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The protagonist in the novel is Siddhartha, a Brahmin's son who is a restless seeker on a path towards self-realization and inner knowledge. He leaves his father's household to join the Samanas in the forest to lead a life of austerity and self-denial. He then leaves the Samanas to go to the Jetavana grove to listen to the Illustrious One. He does not follow the Buddha but instead joins Kamaswami, a businessman and associates with Kamala, the courtesan. Finally, at the end of his quest, he joins Vasudeva, the ferryman, who initiates him into the mystery of communion with the river.
The antagonist in the novel is Siddhartha's baser instincts which force him to indulge in the ordinary pleasures of life in an atmosphere created by Kamaswami, the businessman, and Kamala, the courtesan. It is through the wrestling of his spiritual and physical sides that Siddhartha comes to understand his place in the world.
The climax of the novel is reached in Chapter 9 when Siddhartha experiences regeneration in the presence of Vasudeva. In this chapter Vasudeva bends towards Siddhartha and whispers the holy Om into his ear. This is precisely what he has heard as something emanating from the river. This revelation leads to a synthesis of transience and permanence, of the movement of life and the unity of it.
Siddhartha is concerned with the protagonist's quest for spiritual peace. After going through the spiritual and physical aspects of life, Siddhartha moves towards a resolution of the two. His ascetic phase involves the renunciation of the world, and his other phase involves the enjoyment of pleasures suited to the world, Samsara. The outcome of Siddhartha's quest is the experience of Being and Becoming. The book has a comic resolution when Siddhartha finally overcomes his antagonist and finds supreme peace.