Notes on Characters from Siddhartha

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Siddhartha Major Characters

Siddhartha: The son of a Brahmin and raised to study Hindu teachings, he is greatly admired for his intelligence and handsome looks while growing up. Despite his popularity, Siddhartha leaves his family village in India to search for meaning in his life. After becoming a wandering Samana for three years and rejecting the teachings of Buddha, he matures after meeting Kamala in Samsara and discovers sin. After twenty years he rejects this life, nearly attempts suicide, and goes to live with a ferryman near the river. Here he reflects on his life, and the restlessness that has followed him is dispelled; he realizes that he has learned from his experiences. Finally, as an old man, Siddhartha finds peace and wisdom, recognizing that everything in the world is a recurring cycle. He experiences the same enlightenment as the Buddha. Note: Buddha's original name before becoming enlightened was 'Siddartha.' Also, in Jainism a 'Siddha' is a liberated consciousness.

Govinda: Siddhartha's 'shadow' and childhood friend. When Siddhartha decides to leave his village to become a Samana, Govinda follows him out into the world, thinking him to be destined for greatness and fame. He hopes to stay close to Siddhartha so that he, too, may rise to glory, rather than finding it for himself. Inspired by Buddha's teachings, Govinda leaves Siddhartha to become a monk. Yet he remains a shadow, following behind Buddha rather than being an independent person. Govinda appears again many years later when Siddhartha contemplates suicide near the river and again when Siddhartha has found his peace near the river when they are both very old. Govinda has not changed at all through all these years. He continues searching to understand the world through others' teachings instead of experiencing it firsthand. He does not develop.

Buddha (Gotama, Illustrious One, Sakyamuni) : Buddha is the founder of a religious movement called Buddhism, which presents the world as a cycle of cause and effect and offers salvation to the suffering. He brings hope to many people in India who are restless after years of poverty and sickness. His followers increase rapidly, and wealthy patrons make donations to support the spread of Buddha's teachings, including Anathapindika, who presented the Jetavana grove. Siddhartha admires Buddha for having reached enlightenment but does not trust his teachings because they do not explain what he seeks to understand. Buddha's impending death unites people everywhere to pay tribute to him for his greatness, yet Siddhartha achieves the same state of enlightenment as Buddha by experiencing the world for himself instead of following teachings. Note: 'Buddha' is the Sanskrit word for 'one who is awakened.' Buddha's death occurred in 483 B.C. He was eighty years old.

Kamala: A wealthy courtesan, she helps Siddhartha to enter the materialistic world of Samsara by exposing him to greed, lust, and love. After many years, her beauty begins to fade and, made aware of her own mortality, seeks solace in Buddha's teachings. When Siddhartha leaves Samsara, she is pregnant with his son, whom she spoils with gifts and excess once born. Kamala dies near the river after a poisonous snakebite while on a pilgrimage to see the dying Buddha. She sees Siddhartha one last time and is happy that he has found his peace. Kamala thus dies in peace herself, for she had loved him. Her body is cremated on a hill near the river.

Ferryman (Vasudeva): Vasudeva first ferries Siddhartha across the river to get to Samsara, although Siddhartha judges this man to be a simpleton. After twenty years he leaves Samsara and returns to Vasudeva, wishing to become his apprentice. Vasudeva teaches him how to listen and hear the voice of the river. Siddhartha is enlightened, for he begins to understand that the world is a recurring cycle because of this quite life near the river. After twelve years, old Vasudeva goes off into the woods to die peacefully, leaving Siddhartha alone to manage the ferry. He declares blissfully that he is going 'into the unity of things,' since death is merely a part of the world's cycle.

Minor Characters

Brahmin: In India, being 'Brahmin' is one the highest titles a Hindu priest can reach. Siddhartha's father is a Brahmin and tries to groom his son to become a Hindu scholar like himself. Siddhartha rejects these teachings and leaves the village after his father reluctantly consents. He never sees his son again.

Samana: One who lives a life of piety and self-denial, free of possessions and desires. Siddhartha joins a group of wandering Samanas after leaving his family village. Their beliefs foster an increased connection to nature by meditating and using the imagination. Siddhartha hypnotizes the Samana elder when he requests permission to leave. He thinks their beliefs are all just tricks of the mind, although his Samana past later returns to influence him with feelings of guilt during his sinful life in Samsara.

Anathapindika: This wealthy patron donated the Jetavana grove to Buddha in support of his teachings, and he establishes a monastery there.

Kamaswami: A clever merchant who hires Siddhartha to be his apprentice, supplying him with food, clothes, and a home. The two disagree because mercantilism is just a game for Siddhartha, while the materialistic Kamaswami enjoys earning a profit. Later, Siddhartha becomes consumed by profit as well, until he leaves Samsara. Kamaswami assumes that he had been attacked by bandits, for he cannot understand why anyone would want to give up such a wealthy lifestyle.

Young Siddhartha: Young Siddhartha is left in his father's care after the death of Kamala, his mother. Siddhartha falls in love with his young son, wishing that he would love him, too. But he is too gentle, and the boy becomes defiant, despising his father and their boring life near the river. He runs away back to the evils in Samsara, never to return. Siddhartha searches for his son obsessively, consumed with longing to have him again. Later he realizes how selfish he has been, for he left his own father the Brahmin when young and never returned to him, either. Siddhartha realizes that this is merely another part of the world's cycle, and his aching heart heals.

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