Siddhartha, written by Hermann Hesse in 1922, is not only a book that you could, without a doubt, use as a piece of literature in your English classes – including AP Language and Composition and AP Literature and Composition. The book is one of my personal favorites, and follows Siddhartha, through his journey from riches and material possessions to one of enlightenment and bliss. The book is a fiction novel, but is often used to better understand Eastern religions. In fact, I had the pleasure of reading Siddhartha in a high school World Religion’s class – and I’m so happy that that book was assigned to us!

"Emaciated Buddha." (photo by Cea.)

“Emaciated Buddha.” (photo by Cea.)

The book goes through, though set in India, universal concepts – meaning that everyone, from any walk of life, can enjoy and empathize with. In understanding Indian culture during this time, you must have some background knowledge of the caste system – basically, as a division in labor and wealth. You are born into your caste. The caste system is as follows, from highest rank to lowest:

  • Brahmins
  • Kshatriyas
  • Vaishyas
  • Shudras
  • “Untouchables”

It just so happens that Siddhartha would start off his story as a Brahmin, living under his father – but decides he wants to leave, for spiritual gains. He becomes an ascetic, meaning that he lives off the bare minimum for survival. This is why we see Buddha portrayed today with large holes in his ears, where plugs should be. It is the symbol of his jewelry being taken out – the start of his minimalist approach to life.

On his journey, he meets the “Enlightened One,” better known as Buddha. He denies that Buddha’s teachings are true considering that they negate the individualistic experience. He carries on his journey, to find Kamala, who he reveres as the most beautiful woman that he has seen.

Wealth and lust overtake Siddhartha, and he finds that even though he has found love with Kamala – he must walk out and continue his journey for a true enlightenment. He then considers the prospect of suicide, but decides not to when he meets an old friend. Siddhartha then turns to the ferryman, who once before helped him, and asks him to be his apprentice. The two listen to the river and revere it as a spiritual guide.

While doing so, Siddhartha grows wiser. He allows his son, who was born by Kamala, to go his own path, and with that final “letting go,” Siddhartha acquires the enlightenment he had been searching for through out the whole story. Siddhartha continues to ferry people across the river.

The ending shows Siddhartha is enlightened, and his friend, Govinda – who was there with him from the start of the story – from Brahmin origin – realizing the change in his old friend.

The book is an excellent read, and we at implore you all to go pick up a copy! Most places will have a very cheap copy.