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THE STORY

PART ONE

THE BRAHMIN'S SON

"In the shade of the house, in the sunshine on the river by the boats, in the shade of the sallow wood and the fig tree..." are the opening lines that set the poetic tone of the novel. Hesse called the novel "an Indian poem" and although it is written in prose it begins with the dreamlike musical rhythm of an epic poem.

NOTE:

The sallow wood is an Old World willow. The American epic poems of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow begin in a similar way. "This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pines and the hemlocks" is the first line of Evangeline. "By the shores of Gitche Gumee, / By the shining Big-Sea-Water" are the first two lines of Hiawatha's Childhood.

The story describes Siddhartha's beauty and grace, how beloved he is in his father's palace, and how well he has kept up with the religious teachings and rituals of the priestly Brahmin caste into which he was born. Siddhartha gives joy to everyone but is not himself joyful. The Brahmins of his father's court have poured all their learning into him, yet he is filled with unanswered questions.

NOTE: CASTES

Hindu society, according to traditional precepts, is divided into a hierarchy of four classes, or castes, each having a special social function.

At the top are the Brahmins who are considered as spiritually pure by virtue of their birth into the caste. As such, they perform the priestly, religious function. Next come the nobility, called Vsatriyas, who are the warriors and whose role it is to defend society. Commerce and farming belong to the third group, the Vaisyas, who are followed by the fourth, and lowest caste, the Sudras, or servants. (It is from the fourth caste that the even lower subclass of so-called "untouchables" is drawn. They perform the duties considered too impure for any Hindu to do, such as tending to corpses and cleaning away human and animal wastes.)


Membership in a caste is by inheritance, and, although a man's profession is no longer fixed by caste, his status usually is.

Why worship gods? They were, after all, created forms, mortal and transient like human beings. Where can Atman, the Universal Soul, be found? Siddhartha tells his friend Govinda that he will leave his father's house and join the Samanas. To exact his father's permission to leave, Siddhartha stands waiting silently through the night. At last his father gives in, asking Siddhartha in parting to come back and teach him the way to bliss if he finds it.

This is a poignant admission from the devout Brahmin. With all the ritual cleansings, prayers, and sacrifices, is he still seeking bliss? Is he, like Siddhartha, also plagued by doubts? This surely strengthens Siddhartha's rejection of the orthodox Brahminic Hinduism.

Siddhartha and Govinda leave together.

NOTE:

Some readers see Govinda as Siddhartha's psychoanalytic "shadow," the conflicting and therefore suppressed aspect of the personality, according to the theories of Carl Gustav Jung. (See Themes section for Steppenwolf.) In Steppenwolf, Harry Haller's shadow was the part of himself he called a wolf. What evidence can you find to support the interpretation of Govinda as another side of Siddhartha?

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