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SIDDHARTHA AS A QUEST ROMANCE
Siddhartha is written by Hesse in the tradition of a quest romance, a genre popular in the Middle Ages as can be seen in the Legend of the Holy Grail, Spenser's poem The Fairie Queene, and Bunyan's novel The Pilgrim's Progress. Siddhartha's quest occurs in four phases: the orthodox phase of a Brahmin's son, the ascetic phase of the Samanas, the worldly phase of the Samsara, and the spiritual phase of Nirvana.
The first phase of his quest is characterized by innocence and ignorance. Although Siddhartha is book-learned in Brahmin ways and inquisitive about life, he is impatient and sometimes arrogant in his search for answers, as can be seen in his conversation with Gotama Buddha.
In the second phase of his quest, Siddhartha goes through total self-denial in the hope of attaining salvation, but this also falls short.
The third phase is characterized by his immersion into the time-bound world of sensualism and materialism. It is in this world of ordinary people that Siddhartha is most despairing and even thinks about killing himself. When he finally abandons the Samsara life, he places himself beside the river, which reveals to him the unity and continuity of all things.
In this phase, Siddhartha experiences a degree of peace and comes close to Nirvana; but he still has an ego and harbors personal desires, as seen when he attempts to latch onto his son. By transcending his earthly wants, experiencing real and unconditional love for his son, and undergoing the pain of loss, Siddhartha achieves spiritual completion.
Siddhartha is not an explorer into the human spirit who shuts out the world and withdraws into himself. The very nature of his quest involves an immersion into life in all different forms. In spite of his long search, until he reaches the river and listens to its message, Siddhartha does not find happiness. With the help of Vasudeva and the river he finally learns how to experience the whole of creation, reaching a state of Nirvana and becoming much like the Buddha. When Govinda sees the face of Siddhartha in old age, he recognizes the genuine and deep serenity reflected there. He also sees in his friend's face a continuous stream of gods, humans, and animals "which all came and disappeared," indicating the unity and continuity of life. When Govinda kisses Siddhartha as instructed, he sees in him the "thousand-fold smile of Gotama, the Buddha" and falls reverently before him. Govinda recognizes that Siddhartha's quest has brought him perfect peace.