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Siddhartha

Hermann Hesse

Character List

Plot Overview

Analysis of Major Characters

Siddhartha -  The novel’s protagonist. Siddhartha sets out on a quest for enlightenment and tests the religious philosophies he discovers. Siddhartha’s most defining characteristic is his desire for a transcendent, spiritual understanding of himself and the world. He devotes himself wholeheartedly to the pursuit of this understanding, even when the path is difficult. Outside forces do not easily sway Siddhartha, and he follows his heart. A man dedicated to his personal quest for knowledge, Siddhartha will abandon a course if he feels it is flawed. Siddhartha has a son, who is also named Siddhartha.

Read an in-depth analysis of Siddhartha.

Vasudeva -  The enlightened ferryman who guides Siddhartha to a transcendent understanding of himself and the universe. Vasudeva is spiritually and socially flawless, and he ferries true seekers of wisdom to enlightenment. He is closely linked to the river, and he helps Siddhartha learn how to listen to the river’s secrets. Siddhartha achieves enlightenment only because of his association with Vasudeva.

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Govinda -  Siddhartha’s best friend and sometimes his follower. Like Siddhartha, Govinda devotes his life to the quest for understanding and enlightenment. He leaves his village with Siddhartha to join the Samanas, then leaves the Samanas to follow Gotama. He searches for enlightenment independently of Siddhartha but persists in looking for teachers who can show him the way. In the end, he is able to achieve enlightenment only because of Siddhartha’s love for him.

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Kamala -  A courtesan who instructs Siddhartha in the art of physical love. In addition to being Siddhartha’s lover, Kamala helps him learn the ways of the city and leave his ascetic life as a Samana behind. Just before she dies from a snakebite, she reveals that Siddhartha is the father of her son.
Gotama -  An enlightened religious leader with many followers. Also known as the Buddha, Gotama is said to have attained Nirvana. He teaches the Eightfold Path to his many followers as the way to achieve true enlightenment. Siddhartha and Govinda seek him out, but while Govinda becomes a follower, Siddhartha ultimately rejects him. Siddhartha concludes that while Gotama has achieved enlightenment, his teachings do not necessarily help others find enlightenment.
Kamaswami -  An older businessman who teaches Siddhartha the art of business. Kamala refers Siddhartha to Kamaswami, and with Kamaswami’s guidance, Siddhartha successfully insinuates himself into the society of city-dwellers. Nonetheless, the lessons he learns from Kamaswami about the material world lead only to unhappiness. Money and business are just a game for Siddhartha, and they do not lead to fulfillment.
Young Siddhartha -  Siddhartha’s son with Kamala. Young Siddhartha poses the final test Siddhartha must pass before enlightenment. When Kamala dies, young Siddhartha resists starting a new life with Siddhartha. He is a materialistic city-dweller, dislikes his father, and wants to return to his familiar city life. Siddhartha loves his son, and he must overcome this potentially binding love in order to achieve enlightenment. Just as Siddhartha’s own father had to let him go out on his own, Siddhartha must let his son discover the world for himself.
Siddhartha’s Father -  A respected Brahmin in Siddhartha’s boyhood community. Siddhartha’s father familiarizes Siddhartha with many basic religious teachings, but he is unable to provide Siddhartha with the answers he needs, which leads to Siddhartha’s quest for enlightenment through other religious traditions. When the Samanas arrive to tempt Siddhartha away, Siddhartha’s father initially resists but eventually lets him go.
The Samanas -  A group of traveling ascetics who believe that a life of deprivation and wandering is the path to self-actualization. The Samanas initially captivate Siddhartha and Govinda, but the two eventually forsake them to follow the teachings of Gotama. When Siddhartha eventually leaves the Samanas, he appears to have attained a superior level of spirituality.

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The bird in the cage

by rccarlson, September 03, 2013

Siddhartha dreamed the bird died in the cage, which symbolizes what will happen to him if he continues his path of samsara. When he leaves, a real bird is released by Kamala. Therefore, the bird represents Siddhartha leaving the prison of samsara and chosing a life outside of the cage, rather than a life of pleasure and comfort inside the cage.

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