Herman Hesse + Siddhartha = The Same Man?
Herman Hesse
Herman Hesse

An interesting article by Johannes Malthaner pointed out many key points in Siddhartha reflected key events in the life of Herman Hesse. Comparing the life that Herman Hesse lead, the choices that he made, and the course of life that he chose, it is hard to say that “Siddhartha” is not somewhat biographical.

  • His Grandfather (Dr. Gundert) was the director of the India Mission. Siddhartha’s Father was a Brahman, which one of the definitions from the introduction to the book, is a member “of the highest castle”
  • Hesse struggled with the life that his family wanted him to live, and left to explore his own creativity and passions to discover writing. Siddhartha felt that something was missing in his life, and left to fill that empty space.
  • After living on his own as a struggling poet he finally received recognition in the social world, as well as financial security, friends and a home. He was settled in Switzerland when World War I came and disrupted his “idyllic” life. Hesse spoke against the war, but not without repercussions. Being slandered and attacked by the German press and even his own friends, he was forced to reexamine his life, opinions, trust, and faith in mankind. In his search for truth, Siddhartha realizes in his encounters with the Gotama that “salvation cannot be taught” and that “words and creeds are empty sounds”, leaving salvation to be found only through the individual. Siddhartha leaves on his own to continue his search. He meets the Courtesan who teaches him of worldly things. He becomes involved, and later engulfed in the new lifestyle. Realizing what his life has come to, Siddhartha leaves again, abandoning what he had.
"Siddhartha's Awakening"
"Siddhartha's Awakening"

The introduction to the novel verifies and expounds upon this point:
"The novel's vitality and connection to reality are due to its genuine sources in Hesse's own life. Siddhartha (minus perhaps, some of the virtues he acquires at the end, such as unstinting love) is Hesse. The struggles of Siddhartha against his priestly father, and those of his own son against him, reflect Hesse's defiance of authority as a child. Siddhartha's conclusion that teachings are useless reflects Hesse's interrupted schooling and his pride in his self-education. Siddhartha's self-doubts and attempt at suicide have real echoes in Hesse's life. Even small details are relevant: the raft Siddhartha builds with Vasudeva may very well refer to Hesse's rides on loggers' rafts when a boy in Calw."

Malthaner ventured that “Siddhartha” was a vise for Hesse to try and regain trust in mankind. Undoubtedly there are similarities between the fictional, and the non-fictional man. Its hard to say if Hesse ever achieved that goal. Siddhartha got his bittersweet ending—did Hesse get his?

Sources Consulted:
“Herman Hesse. Siddhartha.” By Johannes Malthaner