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Siddhartha Essay: The Symbols of the Smile and the River in Siddhartha

The Symbols of the Smile and the River in Siddhartha

An important symbol in Siddhartha is the smile. Each of the three characters in the story who attain a final state of complete serenity is characterized by a beautiful smile which reflects their peaceful, harmonious state. In each case this smile is a completely natural phenomenon; it cannot be created at will by people who have not attained the prerequisite state of harmony with life.

The first character who is described as possessing this smile is Gotama, the Buddha. When Siddhartha first sees him, he recognizes him immediately, largely on account of this mysterious smile. Gotama is imperturbable and he retains his smile – and his equanimity – even when Siddhartha engages in debate with him. As Gotama turns to leave, it is his smile which most deeply impresses Siddhartha, for in it the peace and saintliness of the Buddha is epitomized. The narrator comments that Siddhartha was to remember this smile for the rest of his life.

Vesudeva also possesses the mystical smile of peace and harmony. A man of very few words, the ferryman often allows his smile to speak for him, and it is a more effective agent of expression than any words could possibly have been. Like the Buddha, Vasudeva is satisfied that he is at peace with the world, and with existence.

Siddhartha does not possess this radiant smile at first. He sees it in Gotama and Vasudeva and recognizes its significance, but is too engrossed in physical things to be able to smile serenely himself. First, with the Samanas, he concentrates on mastering his bodily needs. Then, through Kamala and Kamaswami, he learns to enjoy sensual pleasures and soon masters this aspect of life. Finally his …

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…e lingering sorrow and pain he feels because of his son’s departure. One day when Siddhartha sets out to search for his son, the river speaks to him – but not in its usual soothing tone. This time the river laughs at him. Siddhartha looks into the water and sees his own reflection, which reminds him, however, of his father. He is reminded of the pain he caused his own father years earlier when he departed, never to return, and gradually perceives that the river is pointing out to him the repetitious nature of events. Nothing is new, everything is an integral part of a unified whole, including such things as the inevitable separation of fathers and sons. The various voices of the river, the laughter and the sorrow, seem to merge, and finally Siddhartha hears only the sum: the word “Om.”

Works Cited

Hesse, Herman. Siddhartha. Dover Publications, 1998.

Comparing Spiritual Growth in Gardener’s Grendel and Hesse’s Siddhartha

Spiritual Growth in Gardener’s Grendel and Hesse’s Siddhartha

A mythical beast who finds meaning in killing and a questioning wanderer who cannot find meaning in being: both John Gardener’s Grendel and Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha grow and develop spiritually, yet their authors use vastly different styles to convey these changes.

John Gardner’s revolutionary style is not encompassed by a single genre; instead, he mixes first-person narrative and several different literary styles to give the “Ruiner of Meadhalls” a unique voice. The use of first-person narrative is essential to convey Grendel’s spiritual growth. Were it not for Grendel’s often self-deprecatory tone, which varies from mocking – “big shaggy monster intense and earnest, bent like a priest at his prayers” (72) – to bitter and cynical – “I, Grendel, was the dark side. The terrible race that God cursed” (51) – Grendel would be impossible to relate to. Even Grendel’s bouts of insanity – (whispering, whispering. Grendel has it occurred to you my dear that you are crazy?)” are easily understood.

Grendel varies from the simple, childish tone of “‘Why can’t I have someone to talk to? The Shaper has people to talk to'” (53) to the dense philosophical metaphors and complex diction of Grendel’s conversation with the dragon. Gardener gives Grendel a purposefully guileless voice to illustrate both the monster’s feelings of lost youth as well as his progression into a more sentient being.

“I think I was half prepared, in my dark, demented state, to see God, bearded and gray as geometry, scowling down at me, shaking his bloodless finger. (53)

The nihilistic dragon disagrees with Grendel’s humanization, regarding men scornfully a…

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…orld, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration, and respect.’ (147)

Siddhartha progresses from an aloof and slightly arrogant youth, not unlike young Grendel, to a wise, satisfied man.

The central difference between John Gardener’s Grendel and Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, both stories of spiritual growth and development, is not thematic. Instead, vast differences in tone and language make the self-deprecating monster easy to empathize with and the soul-searching wanderer simple and detached. Despite their stylistic differences, both works stand alone as examples of philosophical and spiritual evolution.

Works Cited

Gardner, John. Grendel. 1971; rpt. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

Hesse, Herman. Siddhartha. Dover Publications, 1998.

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