Born in Germany's Black Forest on July 2, 1877, Hermann Hesse was schooled in theology from an early age by his father, a Russian missionary. Lessons in Latin and Greek followed thi schooling to prepare for his entrance into the Maulbronn Seminary School. He was admitted but ran away after only six months, vowing to become a poet. After a short stay in a psychiatric asylum, Hesse began working in a bookshop and soon after published his first novel, Peter Camenzind, in 1904. It describes a boy who leaves his small village to be a poet. Hesse continued to write and publish, making a trip to India in 1911, the country where his mother, the daughter of a Protestant missionary, had been born. At the onset of World War I Hesse at once involved himself in anti-war activities and edited two German newspapers; during this period his first marriage ended after his wife's nervous breakdown and entry into an asylum where she would remain until the end of her life.
Hesse himself suffered severe stress after this event, the death of his father, and the poor health of one of his sons. He underwent intensive psychoanalysis in 1917 by a student of Carl Jung. This would be followed by the publish of Demian two years later, after moving permanently to Switzerland and away from the troubles afflicting Germany. It is from his quiet house in the mountains that Hesse would write Siddhartha in 1922, followed by Steppenwolf (1927), which reflects his own sorrows about growing old and the changes that have occurred between the present and his past. Soon after, Narcissus and Goldmund (1930) tells the tale of two friends bound by their differences, the one finding solace in religion and the other endlessly seeking peace. Another novel was published in 1932 describing a group's pilgrimage in search of knowledge, as they make their Journey to the East, reflecting the same sentiment Siddartha had a decade before. His last work, Magister Ludi, was finished in 1943 after a ten-year silence, and for it Hesse was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. He died at Montagnola, Switzerland, in 1962.
Overall, Hesse's work strongly reflects his own identity crisis, particularly in coming to terms with the past. Often the answer lies in travelling backwards, closer to his roots, as he did after voyaging in 1911 to India, where his mother had been born. Despite his Protestant descent, it is Near-Eastern religion that sets the stage for Siddhartha, in addition to his interest in psychoanalysis and the teachings of Carl Jung. Even in light of the stylistic diversity of his novels, there remains one persistent theme in Hesse's work: to understand human existence and define the value of an individual swallowed by a greater society, as Siddhartha finally does. Govinda is forced to continue his search, for he has not experienced the world for himself. Siddhartha is a testament to the importance of varied personal experiences as a means of finding meaning in life.
Carlsson, Anni and Volker Michels, eds. The Hesse/Mann Letters. London: Peter Owen Limited, 1976.
Helt, Richard. "...A Poet or Nothing At All." Providence: Berghahn Books, 1996.
Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha, trans. by Hilda Rosner. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1951.
Hesse, Hermann. Stories of Five Decades, trans. by Ralph Manheim. New York: Bantam Books, 1972.
Kopp, Sheldon. If You Meet Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! New York: Bantam Books, 1976.
Zaehner, R.C., ed. Hindu Scriptures. New York: Alfred K. Knopf, 1992.
Ethics of Buddha and Buddhism by Sanderson Beck: http://www.san.beck.org/EC9-Buddha.html
Ethics of Hindu Philosophy by Sanderson Beck: http://www.san.beck.org/EC11-Hindu.html