(The title of my thesis begins with ‘Harmonious Self for a Harmonious World: Quest for Self … ‘. I ‘ve also attempted to make a cultural analysis of the text with the hope of creating some cross-cultural understanding in an era of cultural assertiveness and arrogance. Although current European leaders from Merkel to Sarkozi are asserting that multiculturalism has ‘utterly failed’ in Europe, the cost of such a failure for countries like Nepal and India would be devastating.)
The early 20th century was also the era of cultural cross-fertilization. The industrial revolution promoted visits to far off places for colonial, commercial, and even just for curiosity. Development of steam and fossil fuel engines in the early twentieth century fueled the growth in the number of people travelling and settling to foreign lands. The interaction of different people also gave rise to interaction of different cultures. Hesse was aware that both the Eastern and Western cultures are going to misunderstand each other ultimately, since in their enthusiasm for finding the other exotic, in what Hesse saw as the West’s too ready embrace of the East, and vice verca, he “plainly detected too much unavailing flight into the exotic half-known”( Mileck 165).
Hesse seems to challenge both the Easterns and the Westerns to revalue their understanding of each other by overcoming all apparent contradiction and dichotomies through the realization of inner self. Hesse was aware of both the positivity and limitations of both the Western and Eastern ways, since he believed that “. . . basic truths about man and life were to be found behind the religious and philosophical trappings of the Orient and the Occident. . . (Mileck 165). All Hesse works seek to establish the individual’s multi-dimensional identity during the times of great personal and cultural crises.
Although Siddhartha is subtitled as an Indian Tale, Mileck calls Hesse’s protagonist Siddhartha not another Buddha from the East, but a Western Buddha or a “Western Possibility” (164). Hesse also seems to be making a criticism of Indian way of life as mired in too much pedantry and self-denial. The conflict of culture is latent in Siddhartha, since “Despite the Orient’s strong attraction, Hesse remained a Westerner” (Mileck 165). However, Hesse wants his Siddhartha to transcend the binaries of East and West as well. The setting looks eastern only because Hesse says so, but his depiction of the landscapes could be anywhere. The characters sound eastern only in their names, otherwise as Mileck observes, the figures do not evoke any physical or psychological dimensions.
In the words of Mileck, in Siddhartha, “. . . timeless substance (the human condition) found a consonant expression in timeless setting, characters, lives, and language. . .” (172). Thus, Siddhartha represents more of archetype than the actual people. Siddhartha’s opposition to all prevailing traditional paths seems Hesse’s call for rising above the trapping of all cultures regardless of whether one belongs to the Eastern or Western culture.
Mckay Jenkins, in his search for parallel ideas between Hinduism and Buddhism as seen by Salman Rushdie in the latter’s Midnight’s Children, alludes to Hesse’s Siddhartha as an example of cross-cultural text that shows human existence as nothing but a collection of diverse and fragmented identities. In his essay, “Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Meditation, and the Postmodern Conception of History”, Jenkins quotes a long passage from Siddhartha in which Siddhartha’s friend Govinda, looking into the face of his old friend Siddhartha, watches his friend’s face melt into the faces of countless other faces, “. . . each image representing another fragment in the psychological, historical, and cultural makeup of the ‘individual’ man.” (67).
Hesse’s concern in Siddhartha is not to establish the superiority of any particular culture over another. On the contrary, through the treatment different cultures in Siddhartha, Hesse shows his respect for the plurality of cultures. As Stelzig observes Hesse is a, “humanist and cultural pluralist for whom the microcosm of the individual self is integrally related to the macrocosm of history and civilization” (“Hermann” 270). Hence, Siddhartha can also be seen as a text by an author highlighting the need for celebrating cultural diversity and yet seek for the unifying elements among cultures.