Nature: A Metaphor for Self

March 6, 2019 by Essay Writer

Throughout literature, nature imagery is used to depict a deeper meaning, and often insight into the protagonist’s thoughts and inner self. Nature imagery in the novel Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse reflects the evolution of Siddhartha’s self throughout his allegorical journey. Images of contained nature in the novel represent a contained and limited Siddhartha, while in contrast, images of unfettered nature represent a more free-spirited and open Siddhartha. It is only in uncontained nature that Siddhartha finds he can focus on himself and set aside limitations. Surrounded by nature in its most natural state, Siddhartha can put aside all limitations that result from living in a society and cultivate a more mindful, focused, state of calm and contentment.

The nature described at the beginning of the story represents how Siddhartha was limited in his Brahmin lifestyle. When Siddhartha was a Brahmin, he lived in a well-groomed palace, and this represents how he felt limited. Siddhartha had everything he could have ever wanted- power, wealth, and luxury. He was loved by everyone in his kingdom, including his family. Yet he felt limited by the opportunities offered to him in this life, specifically his inability to find the answers he was looking for. He wanted answers to complex questions that no one, not even the wisest men in the kingdom, had answers to. He felt trapped, and the kind of nature that surrounds him in this lifestyle is a representation of this trapped feeling. The word shade comes up many times when describing this setting of his life. Shade represents being sheltered and protected. Siddhartha was hidden and sheltered from the world in which he yearned to live in, a world where he could find the answers he was looking for. The setting is described: “In the shade of the house, in the sunlight on the riverbank where the boats were moored, in the shade of the sal wood and the shade of the fig tree, Siddhartha grew up, the Brahmin’s handsome son,” (3). In this description of nature, Hesse implies that although Siddhartha may have grown up as the Brahmin’s son with wealth and power, he was sheltered and limited. He was not content with this lifestyle. Siddhartha says to Govinda, “Come under the banyan tree with me; let us practice samadhi” (7). When Siddhartha says this, it is to show that he is used to this lifestyle, and is comfortable with the shade of the tree and the sheltering of his life. But although he is comfortable, he is not satisfied. So, Siddhartha chooses to leave this lifestyle in search of a life with meaning and answers. But first, he must go with the permission of his family. Siddhartha refuses to leave without permission from his father, and he waits outside his father’s window all night “in the moonlight, in the starlight, in the darkness” (10). Hesse uses nature’s natural light to represent where Siddhartha stands in his journey. He is transitioning from one lifestyle to another. He knows he is not content with the Brahmin lifestyle, and that he must leave it. But he is partially in the dark of where he will go. The Samana lifestyle and his yearning for answers are his starlight and moonlight; guiding forces, moving him in the right direction. The use of natural imagery in this section of the story represents where Siddhartha is in this step of his allegorical journey. He is partially in the dark when it comes to answers, but he knows he must make a change in order to find what he is looking for.

Unlike the nature imagery represented in Siddhartha’s Brahmin lifestyle, after Siddhartha is awakened for the first time he notices every aspect of nature in all its beauty, and this represents an unfettered Siddhartha. This imagery represents how Siddhartha does not need wealth, power, or even teachers in order to find enlightenment. He just needs to look within himself. After his awakening, Siddhartha begins a new journey to discover himself. He suddenly begins to notice every serene aspect of nature. The descriptions of raw nature represent a raw, free, and genuine Siddhartha. When Siddhartha is walking in the forest, Hesse writes in vivid description, “He saw trees, stars, animals, clouds, rainbows, cliffs, herbs and flowers, stream and river, the flash of dew in the morning bushes, distant high mountains blue and pale; birds were singing, so were bees, and wind blew silvery through the rice paddies” (41). Hesse paints a vibrant picture of the state of mind that Siddhartha is living in at that moment. Nature is one of the simplest pleasures of life, and Siddhartha found that, “nothing else was necessary,” (43). Siddhartha now understands that he does not need teachers or strict rules to live by in order to live contently. Siddhartha realizes that his old lifestyles as a Brahmin and a Samana masked the true beauty of the world. Siddhartha was so busy searching for answers within others that he didn’t realize he could find the answers within the most natural parts of the world. Siddhartha realizes, “All these things had always been there, and yet he had not seen them; he had not been present” (42). It is here that Siddhartha realizes that he does not need teachers or other people to give him the answers he islooking for. Nature is used to represent the fact that he can find answers within the simple things in life.

Like the nature imagery in Siddhartha’s Brahmin lifestyle, tamed nature in the city represents a contained and limited Siddhartha. In this case, Siddhartha is limited by the world of the child people, specifically wealth. He feels that the child people’s obsession with wealth and materialism traps him, and stunts his spiritual growth. As Siddhartha reaches the city after leaving the forest: “Just outside the city, near a lovely fenced-in grove, the wanderer encountered a small company of maids” (46). Just as the shade described in the setting of the Brahmin lifestyle represents shelter and protection, the “fenced-in grove” represents a protected and limited Siddhartha. There were no fenced-in groves in the forest, where Siddhartha felt the most free. This description is an immediate representation that Siddhartha will feel limited in the city. After years in the city, Siddhartha begins to realize this. Siddhartha’s soul is compared to a piece of nature when Hesse writes, “Slowly, as moisture seeps into the dying tree trunk, slowly filling it up and making it rot, worldliness and lethargy had crept into Siddhartha’s soul, filling it slowly, making it heavy, making it weary, putting it to sleep,” (65). The world of the child people contaminates Siddhartha’s soul, and hinders Siddhartha’s understanding of himself. This comparison between Siddhartha and a dying tree represents a difficult part of his journey to finding himself, as he feels as if his soul is being suffocated by the world around him. Later, Siddhartha has a dream about a rare songbird that Kamala keeps in a golden cage. Siddhartha dreamed that: “the bird, which always used to sing at dawn, had fallen silent…the little bird lay dead and still on the bottom [of the cage.] He took it out…and then tossed it aside, into the street, and at the same moment he was seized with fear and horror and his head hurt, as if with this dead bird he had thrust aside everything that had worth and value. (70)

The bird clearly symbolizes Siddhartha. Siddhartha used to be happy and content with his life as he wandered through the forest, observing nature. He even used to be happy living in the world of the child people. But just as the bird is trapped in the golden cage, Siddhartha is trapped within the wealth and the luxury of the world he inhabits. The dream is a message to Siddhartha, telling him that if he does not escape the wealth of this world soon, his soul will die just as the songbird did. The bird is a force of nature in its most free and unfettered state, so nature is used again to represent which stage of his journey Siddhartha is in.

Similarly to the unfettered nature Siddhartha observes after his first awakening, the river in the novel represents a free, constantly-flowing, and content Siddhartha. When Siddhartha is by the river, he is calm and in touch with his inner self. Every aspect of the river- the sound, the smell, and the feeling- help Siddhartha to be mindful and content. The river is the force of nature that Siddhartha finally chooses to live near after many ups and downs on his allegorical journey. Siddhartha moved between contained and unfettered nature, and he finally chooses to live by free nature, the river. Siddhartha is very similar to the river, and he observes the similarities: “He saw that the water flowed and flowed, it was constantly flowing” (86). Just as the river is constantly flowing and moving from place to place, so is Siddhartha. After Siddhartha speaks to the Buddha, he realizes that “no one will ever attain redemption through doctrine” (30). Siddhartha finds that the only way to reach the goals of his allegorical journey is to find the answers for himself. The river proves to be a significant source of wisdom for Siddhartha. Throughout the story Siddhartha learns to find answers within himself, and he can relate to the river because he can find the similarities between the river and himself. Siddhartha describes his relationship to the river: “Never had a body of water so pleased him, never had he perceived the voice and the allegory of the moving water so powerfully and beautifully. It seemed to him that the river had something special to say to him, something he did not yet know, something still awaiting him” (84). The river represents a stage of Siddhartha’s journey where he feels enlightened and awake. This use of natural imagery reflects Siddhartha’s stage in his journey, and represents a more spiritually free and content Siddhartha.

Natural imagery in the novel Siddhartha gives the reader insight into the stages of Siddhartha’s allegorical journey. Raw, unfettered nature, such as the vivid natureimagery after Siddhartha’s awakening and the river at the end of the novel, represents a genuine and content Siddhartha. When Siddhartha is in this stage of his journey, he is content and in touch with his inner self. In contrast, contained and altered nature in the novel represents a limited and restricted Siddhartha when it comes to his connection with his inner self. Limited nature is shown with imagery in the description of Siddhartha’s Brahmin lifestyle and with Kamala’s caged bird. The message of natural healing in Siddhartha corresponds to modern life, too. It has been a commonplace pre and post-modern period that people can find more healing and happiness in more natural places such as the country rather than cities. Nature in its most natural form has proven to have a more positive affect on people overall, and this idea is clearly represented in the novel Siddhartha.

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