The literary works of Hermann Hesse, a famous German writer who received the Nobel Prize for his novel Siddhartha, reflect the author’s interest in Chinese and Hindu culture and his obsession with the psychoanalysis of Carl Jung. Rejecting theological education in early youth, Hesse made attempts to write his own books. Gradually, he began to work as a freelance writer, publishing his first novel Peter Camenzind. The book appeared to be rather successful, but the publication of two novels Siddhartha (1922) and Demian (1919) brought unusual popularity to Hesse.
Both works are based on the concepts of Eastern religions, especially Buddhism and Hinduism; however, despite their similar elements, the novels also have some differences. Thus, the aim of this research paper is to compare and contrast Siddhartha and Demian, revealing their similarities and distinctions. Overall, both novels are based on personal experience of the author and his interest in ancient classical works, such as the Upanishads and the Vedas, presenting rather spiritual perception of life and the world around. Comparison and contrast of Hesse’s novels
In the novel Siddhartha that is devoted to early years of Buddha the writer creates a character Siddhartha, Brahma’s son who rejects religious beliefs and traditions of his own family, adhering to new concepts of existence. Siddhartha is in search of his own self, the search that emerged under the influence of the First World War and the spread of psychoanalytic theories. At the beginning of the novel Hesse points at the fact that all relatives and friends love Siddhartha; as the writer claims, “He delighted and made everybody happy.
But Siddhartha himself was not happy. Dreams and restless thoughts came flowing to him…” (Hesse, Siddhartha 5). Siddhartha receives good education and his parents are proud of him, hoping that he will follow their steps; however, Siddhartha is in search of enlightenment that he manages to find only at the end, uniting reason with spirituality. Similar to Siddhartha, Emil Sinclair, the principal character of Hesse’s novel Demian, also suffers because of his inability to accept traditional concepts of existence.
Following the ideas of Jungian psychology, Emil makes an attempt to find his individuality, but unlike Siddhartha, the character rejects his bourgeois upbringing. This difference is explained by the fact that the setting in Siddhartha occurs in India, while the events in Demian are unfolded in Germany. In view of these differences, the concepts revealed in Siddhartha and Demian, despite their similarities, acquire various interpretations. In particular, Demian applies to more surrealistic features than Siddhartha, analyzing in detail subconscious mind of Emil Sinclair and uncovering unrealistic events.
At the beginning of the narration the principal character demonstrates two different realms – the realm of his home that is based on righteousness, and the realm outside of his house – the world with all its good and bad sides. The narrator acknowledges that both realms are closely connected with each other, although his own family makes constant attempt to exist only in the first realm. Emil is attracted by both realms, as he truthfully claims, “Unquestionably, I belonged to the realm of light and righteousness, I was my parents’ child.
But in whichever direction I turned, I perceived the other world and I lived within that other world as well, though often a stranger to it, and suffering from panic and a bad conscience” (Hesse, Demian 4). Thus, the author reveals that two worlds demonstrate good and evil, and Sinclair prefers to live in his own dreams, finding it really difficult to simultaneously exist in both worlds. It is because of these dreams that Sinclair loses his self and the meaning of life. Similar to Sinclair, the character of Siddhartha is also obsessed with dreams, but, instead of rejecting reality, he closely scrutinizes it.
As a result, Siddhartha manages to overcome his inner dissatisfaction and find peace of mind. Through his principal character Hermann Hesse wants to prove that religious concepts do not necessarily uncover a person’s true self (Stelzig 180-184); only experience can provide people with an opportunity to understand themselves and the world. Siddhartha realizes this valuable concept after his prolonged journey and after his acquisition of enlightenment. Siddhartha begins to understand that he won’t be happy until he finds his spiritual peace, and what is more important, he acquires this peace on his own.
Emil Sinclair also fails to acquire happiness until he manages to destroy a bird that lives inside him and gradually destroys the character. Sinclair’s search of his self is closely connected with the destruction of this bird and the world, in which he exists. In this novel Hesse demonstrates that wisdom can be acquired only after suffering. From the beginning of the narration Emil Sinclair moves from the realm of good into the realm of evil; but finally he realizes that both sides are crucial for person’s existence.
His friend Demian helps Sinclair to create a new God that embodies both realms; it is Demian who provides Sinclair with wisdom and inner freedom. As a result, Sinclair, similar to Siddhartha, manages to find the meaning of life and save his own soul. Thus, the characters of both novels begin to appreciate the beauty of life and of everything around them by the end of the narration, acquiring necessary wisdom and understanding. However, in Siddhartha the character acquires wisdom without the help of other people, although he establishes close relations with some characters, in particular, Govinda, Buddha and Vasudeva.
While in Demian the character is considerably influenced not only by his schoolmate Demian, but also by some teachers, with whom he encounters in schools and colleges. As the narration in both novels takes place in the midst of the First World War, Hesse creates two young people who suddenly appear at the cross-roads of two different worlds, making attempts to find their true selves. Both Sinclair and Siddhartha is in search of individual expression within their society; although they belong to society, they are afraid of being dissolved in it, losing their selves.
Despite the fact that in these novels Hesse demonstrates a usual transition of a person from the world of youth into the world of adults, this transition is rather unusual, as it acquires new spiritual understanding and early wisdom in Hesse’s protagonists. Simultaneously Hesse reveals that maturation of Sinclair and Siddhartha is closely connected with the occurred events; the First World War is serious experience for young people. As a boy brought up in a religious family that is obsessed with goodness, Sinclair unconsciously strives for another world, full of freedom and evil, failing to realize the danger concealed in his desire.
As Sinclair admits at the beginning of the narration, “The other realm, however, overlapping half our house, was completely different; it smelled different, spoke a different language, promised and demanded different things. This second world contained servant girls and workmen, ghost stories, rumors of scandal” (Hesse, Demian 4). No wonder that this world attracts young Sinclair; fortunately, his friend Demian reveals true realms of good and evil to Sinclair. Sinclair’s search for his self characterizes the whole generation of young German people who rejected the traditional ways of life and social stereotypes of the pre-war period.
In this regard, the mood of the novel Demian considerably differs from the mood of Hesse’s second novel Siddhartha. In particular, in Demian the mood of the narration is rather sad; here, the writer pays attention to the difficulties of the self-search in war times, while in Siddhartha Hesse accentuates person’s delight, as the character starts to realize the crucial issues of existence and the ways to acquire true happiness. Siddhartha does not follow a conventional way chosen by his parents; instead he wants to follow his own path that brings him to maturation and wisdom.
Although Siddhartha gets acquainted with Buddha and his teaching, he nevertheless rejects Buddha’s concepts, realizing that every teaching is limited in nature and that every person should be in search of his/her own enlightenment. Despite the fact that Buddha has many followers and believers, Siddhartha understands that Buddha’s “doctrine of rising above the world, of salvation, has a small gap. [And] through this small break, the eternal and single world law [which the Buddha preaches] breaks down again” (Hesse, Siddhartha 32-33).
Only overcoming the limitations of someone’s teachings, Siddhartha manages to overcome the limitations of his own nature. In this regard, in both novels Hesse applies to similar themes, such as the search for self, friendship and the necessity to reject conventions. Although the theme of friendship is treated differently in Siddhartha and Demian, it is crucial for understanding the novels. In Siddhartha the protagonist has a friend Govinda who adores him: “He loved Siddhartha’s eyes and clear voice.
He loved the way he walked, his complete grace of movement; he loved everything that Siddhartha did and said” (Hesse, Siddhartha 4). Although Siddhartha and Govinda are separated further in life, they finally meet again to share their experience and wisdom. Another friend of Siddhartha is Vasudeva who provides Siddhartha with the profound understanding of himself and of other people. But Vasudeva does not directly teach him; instead he demonstrates the ways of self-realization through understanding of the river.
In the novel Demian Hesse uncovers the theme of friendship through the relations between Sinclair and Demian, but Demian utilizes different ways of teaching, comparing with Vasudeva. Demian saves Sinclair when he is in danger of losing his self; with “a firm, self-confident tone” (Hesse, Demian 26) Demian guides Sinclair towards the only right way, supporting him throughout his search for own identity. Demian interprets and explains various Biblical excerpts in a rather unusual ways; however, later Sinclair starts to analyze various issues under the influence of Demian.
Initially, Sinclair, unlike the character of Siddhartha, is afraid of his dreams and thoughts, making an attempt to escape them and Demian who uncovers the truth to him. As Sinclair admits, “Often I felt a great longing for Max Demian, but no less often I hated him, accusing him of having caused the impoverishment of my life” (Hesse, Demian 71). However, soon Sinclair realizes that as long as he escapes Demian, he escapes the truth. Gradually, Sinclair wants to resemble Demian in everything; in this regard, he differs from Siddhartha who is unable to adhere to some lofty ideals without profoundly analyzing them.
Thus, Demian appears to symbolize Sinclair’s own identity; applying to this symbolic element, Hesse demonstrates that Sinclair’s difficulties occur because of the character’s inability to accept all his desires and feelings. Demian teaches him to accept both good and evil; when Sinclair manages to accept these two realms, Demian disappears, claiming that Sinclair no longer needs him. Sinclair destroys his inner bird that deprived him of the possibility to find his true self. Similar to Demian, Hesse also applies to certain symbols in Siddhartha, but to a different extent.
In Siddhartha the writer creates natural symbols, like the river that symbolizes life, its depth and mystery. It is the river that helps Siddhartha to acquire inner peace and happiness. The symbol of a bird is utilized by Hesse in both novels Siddhartha and Demian, but the writer puts different meaning into this particular symbol. In Siddhartha the bird is portrayed in the cage; this symbol means that Siddhartha feels himself as a bird in the cage, and he realizes that he should destroy the cage and find freedom. As a result, Siddhartha manages to find the All, the force that he has been looking for throughout the narration.
As Theodore Ziolkowski states, “[Siddhartha’s] reunification with the All at the end of the book corresponds to the miraculous union with God in Christian legends” (80). In Demian the bird is a symbol of a negative force that contributes to inner destruction of the principal character. However, despite the differences in interpreting the symbols utilized in the novels, Hesse creates a close connection between these symbols and Biblical concepts. Conclusion Analyzing two famous novels of Hermann Hesse, the paper demonstrates similarities and differences in Siddhartha and Demian.
The conducted research reveals that similar religious and psychological concepts of these literary works adhere to different interpretations, because of the fact that the principal characters are brought up in different environments and their inner search varies to a great extent. In Demian Hesse applies to more surrealistic elements in comparison with Siddhartha, demonstrating an inseparable connection between the real world and the world of fantasies – two realms in which Emil Sinclair, the narrator of the novel, exists.
As the settings in both novels occur in the midst of the First World War, the writer is especially interested in implicitly revealing the influence of this event on young people. Although the mood in Demian and Siddhartha slightly differs, the sources, which Hesse utilizes in his novels, are similar, reflecting the author’s interest in Eastern religions and psychology. In this regard, Hesse applies to the themes that touch him – the themes of friendship, love, search of identity and wisdom.
These themes are usually discussed in Hermann Hesse’s novels Demian and Siddhartha through specific symbols, such as birds, invented realms or the river.
Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1951. Hesse, Hermann. Demian. New York: Harper and Row, 1965. Stelzig, Eugene. Hermann Hesse’s Fictions of the Self. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988. Ziolkowski, Theodore. The Landscape of the Soul. Hesse Companion. By Anna Otten. New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 1977. 80-87.