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A Study of Symbol and Symbolism in the play Siddhartha by Herman Hesse


Name: Shantanu Mansinghka Candidate Number: 006166004 Session: MAY 2012 Subject: English A1 HIGHER LEVEL School Name: Sangam School of Excellence International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme

Symbols are those objects, characters, figures, or colours which are used by the author to represent abstract ideas or concepts which he feels are very important for the book and for him to convey these to his readers. They are used in literature to signify a whole different concepts and a variety of view points. Different object can be used to show a little of which is absolutely unknown and abstract to personal opinion. That is why symbols are always given a special place where the person reading is liberated to generate concepts of sense and purpose. The charm of the story Siddhartha lies in its qualities which the author has tried to portray which are dreamy, imaginative and where time is moving very fast and life is nothing but a mystery. The author Herman Hesse has freely made use of images and symbols and used of a lot of symbolism which one cannot miss or forget and which portrays the mystical character Siddhartha. Hermann Hesse in order to relate the themes and meanings of the story depends upon a number of literary devices. The use of symbols throughout is frequent and their meanings differ, depending on their analysis. Hesse has used a number of symbols to convey what he wants to convey through his book which follows a spiritual journey of the lead character, Siddhartha through all stages of his life: a Brahmins son, an aesthetic in the woods, a businessman/gambler a man of the world, and in the end a ferryman full of wisdom who not only attains salvation but has the capacity to help others do the same. In the end, the wisdom reached by Siddhartha is a fusion of teachings that are taken not only from Buddhism but also Hinduism. The use of a very descriptive style in the novel by the author, especially when he is depicting nature is outstanding. Hesse uses a lot of poetic lyricism whenever he has to describe a moment of crisis and revelation especially when they concern Siddhartha. In Siddhartha through the

life of the protagonist, his childhood with his family and the other Brahmins, his endless rigorous wanderings with the Samanas and Gotama his meeting with the Enlightened One, his never ending desire and thirst for worldly things while he spends a part of his life with Kamala and Kama swami, and in the end his final meeting with Vasudeva, the loss of his son who leaves him in pursuit of his own life awakes his senses and all this makes the reader a part of an interwoven arras of images which echoes throughout the novel. In Siddhartha river being the central theme has been used to present harmony and perpetuity of things present in this universe. The river has taught me to listen from it you will learn it as well, says Vasudeva to Siddhartha. And at all important moments of his life Siddhartha turns to the river ..... when he leaves his house, then when he leaves the Samanas and moves into the materialistic world of Kamla, and later when he abandons his wealth, Siddhartha returns to the river. It is here that he learns to understand it and what it metaphorically represents and then again it is on the banks of the river that he attains enlightenment. The river has not been used as a thing that in itself gives enlightenment but is only used as a symbol that helps and directs those who are ready to understand it, and can help those who are ready to listen. Both in literature and mythology, river at all times has been used to represent transformation, change and growth. Hesse starts the novel introducing Siddhartha performing the scared ablutions- the scared offerings at the banks of the river. In Siddhartha, the bird has been used as an apt symbol, which at once opens up into concepts which come from the author through the main characters to the readers. In "Siddhartha", just like the songbird at Kamlas place sings for the life

that it so wants and cannot ever have, Siddhartha too cannot find happiness while he is surrounded by worldly things and his quest for the enlightenment makes him move from one place to another in search of the same. During his dreams about Kamalas rare songbird in a small golden cage he looks at the bird as

something which is important to his very being, it is here that he wonders if the bird within him is still singing as it is here that he realizes that the cage is the Sansara and bird stands for the men caught in this world. The bird is the symbol, the author has chosen to introduce it at a time when upheavals are taking place in Siddharthas life and he leaves Kamla. The song of the bird stands for his desire to become a satisfied, content man, in other words attain freedom of the soul. He strives to accomplish this fulfillment, when he realizes that his wants are not lustful nor directed towards material satisfaction.

Children appear repeatedly in Siddhartha, they are often compared to the learned awakened or individuals who have attained the Nirvana - the enlightened ones. Children in the novel are used to symbolize clarity of insight, straightforwardness, and marvel. They are also identified as the ones who assimilate in the material world which is full of passion and suffering. Siddhartha is once described as "[seeing] people live in a childish or animal-like way which he both loved and despised." (5.37) In Siddhartha the children are used to portray the best and the worst of human tendencies. A smile that is peaceful and shows a lot of contentment is an important symbol of spiritual awakening not only in Siddhartha but also in the real life. All the great people and especially the characters of this novel who have achieved enlightenment smile significantly and profoundly. It is the broad and peaceful smile of Gotama that helps Siddhartha to recognize him in a large crowd. Vasudeva, the most

important character in Siddhartha and the first to reach enlightenment, similarly displays a notable smile that radiates thoughtfulness and amity. When Siddhartha attains enlightenment himself, he adopts a deep smile. The ferryman has also been used as a symbol in Siddhartha. He is the one who guides both people across the river and the protagonist to the path to enlightenment. He has been put in between the world of the ordinary and one that belongs to the enlightened, and all those who are in search of the same and are searching for a path and guidance to reach that place and are ready to take the advice. Siddhartha in this book meets teachers of knowledge who appear throughout Siddharthas search, but all of them fail to guide Siddhartha to enlightenment. It is only Vasudeva who is able to help Siddhartha search for the inner peace and attain the enlightenment. Vasudeva only provides whatever is asked for when Siddhartha needs to cross the river that is the only help that is provided to him by the Ferryman. It is many years later when Siddhartha comes back to the river and seeks guidance he is provided the same by the ferryman who ensures that he learns how to listen to river and learn from it. In the end Siddhartha too becomes a ferryman and as an enlightened one leads others onto the same path, he leads his friend Gotama who too wishes to become an enlightened one. Potters wheel is another thing that Hermann Hesse has used to describe the changes in the life of the main character Siddhartha. His life has been compared to the fast turning wheel of the potter as the wheel comes to a standstill slowly the same way the many wheels in Siddharthas life turn and come to a standstill only when he is about to attain salvation. Herman Hesse has used the title Siddhartha which in itself is symbolic because Siddhartha, the other name for Gautma Buddha is introduced here as the

enlightened one and the main character not only shares his name but we also find they are identical in many ways. Their quest for truth and their meeting is very symbolic and provides a spiritual touch to the novel which is further felt when Vasudeva is introduced. The crossing of the river with the help of ferryman has been used symbolically to make the readers aware of progression in life. Thus Hesse has brought out symbol and symbolism in his character where Siddhartha during his struggles learns that happiness cannot be found with the help of teachers or by learning but it is something internal and one has to learn on ones own.