightenment. At the end of the novel, Govinda, who now follows the Buddha, returns to the river, searching for “an old ferryman who lived by the river, a day’s journey away, whom may be considered to be a sage”. To his surprise, Govinda finds Siddhartha again, and the two shortly reconcile, before Siddheartha speaks his mind about how Govinda can seek the enlightenment that the two began to search for in their younger days. Siddhartha asks for Govinda to kiss him on the forehead, Siddhartha smiles, “and Govinda saw that this mask-like smile, the smile of unity over flowing forms, this smile of simultaneousness over the thousands of births and deaths – this smile of Siddhartha – was exactly the same as the calm, delicate, impenetrable, perhaps gracious, perhaps mocking, wise, thousand fold smile of Gotama, the Budhha, as he perceived it with aawe a hundred times. It was in such a manner, Govinda knew, that the Perfect One smiled”. Although Siddhartha is having a hard time explaining how to find enlightenment, when Govinda looks at his face, he has the sudden realization of what true enlightenment is. The goal of Siddhartha finding his enlightenment is visible in his own face, and seen by Govinda. It is much easier to be guided to enlightenment, rather and taught it, and this can be seen through the interactions that occur between Siddhartha, and those around him such as Vasudeva and Govinda, and their characterization. Even so, the relationship that exists between Siddhartha and those around him can be one sided, much like the one that exists with his son.

After Kamala, the son’s mother, dies, Siddhartha keeps the son under his wing. The relationship the two have is not the best, as the son is used to the materialistic and cynical ways of living with his mother. One day in a fit of fury, the boy says to Siddhartha, “he knows Siddhartha continually punishes him and makes him feel small with Siddhartha’s piety and indulgence… The son hates Siddhartha”. Through this interaction with his son, Siddhartha learns that he cannot impose his knowledge onto his son. The son constantly pushes Siddhartha away, but he is blinded by an undying love he has for his son. Siddhartha is too blinded by this love he has for his son, and forgets he knows that one cannot push knowledge onto another. This outburst does not phase Siddhartha, as he continues to pry himself into his son’s life choices, following the son as he runs away. Once Siddhartha’s son leaves for a short period of time, Siddhartha follows him back to the village. It was in this village where he experienced Samsara, the cycle where the material world is able to experience death and constant rebirth. Siddhartha reaches the village, but stops because “after he stood at the gate for a long time at the gate to the garden, Siddhartha realized that the desire that had driven him to this place was foolish, that he couldn’t help his son, that he could not force himself on him. He felt a deep love for the runaway boy, and yet felt at the same time that this wound was not intended to fester in him, but that it should heal”. This section once again reflects the willingness of Siddhartha choosing his own path, and the strength he has over his Self. Because he lived for many years in this village, he understands what materialism does to a person, and in order for his son to follow the right path, he must experience things on his own. Letting go of his son is hard, but on the other side, his son has no problem leaving Siddhartha, because it is his choice and decisions to make. It has been the isolation that allows Siddhartha to keep moving forward, and as the last interaction that the two will have, it leaves the lasting pain that pushes Siddhartha forward. It is not until now that Siddhartha realizes he cannot, and others should not, push their teachings onto others.

The interactions and relationships that Siddhartha has with those around him helps to convey Hesse’s message that the key to living a realized and fulfilling existence is that one must learn and gain knowledge from others. A budding relationship that flourishes with Vasudeva, a never-ending friendship between Govinda and Siddhartha, and the one-sided love that exists between Siddhartha and his son are all prime examples of the interactions that cause knowledge to be gained, rather and taught. Overall, it may be said that interactions, whether everlasting or one-sided, allow for knowledge that leads to one’s fulfillment and enlightenment.

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The Theme Of The Importance Of Gaining Knowledge From Others In Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha. (2021, May 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from
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