In analyzing the novel Siddhartha, we find that Herman Hesse has incorporated many literary techniques to relay his message to the reader. By using various writing approaches to convey the theme of the novel, Hesse appeals to the readers’ senses and aides them in grasping the novel. Included in these techniques are symbolism, metaphor, allusion, and archetypes. He compares many issues that Siddhartha faces to everyday objects and forces, making the novel easier to understand. Three of the main archetypes Hesse uses to get his point across are trees, rivers, and sleep.
One of the more obvious symbols used in the novel is a tree. Cross-culturally, it is extremely common for trees to represent wisdom. In Hebrew literature, when Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, they are “awakened” and gain the insight of good and evil. In Norse mythology, the tree of Yggdrasil represents knowledge and life. In American literature, John Knowles’ “A Separate Peace” uses a giant oak tree to symbolize Finny and Gene becoming men. Finally, in Siddhartha we see that trees (and more broadly, gardens) are present when Siddhartha discovers something about himself.
On just the third page of the novel with Siddhartha contemplating in a fig garden, it becomes obvious that trees are being used as a representative of learning. This concept is repeated many times throughout the novel, some instances of usage more significant than others. For example, on page 71 Siddhartha puts his arm around a cocoanut tree while reflecting on the mistakes he has recently made in his life. He lets go of the tree and considers suicide, but immediately sinks back underneath its trunk when he realizes how childish the thought of killing himself is.
By showing the reader how drastically different Siddhartha’s decisions and ideas are while he’s away from a tree as opposed to underneath of one, we see just how strong its symbolism in the novel is. The use of this archetype shows the audience how important wisdom and intelligence are. Another example of cross-cultural themes found in Siddhartha is the symbolism of the river. We find that in many civilizations rivers represent life and the path we take to find our destiny. Garth Brooks’ song “The River” is a perfect example of the usage of ivers as a metaphor for life: “…
Trying to learn from what’s behind you and never knowing what’s in store, makes each day a constant battle just to stay between the shores… ” This quote from the song can be directly compared to Siddhartha’s life, as he lives his life trying to gain new knowledge and learn from his experiences. By personifying the river and actually making it a character at the end of the novel, it strengthens the image in a reader’s mind of the path that Siddhartha must follow through his experience on Earth.
Hesse further emphasizes this symbol by using the word “flowing” frequently throughout the novel. Small things, like speech “flowing” off a person’s lips, and a body “flowing” gracefully keep the concept of a winding river fresh in the reader’s minds. These repeated illusions and referrals make the reader realize that even though we may not always be able to see what’s coming up for us in life, we should be ready for anything. It also shows that in order to be prepared for the future we must look at the past and learn from our mistakes.
A final archetype to look at is that of sleep. Traditionally, sleeping and waking up means starting fresh and putting the past behind you. Contradictory as it sounds, while one should learn from past events they should not dwell on them, and that’s just what this symbol illustrates. In several instances is the novel, Siddhartha falls asleep (the reader should also note that this usually occurs under a tree) and wakes up anewed with a new outlook on life. “Then he had fallen asleep, and on awakening he looked at the orld like a new man….
Never had a sleep so refreshed him, so renewed him, so rejuvenated him! ” (76) Just as in the traditional English story A Christmas Carol, where Scrooge goes to bed and wakes up a new man after a series of nightmares, many authors have used the metaphor of sleep to show emotional growth in their characters. Another case in point is Kate Chopin’s book on a woman’s self-discovery appropriately titled The Awakening. Just like these authors, Hesse proves to be no stranger to this choice of symbolism.
He llustrates quite effectively and allows the reader to notice and reflect on Siddhartha’s personal development on more than one level. It is easy to see that many cross-cultural themes were brought into Siddhartha. Through writing on more than one level, Hesse has created a literary masterpiece that is extremely deep and meaningful. The application of the symbols he chose makes some of the themes in the novel easier to see and decipher. Using the archetypes that he did makes the novel one that many civilizations will read and understand for generations to come.