The River

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Category: Literature

Date Submitted: 09/13/2011 05:53 AM

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The River: As portrayed in Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha

A river can mean several different things to several different people. Looking back on the times that I’ve engaged rivers, I’m not sure if the river has given me any special meaning. I’ve used the river mainly for relaxation, sport, and food. Usually I go to the river to canoe, fish, refresh my body, and listen to the softness or rage of the water. Historically, the river has been a symbol of nature, of eternity and of spiritual cleansing. In Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, the river represents all of these, as well as a boundary of separation and the unity of all things.

At first, this concept of the river being one thing and also the opposite was difficult for me to comprehend. By the end of the epic, Hesse has the reader convinced that the two opposites can co-exist in the river. For several chapters, the river is a clear boundary between the religious or spiritual side of the self and the material world the self engages in. Before Siddhartha crossed the river for the first time, he left the side he had lived on for much of his life. This side represents Siddhartha’s religious side. He leaves behind “a moderate life, pleasure in thinking, hours of meditation, secret knowledge of the Self, the eternal Self . . .” ; the life of a Brahmin, Samana and Buddhist (Hesse 76). On the other side of the river, Siddhartha learns about the material life. He delves into the world of passion with Kamala, the world of business with the merchant Kamaswami, and a life full of the luxury of the rich in the wonder of city life.

The river as a boundary is the easiest concept to comprehend for the average reader. In America, it is apparent everyday. For example, the Mississippi River is the river that divides the east side of the United States from the west side. The Ohio River defines the southern edge of the state of Ohio and the northern edge of the state of...