The river plays an essential role in the novel, Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse. The river fundamentally represents life and the path to enlightenment. At the beginning of the novel, the river is portrayed as a cleansing agent where Siddhartha and his father perform ablutions to cleanse themselves of guilt and spiritual impurity. By performing these ablutions, Siddhartha’s father attempts to reach spiritual enlightenment. Moreover, the Brahmin’s continuous acts of ablution indicate to Siddhartha that his father is not on the correct path to spiritual illumination. As a result, Siddhartha becomes an ascetic in hopes of finding the true path.
Time is uniquely handled by Hermann Hesse in the novel. The author compresses longer time periods and unexpectedly expands shorter time periods. For example, Siddhartha’s three years as an ascetic pass by imperceptibly. However, when with Gotama Buddha, time has been expanded. Instead of disconnecting from the self, the ascetic life of self-denial eventually leads back to the self. The ascetic life represents the life cycle in that both are imbued with a sense of time which quickly passes by. On the other hand, the Gotama Buddha has attained Nirvana. As a result, the Buddha has transcended and suspended the life cycle, and with it, the misery of time.
In the novel, Govinda acts as Siddhartha’s shadow. Govinda follows Siddhartha, and like Siddhartha, devotes his life to the quest for understanding and enlightenment. When Siddhartha leaves his former life as the Brahmin’s son to become an ascetic, Govinda follows him. When Siddhartha leaves the ascetics, Govinda again follows him. However, Govinda joins the Buddha as his disciple when Siddhartha feels that everyone must find his own way to salvation and leaves the Buddha. This departure from Govinda, his shadow, signals Siddhartha’s divergence from a life of self-denial and signals the beginning of a new lifestyle....
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