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It is no surprise that Hesse undertook to write a novel about India. By the same token it would be naive to read the book as an embodiment or exegesis of Indian philosophy. Hesse found this book difficult to compose because he was engaged in coming to terms with India as he wrote. Demian was poured forth within the period of a few months in 1917; Siddhartha: An Indic Poem required almost four years of effort although it is shorter than Demian by one quarter.... It was not until 1922, after a complete revision of his views of India, that Hesse was finally able to finish the last third of his novel.... The highest lesson of the novel is a direct contradiction of Buddha's theory of the Eightfold Path, to which... Hesse objected in his diary of 1920; it is the whole meaning of the book that Siddhartha can attain Buddha's goal without following his path.... Just as Siddhartha learns of the totality and simultaneity of all being-man and nature alike-so too the development of the soul is expressed in geographical terms and, in turn, the landscape is reflected in the human face. The book achieves a unity of style, structure, and meaning that Hesse never again attained with such perfection after Siddhartha.... In Siddhartha he reached an extreme of symbolic lyricism; his next major work, The Steppenwolf, comes closer to realism in its characterization, dialogue, and plot than anything else Hesse has written.

Theodore Ziolkowski, The Novels of Hermann Hesse, 1965


Hesse is, by any severe artistic or intellectual standards, a minor writer, although not an uninteresting one if regarded with proper skepticism and a sufficient knowledge of his context. For all his high-mindedness and humaneness, his consciousness unwittingly reflects ideological positions that have had catastrophic consequences.... There is always a
kind of shrinkage in Hesse from the consequences of the doctrines he is experimenting with; they are blunted by crossing them with incompatible doctrines, or they are made ultimately inconsequential by being placed in a play of the imagination that is intransitive because it is hermetically sealed from the detested world outside. His effect is to sugar-coat the dynamite of the German irrational tradition, and there is plenty of evidence that when that tradition is turned into pablum, those who overindulge in it are likely to wake up with a cosmic stomach ache.

Jeffrey L. Sammons, "Hermann Hesse and the Over-Thirty Germanist" in Hesse:

A Collection of Critical Essays, 1973


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