Setting is an important aspect of any novel or literature, as it can greatly affects the different factors that contribute to the overall story, such symbolism, tone, and imagery. In Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, the protagonist Siddhartha ventures on his search and quest for knowledge and encounters many new and different settings These setting hold not only importance individually, but as a group collectively, serving to provide insight about the author’s purpose and effect he wishes to endow on the reader.
The first part of the novel presents various settings that symbolize Siddhartha’s difficult path to gain Enlightenment. The first chapter of Siddhartha is set in a Brahmin household located in the serene and peaceful atmosphere of an Indian village. Hesse describes the setting in the very first line of the book, writing, “In the shade of the house, in the sunshine on the river bank by the boats, in the shade of the sallow wood and the fig tree…” This shows the beginning of the journey, as throughout the book the setting advances from peacefulness, order, and protected, to a society of disorder, pain, and immorality. This peaceful atmosphere of the home also foreshadows the coming scenes as well, which oversees a great transition to a new environement that Siddhartha has never ventured into. As the Samanas arrive to the village, Siddhartha decides to leave, shifting the scene to the forest where the Samanas live austere and impecunious lives, practicing self-denial and mediation to further their knowledge.
Here, in the forest, arises Siddhartha’s first challenges and hardships, as he encounters the harsh elements of nature. “Siddhartha stood in the fierce sun’s rays…stood in the rain….he crouched among the thorns.” Thus, the contrast is easily seen from his home environment, where Siddhartha had never felt pain and suffering, to the forest, where he endures physical stress in order to obtain his goal of Enlightenment. However, Siddhartha becomes discontent with his surrounding again, making him desire to move on to meet the Buddha as he feels that he can no longer gain knowledge from the ascetics in the forest. The third chapter takes place in the Jetavana grove, in Savathi town, which Hesse describes as “The shady gardens were like a town, swarming with bees,”.
This town is similar to his home, symbolic of Siddhartha’s return to the beginning. As it is seen later on, this return to the beginning represents Samsara, the endless cycle of pain through rebirth, until Enlightenment is reached. This concept of rebirth is further supported as Siddhartha once again moves on to another town by the river. Here, Siddhartha experiences the materialistic aspects of life, showing once again his procession into new areas of society he had never before encountered. Yet, as the first part ends and the second part begins, Siddhartha’s physical journey ends, and his journey to further gain knowledge continues.
The second part of the book occurs primarily in a town located next to the river, which represent the flow of life and knowledge. It was the “long river in the wood, the same river across which a ferryman had taken him,” writes Hesse. The river teaches Siddhartha about Om, and where Siddhartha failed in his previous expeditions to obtain Nirvana, he is now set on the correct path. Through the mentorship of the ferryman who guides Siddhartha, as well as the river which shows Siddhartha aspects of life previously unknown to him, Siddhartha becomes acknowledgeable of true feeling and emotion and is now able to become Enlightened.
The settings present in this novel also present Hesse’s purpose in portraying a mythic quality of the book. According to sparknotes.com, the book is set in India in the 5th to 6th century before the Christian era and includes the setting from the actual life of the Buddha and the actual features of India. However, this is not an accurate record of events as it is a highly stylized representation of the author’s own spiritual state and aspirations, as many books are. Thus, Hesse’s purpose in using this variety of settings as well as the actual settings themselves is easily evident through his desire to fortify the effect of the novel.
The setting of Siddhartha is an aspect that simply cannot be ignored, as it plays a much larger factor than first conceived. It is the setting that sets the basic elements of Siddhartha’s journey to become Enlightened, and without the various stages and different scenes, Siddhartha would not have been able to become the great Buddha himself.