Siddhartha

by: Hermann Hesse

Motifs

Main ideas Motifs
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Love

The role of love in Siddhartha’s life changes throughout his search for enlightenment. The many ways love appears and the difficulties love poses are vital to the eventual success of Siddhartha’s quest. Love first appears between Siddhartha and his father, a love Siddhartha rejects when he leaves his father to follow the Samanas. Love, at this stage, restricts Siddhartha’s ability to realize spiritual wisdom, and he must abandon it. In the Buddha, Siddhartha sees love in action, primarily in the form of compassion, but Siddhartha rejects this love because it is part of teachings that do not lead him to enlightenment. Kamala teaches Siddhartha the physical aspects of love, as well as the importance of love itself. However, Siddhartha is incapable of giving and receiving genuine love at this stage. He has removed himself from the world so thoroughly that he is not motivated by what the world has to offer him.

With his son, Siddhartha finally feels love, but since love is an attachment to the world, it threatens to divert Siddhartha from his course. Until now, Siddhartha has gained wisdom in the absence of love, and the love he feels for his son becomes a test of this wisdom. Enlightenment cannot exist without love, and Siddhartha must accept love, painful as it might be, if he is to achieve Nirvana. Through Kamala and his son he has learned to love the world and accept it, not resist it, in its entirety.. Siddhartha is a part of the world, yet at the same time he can transcend it.

Om

The concept ofOm, which signifies the oneness and unity of all things, marks key moments of awakening for Siddhartha. Siddhartha’s ability to finally comprehendOm is his entrance into enlightenment, but along the way he encounters the idea a number of times, each time sparking a change within him. He first encountersOm in his training as a Brahmin. He realizes that though he has been taught whatOm should mean, none of those around him have fully achieved an understanding of it in their own lives. People who chant the word and understand the concept intellectually surround him, but their lives do not reflect the enlightenment that comes from fully embracing the energy ofOm. He hearsOm again when he stands near the river contemplating suicide. Realizing that life itself is indestructible, he must learn to just “be,” not try to force his life along specific paths. Essentially, he is trying to merge withOm, which he recognizes as being all around him, rather than continuously search for a philosophy that accesses it on an intellectual basis. At the end of the novel, the more he listens to the river, the more aware he becomes of the complexity ofOm and how it involves not only the physical and spiritual world but also time itself. When he finally comprehends the word in its entirety and understands that all things exist at the same moment, all possibilities are real and valid, and time itself is meaningless, he finally achieves enlightenment.

Polarities

In Siddhartha, Siddhartha finds that enlightenment does not come from mastering either the material or spiritual world but from finding the common ground between these polarities of existence. In the first third of the book, Siddhartha rejects the material world. The Brahmins, Samanas, and Buddhists all maintain that the material world is illusion, or Maya, that distracts a seeker from the spiritual truth. Adopting this belief, Siddhartha completely denies his body and, instead, focuses his efforts on refining his mind and memorizing the knowledge his teachers pass along to him. In the second third of the book, Siddhartha rejects the spiritual world and enters the material world, but relentlessly pursuing carnal desire does not lead him to wisdom either. Siddhartha battles with other polar opposites as well, such as time/timelessness and attachment/detachment, but in these, too, he finds that embracing one and rejecting the other does not lead to enlightenment. The river suggests this battle visually: the opposing banks represent the polarities, and the river itself represents the ideal union of them. Siddhartha finds enlightenment only when he understandsOm, the unity of polarities. He achieves transcendence when he can accept that all is false and true at the same time, that all is living and dead at the same moment, and that all possibilities are united in the spirit of the universe.