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The Theme of Quest
The quest for self-knowledge and salvation is the central theme in the novel.
Siddhartha, the protagonist, goes on a quest to search for Atman, the individual spirit within him. Although Siddhartha is well educated in Brahmin doctrine, he is not satisfied with what he has learned or the course of his life. He does not want to become just another priest; he strives for something greater and wants to know how he fits into the world. As part of his quest, he lives for awhile in self-denial, living amongst the Samanas; but he finds no happiness. Siddhartha then seeks to live the materialistic and sensual life of the Samsara; but it gives him no greater peace. He then lives in simplicity with Vasudeva and learns to listen to the river, the greatest teacher about the unity of life.
By the river, Siddhartha's quest comes to an end; he hears the holy syllable of Om, becomes one with the world, and finds peace and serenity; Siddhartha has found what he has sought -- the state of Nirvana.
The Theme of Love
Learning to understand love, in its many different forms, is an important part of Siddhartha's quest.
Familial love is shown in the first of the novel when Siddhartha's father loves him enough to allow his son to go on his own path. Siddhartha will not understand the meaning and depth of this love until he has his own son, whom he loves dearly and loses. It is the pain which follows the loss that reveals to Siddhartha the true meaning of love, not just for his son, but for everyone and life in general.
In contrast to the depth of love for a son and love for humanity is the shallow physical love between Kamala and Siddhartha. Although they both admire each other greatly, they are unable to really love each other, for their relationship is built upon desire. The reach a more spiritual love when they encounter one another in old age and Kamala finds what she is seeking in Siddhartha's gentle face. In a similar manner, Siddhartha will find what he is seeking in the love he feels for his son, a true gift from Kamala.
The Theme of Friendship:
The theme of friendship is highlighted in the first chapter and continues throughout the book.
Govinda is Siddhartha's good friend and seeks to follow him; but they go their separate ways when Govinda chooses to become a monk. When they encounter one another two times later in the book, the depth of their friendship has not waned. In the closing chapters, Govinda returns to Siddhartha to learn the truth about life from him. Siddhartha gladly shares the secrets of Nirvana with his friend, teaching him how to experience the wholeness of life.
The theme of friendship is also highlighted in the relationship between Siddhartha and Vasudeva, who listens carefully to whatever Siddhartha tells him. Like a real friend in need, he helps Siddhartha attain peace. Rather than direct him with words or proffer a right way, he shows Siddhartha how to experience the river and find his own values in life. As a friend, Vasudeva is extraordinary, for he accepts Siddhartha for who he is and grants him the freedom to discover his own Nirvana.