Siddhartha Essay, Research Paper
Published in 1922, Siddhartha is the most famous and influential novel by Nobel prize-winning German author Hermann Hesse. Though set in India, the concerns of Siddhartha are universal, expressing Hesse’s general interest in the conflict between mind, body, and spirit. While people have contemplated this conflict since the beginning of existence, it took on a special importance for Hesse. Psychoanalysis had burst onto the European intellectual scene in the first decades of the 20th century, and its investigations into the inherent causes of human behavior revolutionized the conception of self. As a result, a new understanding of the whole human animal had to be worked out. Also, political conflicts in the 20s led to a war in which technological inventions were used to slaughter people. This also called for a reexamination of the relationship between the various aspects of the self. These two events, the emergence of psychoanalysis and World War I, then, set the intellectual and moral context in which Hesse wrote Siddhartha.
Hesse s endorsement of unity and pacifism in Siddhartha proved too simple and remote for his contemporaries, and the novel drifted to the back of Hesse’s growing list of works. It was not until after World War II that the world was ready to read Siddhartha seriously. In the 1950’s the first English translation of Siddhartha was published by New Directions, a publishing company associated with Jack Kerouac and other “beat” authors. It was not until the 1960’s, though, that Siddhartha really took its place as a staple in the American counterculture. The novel’s mystical Indian setting and call to “find yourself” appealed to this group greatly, and the novel enjoyed 22 printings by the middle of the 1970’s. The same qualities that made the book attractive to 60’s counterculture, though, also tend to get the book labeled as adolescent literature. Interestingly, the novel’s use of Indian religious and philosophical ideas has stirred some controversy as high schools and universities debate its value as an aid in teaching Eastern religions. As Hesse’s use of these concepts is liberal and often Westernized, Siddhartha is now read primarily as a brilliantly written examination of the pursuit for self-understanding.