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The Review Man

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Siddhartha - Hermann Hesse, Hilda Rosner Siddhartha seems to be a retelling of the story of the Prodigal Son from the biblical gospels. Here, however, instead of one worldly son, we're introducted to no fewer than three prodigal characters: two Siddharthas and his good friend Govinda. Another key difference is that there is no central moral as in the New Testament version; any overarching themes have been replaced by new age-y Buddhist mantras.

It's worth noting that Siddhartha ultimately rejects society's materialism and mockery -- by the end, he has become what he believes to be a truly 'genuine' man. A problem, however, arises when characters claim that life paths must be chosen individually. Does that imply that a life lived wantonly in pursuit of wealth is just as 'good' as Siddhartha's life? For if we must all choose our own path, do Siddhartha's issues with the Buddha's philosophy still matter? Was his life of teaching and cognition just as correct as Siddhartha's? There appears to be a fundamental disconnect between these two notions, yet Hesse would have us believe that both options are equally palatable, depending only on the individual who chooses. If the moral of the story truly is that 'all paths are created equal' or that 'the importance is in choosing your own path', does it even matter if one doesn't come to that conclusion? Under these conditions, the only difference between an ignorant person doing something stupid and an enlightened person doing the same stupid thing is that the enlightened person can 'justify' his actions with an aphorism. Both have chosen a path; the fool is simply not aware of his choice. His non-action has become his action.

I wasn't thrilled by Siddhartha; the characters seem like allegorical figures, the plot is practically non-existent and serves only to push the author's religious agendum, and the spiritual lessons themselves struck me as tacky platitudes. Or maybe Siddhartha's criticism of the Buddha's teaching applies also to this review: is cognition alone sufficient to discover the true path?

Interesting questions, but I wasn't totally satisfied with the answers given in the text.