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Essay on Symbols In Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha

A chair is just a chair. A person is just a person. A saying is just a saying. But is it really? Or can they be symbols of something? Can they mean something else? In the novel Siddhartha, Hesse uses different symbols in the book to explain things. For example, he uses the smile as a true symbol of a person who has reached enlightenment. Siddhartha was able to recognize Gotama in a crowd of people by his peaceful smile. Later in the novel when he meets Vasudeva he flashes a smile to him that radiates understanding and peace. Finally when Siddhartha is at the end of his journey and reaches enlightenment he too gives a smile.

Hesse uses symbols like these to explain Siddhartha’s journey to nirvana. He also uses sayings, people and objects to help further his point. The saying Om is used as a symbol of awaking in the novel. However, it is also known as a religious symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism. It is most often used in recitations, prayers and religious text. Saying this over and over again while one prays helps oneself not only get in touch with their spirituality but also their mind. When Siddhartha uses Om, he is connected with his soul. He gets in touch with his mind and then is able to control his body and surroundings.

For example, Siddhartha at one point goes into a depression. “He briefly considers committing suicide because he cannot find solace or enticement anywhere or in anything or anyone, but he is halted by the sacred Om, which again evokes tranquility and serenity in him” (Rinne). When Siddhartha remembers Om it awakens his mind and brings him a realization. As Hesse describes in the novel, “And in the moment when the sound of ‘Om’ touched Siddhartha’s ear, his dormant spirit suddenly woke up and realized the foolishness of his actions. ” (Hesse). Hearing Om he realizes that ending his life would not help him reach his ultimate goal.

The Om stimulated his body and mind so that he is able to connect the two and release him from his thought. Hesse uses children as a symbol throughout the novel. Children are most commonly used as a symbol of purity and innocence but Hesse associates them with both clarity and perception as well as corruption in the world. When Siddhartha is with Kamala in her town he refers to them as “child people”. He once described it as “[seeing] mankind going through life in a childlike or animal-like manner, which he loved and also despised at the same time” (Hesse).

He enjoyed their blissful way of life but also found it disgusting. He then becomes more descriptive of their actions, “He saw them toiling, saw them suffering, and becoming gray for the sake of things which seemed to him to entirely unworthy of this price, for money, for little pleasures, for being slightly honoured, he saw them scolding and insulting each other, he saw them complaining about pain at which a Samana would only smile, and suffering because of deprivations which a Samana would not feel” (Hesse). He finds the manner in which everyone conducts themselves revolting or childlike.

However though children are used as a negative connotation, his own son gave him the greatest gift of all. he gave him the gift of love. With this Siddhartha is able to understand his surroundings. The river has many symbols seen throughout the whole book. The River can be used as a timeline to mark Siddhartha’s milestones on his path. In the beginning, when Siddhartha decides to leave home he is by the river. He comes to the realization that his father, the holiest man he knows still washes away his sins every day. Again, he sits by the river when he decides to leave the Samanas and abandon his wealth and Kamala.

Finally when he does reach enlightenment it’s when he hears Om from the river. “They have heard its voice and listened to it, and the river has become holy to them, as it has to me ‘Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time? ’ That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future. (Hesse).

Hesse uses the river as a symbol of connection between Siddhartha’s inner and outer self. The river itself divides two different worlds. “Siddhartha, as ferryman, helps people to cross the water which separates the city, the outer world of extroversion, superficial excitement, and wild pleasures, from the introverted, lonely, and ascetic world of forests and mountains. ” (Detroit).

The river is often a subtle sign of a transition between the different worlds Siddhartha lives in. The fact that he is a ferryman when he reaches Nirvana is not a coincidence. Overall, Hesse uses Om as a symbol of his inner self, he uses children to express the outer world and his surroundings and he uses the river to connect them both. These symbols help the reader follow the path of Siddhartha’s journey to reaching ultimate peace.

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