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The Smile Symbol Analysis

The Smile Symbol Icon
The Buddha has a serene smile when Siddhartha first sees him, and this smile is symbolic of the man’s perfection, his childlike love for the world and his tranquility, and becomes a symbol of the ideal state of enlightenment that all the novel’s characters are searching for. As Siddhartha’s measure of spiritual wisdom changes and matures, thanks to the natural world, he sees the smile again on Vasudeva’s face, showing that enlightenment can come with listening and living and isn’t reserved for philosophers. In the final chapter, faced with his past and present and at ease with everything, Siddhartha smiles with this perfect smile and shows Govinda that he has reached his goal.

The Smile Quotes in Siddhartha

The Siddhartha quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Smile. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Path to Spiritual Enlightenment Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Siddhartha published in 1999.
Part One, Chapter 3 – Gautama Quotes

I have never seen anyone gaze and smile like that, sit and stride like that, he thought. Truly, I wish I could gaze and smile, sit and stride like that, so free, so venerable, so concealed, so open, so childlike and mysterious.

Related Characters: Siddhartha (speaker), Gautama
Related Symbols: The Smile
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage describes Siddhartha's and Govinda's first sighting of Gautama, in which they simply see him walking and immediately know by his presence who he is. Here, Hesse drives home the point that enlightenment has a kind of unspoken radiance. This seems to corroborate Siddhartha's suspicion of the teachings of those who lacked this radiance. Gautama is clearly the most special spiritual being Siddhartha and Govinda have yet encountered and they are inspired by him.

It is significant that Hesse focuses on Gautama's smile, because it is pursuit of that smile – a symbol of achieved enlightenment – that Siddhartha will seek for the remainder of the book. In Gautama's smile enlightenment is, in a sense, made concrete in a way that is surprising – enlightenment is not teachings or practices as much as it is a presence that is open and happy and even childlike. This smile gestures towards the unity between the body and the world that Siddhartha seeks, though he does not yet know how to attain it. 


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Part Two, Chapter 11 – Om Quotes

Radiant was Vasudeva’s smile, it hovered, luminous, over all the wrinkles in his old face just as the om hovered over all the voices of the river. Bright shone his smile when he looked at his friend, and bright now glowed the very same smile on Siddhartha’s face.

Related Characters: Siddhartha, Vasudeva
Related Symbols: The Smile, The River
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

Though Siddhartha has accepted that his son is gone and he cannot change him, he still feels bitterness and hurt. He is jealous of people who have loving father-son relationships, and wonders if the child people were wiser than he was all along for prioritizing their loved ones. Siddhartha is mostly happy and at peace, but the wound from his son is the only thing bothering him. Finally, after a climactic moment of feeling the river laughing at him for his silliness about his son, Siddhartha, at Vasudeva's urging, looks into the river and demands more than he ever has.

The river gives him a vision of unity, in which all voices are one, all times are one, all emotions are one, and he is one with all of it. Looking back up from the river, Siddhartha finally has the smile – symbolizing enlightenment – that Gautama and Vasudeva have. That Siddhartha attains this enlightenment as an old person – Hesse is careful to point out the wrinkles in his face – is important. The path to enlightenment was long and arduous and there are no shortcuts. Siddhartha had to earn every bit of wisdom through experience and through listening to himself rather than others. Finally, it's important that this final knowledge comes from the river, which symbolizes the unity into which Siddhartha has entered.

Part Two, Chapter 12 – Govinda Quotes

He no longer saw his friend Siddhartha’s face; instead he saw other faces, many, a long row, a streaming river of faces, hundreds, thousands, which all came and faded and yet seemed all to be there at once, which kept changing and being renewed, and yet which all were Siddhartha.

Related Characters: Siddhartha, Govinda
Related Symbols: The Smile
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

Govinda is about to leave the river just as confused and anxious as before. He is impressed by Siddhartha's presence, but finds his words confusing and unhelpful. Before he goes, Siddhartha kisses his friend and in this moment Govinda has a vision. It is significant that it is an act, not an explanation, that pushes Govinda into challenging his ideas about the world. It is also significant that Govinda has a vision of the river that is similar to the one Siddhartha had; he sees a river of faces that are different but still all one. In this vision he sees good and evil and many other supposed opposites unified in the river, and the unity he sees is visualized by the smile Siddhartha wears.

Siddhartha, like Vasudeva, has now helped someone else take steps towards finding unity. Like Vasudeva, this has occurred in the form of a natural vision that conjured the same peaceful smile that the enlightened wear. Govinda's vision indicates that Siddhartha has become truly enlightened.

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The Smile Symbol Timeline in Siddhartha

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Smile appears in Siddhartha. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part One, Chapter 3 – Gautama
The Path to Spiritual Enlightenment Theme Icon
Nature and the Spirit Theme Icon
Direction and Indirection Theme Icon
Truth and Illusion Theme Icon
The Buddha’s peaceful smile is unwavering . He warns Siddhartha to be careful of his own cleverness. Then he goes smiling... (full context)
Part Two, Chapter 12 – Govinda
The Path to Spiritual Enlightenment Theme Icon
Nature and the Spirit Theme Icon
Direction and Indirection Theme Icon
Truth and Illusion Theme Icon
Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction Theme Icon
...he can understand, to take with him when they part for the last time. Siddhartha smiles still . Govinda’s face is full of angst and seeking. Siddhartha tells him to come close... (full context)