Herman Hesse Essay

This essay has a total of 1928 words and 9 pages.

Herman Hesse




Herman Hesse is one of the world’s most necessary writers. Until winning the Nobel Prize
for Literature in 1946, however, he was virtually unknown outside of German speaking
countries. Since then he has been an icon for the young every where because of his
ability to communicate the same struggles that many aspiring students face. Many of his
characters (often sharing his initials, i.e. Harry Haller of Steppenwolf) struggle within
a world that seeks to extinguish individual creativity.

Born in 1877 to a Protestant family in southern Germany, Hesse from the beginning was a
square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Perhaps it should be noted that his goal was
to be a well-rounded person, finding it difficult to fit into the square confines of his
culture. According to biographies, Hesse admits that he was adamant about becoming a poet
from an early age- twelve to be exact. While at school, he discovered that curriculums at
home and abroad are not designed to nurture poets the same way they are for more practical
professions such as doctors and scientists. In fact, one of the earliest of his works,
Beneath the Wheel , depicts his own rebellion against such a system, which he sees as
lethal to the soul that does not yield.

At the age of seventeen, frustrated with life, he ran away and after brief encounters with
local police, landed a job as a bookkeeper’s apprentice. Hesse spent four years
struggling to remain focused, and eventually began to be published. After brief success
with short stories and poetry, he married a woman and fathered three children, but became
even more discontent with his place in life. In 1911, this sparked his journey to a place
that always held great mystery and intrigue to him- India. Forever a believer in the
ancient wisdom of the East, Hesse sought answers to his own life, which are often
reflected in his works. The Orient had always represented an ideal in his mind, and his
time spent there gave birth to one of his most noteworthy achievements, the short novel,
Sidhartha.

Among Herman Hesse’s other famous novels are Demian, Steppenwolf and Narcissus and
Goldmund. Like the title character in Sidhartha, the characters of his works center
around people who do not readily fit into society and their struggle to define themselves
and the world around them.

As noted previously, Sidhartha is the result of an extended visit to India where Hesse
sought piece of mind he believed could only be found in Eastern traditions. Many of his
characters also seek spiritual resolution to the problems that they face. These problems
usually are the result of being free thinkers or more importantly having the ability to
think outside the confines that their society imposes especially conformity. Conformity
in learning was Hesse’s main qualm, upset with the way “learning” was actually the
memorization of facts or gaining the ability to think as the “teacher” thought.

While the traditional story of the Buddha is about the nobleman, Sidhartha, who rejects
material possessions after being denied the experience of suffering from his family,
Hesse’s take on the story has been noted as being a more western-accessible version.
Hesse’s Sidhartha seeks the original Bodhisatva (Buddha) and other spiritual teachers of
India. The original story finds Sidhartha actually becoming the first to be enlightened
and named Buddha. This is interesting because of the ability of Hinduism (the birth place
of Buddhism) to remain idle, and not center around any historical events; allowing the
altering the format of it’s written teachings without losing the impact of their meaning
or depth.

Besides the author’s internal struggles, another factor to consider in the writing of
Sidhartha was turmoil in the rest of the world. Sidhartha was conceived in the chaotic
years preceding World War I, and this period of tension due to history making decisions
is exemplified by the story’s theme of choosing the correct ethics in which to live by.
Eternally opposed to war, Hesse reflects the proverbial seeker as one who is overwhelmed
by the turbulence of the world and turns inwardly for the solution.

As mentioned previously, the themes from one of Hesse’s novels is sure to be found in
another. Sidhartha is similar to Demian in this respect concerning the development of
spirit and primarily the quest for truth. Both Sidhartha and Demain find their main
characters discovering that truth “cannot be obtained from teachers, but only personal
experience. (Anslem, p.358)”

Sidhartha has a common thread with Narcissus and Goldmund as well. In both stories, the
main character has a life long companion who shares interest in the quest for absolute
truth and understanding. In both journeys, the two separate and reunite often, each
taking a different approach to enlightenment. Here Hesse is able to present the spectra
of choices to spiritual development at different times of the character’s experience while
avoiding judgement or losing focus of the ultimate goal. The two go through nobility and
poverty and back again (similar to Greek tragedy) without achieving an all-encompassing
truth.

Sidhartha, the well off son of a Brahmin (the highest class in Indian society), is not
satisfied with his life at home. He lacks the faith in traditional rituals and only
concentrates on the ever widening gap between Dogma and reality. He seeks to deny
physical and material wealth and dedicates himself to the monistic lifestyle of a Samana.
This only brings him “ a flight from self, a temporary palliative against the pain and
folly of life…(Beerman, p.200)”.

Hearing that there is one who exists with knowledge of everything, he seeks Guatama- the
Buddha. He travels with the Buddha although he remains doubtful he will find it to be his
final destination.

Continues for 5 more pages >>




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