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SYMBOLISM / IMAGERY / MOTIFS / SYMBOLS
The magical charm of Siddhartha lies in its dreamy quality where time is free-floating and life is a quest. Throughout the novel, Hesse develops unforgettable images and symbols to uphold the dreamy mystery surrounding Siddhartha. His childhood among the Brahmins, his ceaseless ascetic wanderings with the Samanas, his mad worldly pursuits with Kamala and Kamaswami, and finally his meeting with Vasudeva awaken the reader's senses and become parts of an interwoven tapestry of images which reverberate throughout the novel.
There are three major symbols in the novel: the potter's wheel, the caged bird, and the river. "The potter's wheel, once set in motion, turns for a very long time and then eventually stops; it is similar to the wheel of the ascetic, the wheel of thinking, the wheel of discrimination which revolve for a long time in Siddhartha's soul." The comparison of life to a potter's wheel that shapes the clay is an apt metaphor for Siddhartha's experiences. In the end the potter's wheel turns out a lovely creation from an ugly and cold lump of clay; in a similar manner, Siddhartha's experiences in life, not always pleasant or pretty, turn him into a lovely and peaceful human being. In the process of becoming a valuable piece of pottery or a valuable human being, there is much shaping and reshaping to be accomplished.
The second symbol is that of the caged bird kept by Kamala in her grove. The bird stands for Siddhartha, and the cage symbolically represents the Samsara life. Engulfed by the world of the senses, like the bird is by the cage, Siddhartha seems unable to free himself. The dream in which Siddhartha sees the bird dead stirs him to action. He recognizes that he is stuck, nearly dead, in a temporal world, from which he must escape. When Siddhartha leaves Kamala to complete his quest and find himself, Kamala symbolically releases the bird from the cage.
The last symbol is the river, which is a powerful symbol for the flow of life, its continuity, and its ability to hold a myriad of things while still representing unity and oneness. Traditionally, a river stands for baptism, purification, and rebirth, and the river of the ferryman serves this purpose for Siddhartha. It is from the river that Siddhartha learns about life and hears the holy syllable of Om. Because of the river, he attains Nirvana.
Although written in German originally, the translation of Siddhartha is written in prose, which has a Biblical tone and simplicity. Hesse's style in the novel is highly descriptive, especially when he is depicting scenes of nature. There is also a poetic lyricism at moments of crisis and revelation. Hesse also uses repetition in Themes, motifs, and events to hold the novel together in spite of the great amount of time that passes within its pages.
He also uses repetition of thoughts and words to emphasize a point. An example is when Hesse says that "Siddhartha did not fashion joy for himself, he did not live for his pleasure . . . but a joy for everybody . . .yet bore no joy in his heart." Parallelisms also occur throughout the book, giving the structure a natural unity and resolution. The key parallel is when Siddhartha is rejected by his son, just as he once rejected his father. Additionally, Siddhartha smiles peacefully at Govinda, just as the Buddha had once smiled at him. Finally, the novel starts with Govinda following Siddhartha in friendship; at the end of the novel, the two friends encounter one another in old age, and Govinda still wants to follow the serene Siddhartha.