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Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Siddhartha, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction Theme Icon

The novel begins with a description of all Siddhartha’s good fortune, but despite all that sets him apart, he is dissatisfied, believing that he has learned all that his elders have within them to teach him. It is this hunger to use his potential completely and know absolute truth that drives each stage of his pilgrimage, and the dissatisfaction he finds at every turn that encourages him to move on. The book seems to be saying that dissatisfaction can be a good thing, a guiding light towards the next step in our journey.

And yet, dissatisfaction in and of itself does not produce enlightenment. Certainly the Buddha and Vasudeva are not characterized by their dissatisfaction with the world. And Siddhartha himself, when he finally gains enlightenment, experiences the opposite of dissatisfaction—he experiences a profound acceptance of and satisfaction with everything. Dissatisfaction, then, might be described not as a negative feeling with the world but rather a sense that there is greater potential ahead and a desire to reach that greater potential.

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Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction appears in each chapter of Siddhartha. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction Quotes in Siddhartha

Below you will find the important quotes in Siddhartha related to the theme of Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction.
Part One, Chapter 1 – The Brahmin's Son Quotes

He had begun to sense that his venerable father and his other teachers, that the wise Brahmins, had already imparted to him the bulk and the best of their knowledge, that they had already poured their fullness into his waiting vessel, and the vessel was not full, his mind was not contented…

Related Characters: Siddhartha, Siddhartha’s father
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

As a Brahmin's son, Siddhartha has been raised in an atmosphere of people seeking enlightenment in wisdom passed down through the community. Siddhartha has been a model student – he is very good at meditation, he is a quick learner, and he has an aura of success and charisma that makes him much admired. However, while his community assumes that he will be successful in the traditional ways they have defined for him, Siddhartha instinctively knows that the life that he has been born into is not enough.

Though he, like his community, seeks enlightenment, he is suspicious that he can attain enlightenment through received wisdom from elders who, frankly, seem not to have achieved enlightenment themselves. Siddhartha feels that he has already learned from them what they are able to offer, and to remain in his community would not continue to move him towards enlightenment. This is a first instance of the dissatisfaction that will propel Siddhartha throughout the book. This dissatisfaction is presented in the novel not as a negative emotion, but as an indication and result of Siddhartha's intuition about experiences that are not contributing to enlightenment. This quote also marks the beginning of Siddhartha's skepticism towards received wisdom, and initiates his journey to gain experiential knowledge from the world. 


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Part One, Chapter 2 – Among the Samanas Quotes

Siddhartha had a goal, a single one: to become empty – empty of thirst, empty of desire, empty of dreams, empty of joy and sorrow.

Related Characters: Siddhartha
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Siddhartha, driven by his dissatisfaction with his Brahmin life, joins the Samanas, an ascetic and nomadic sect that renounces material possessions. He is attracted to the extremity of the Samana lifestyle – they wander naked, fasting and renouncing the self. To Siddhartha, this signifies a devotion to enlightenment that the Brahmins, who are comfortable with their possessions, seem to lack.

In addition, Siddhartha is attracted to the experiential nature of Samana wisdom. Instead of just hearing about enlightenment, Siddhartha wants to be asked to make sacrifices for it and to experience heightened states brought on by asceticism. His goal in joining the Samanas, as he states it to himself here, is to empty himself. He is rejecting the self, hoping to purge himself of "self," in order to experience enlightenment. His subsequent time with the Samanas will be colored by this goal, and it will lead him to valuable lessons, though just as he rejected the Brahmin's ideas about the best way to achieve enlightenment he will ultimately come to believe that the Samanas beliefs and methods are similarly lacking. 

Part Two, Chapter 6 – Among the Child People Quotes

Siddhartha replied: “Stop scolding, dear friend! Scolding has never achieved anything. If there has been a loss, then let me bear the burden. I am very content with this trip. I have met all sorts of people, a Brahmin has become my friend, children have ridden on my lap, farmers have shown me their fields. No one took me for a merchant.”

Related Characters: Siddhartha (speaker), Siddhartha, Kamaswami
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Siddhartha has just returned from a trip to a rice plantation. Though he found that the rice had already been sold to another merchant, Siddhartha decided to stay anyway and mingle with the people who lived there. Kamaswami scolds him for not prioritizing business and coming home immediately, but Siddhartha brushes him off. This passage shows the differences between Siddhartha's values and Kamaswami's values; Kamaswami thinks that business is of paramount importance, while Siddhartha is willing to take business losses without complaint in exchange for having good experiences with other people. Siddhartha is seeking experiences, while Kamaswami is seeking money.

This passage is important because something Siddhartha needed to learn from living in town with Kamaswami and being with Kamala was the importance of human relationships, and this is the first time that Siddhartha has expressed the value of making friends with others. This passage shows that Siddhartha is gaining the experience he needs from living in the town, and it has not yet begun to corrupt him.

At times he heard, deep in his breast, a soft and dying voice that admonished softly, lamented softly, barely audible. Then for an hour he was aware that he was leading a strange life, that he was doing all sorts of things that were merely a game, that he was cheerful, granted, and sometimes felt joy, but that a real life was flowing past him and not touching him.

Related Characters: Siddhartha
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

For a long time, Siddhartha has lived with Kamaswami among the "child people" in town and has felt separate from them because of his past. For a while, this separation seemed true – Siddhartha had different, more spiritual concerns from the townspeople and was not moved by their material concerns. However, after a long time of living this life as though it were a game, Siddhartha begins to understand that it is not a game – that whether or not he fully believes in what he's doing, it is actually the life he's living.

The inner voice that has guided him his whole life is faint now; he can barely hear it when it tells him that he has strayed from the real life he was meant for. The inner voice is nearly synonymous with Siddhartha's dissatisfaction, and it is generally dissatisfaction that is his best guide for when his life is not matching up with his potential. However, it seems that the petty materialism of his life as a merchant has dulled his sense of dissatisfaction dangerously, making him believe he is satisfied with something less than what he truly wants. This passage is important for the way it suggests how material comfort can blind one to the possibilities of a more fulfilling life, and because it definitively confirms that something is deeply wrong with Siddhartha's life, but Siddhartha is, at this point, unable to do anything about it. This is an important conflict for him to endure.

Part Two, Chapter 7 – Samsara Quotes

Like a veil, like a thin mist, weariness descended on Siddhartha, slowly, a bit denser each day, a bit dimmer each month, a bit heavier each year. A new garment grows old with time, loses its lovely color with time, gets stains, gets wrinkles, frays out at the hems, starts showing awkward, threadbare areas.

Related Characters: Siddhartha
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

For a long time as he has lived in the town and pursued a merchant life of material possessions, Siddhartha has been aware of the stifling of his inner voice that has, throughout his life before moving to the town, guided him from experience to experience. At this point in the book, he is struggling because he has been lulled into a comfortable but unfulfilling life, and the longer he ignores his dissatisfaction, the less likely he is to actually pull himself out of this life and find one that will allow him to achieve his potential and be true to his spiritual values.

Until this experience in the town, Siddhartha's inner voice has guided him has been an unerring guide. It has guided him to follow his own thoughts and needs in contrast to simply following the behavior and ideas of those around him, such as the Brahmins or Samanas. By contrast, this passage after his longtime spent in business in the town presents Siddhartha as having a true internal conflict, in which his inner voices is battling his own impulses that push him to just relax and enjoy his material comfort, and he seems to be losing. Hesse describes Siddhartha's vitality and vibrancy as a coat that fades and wears thin with each passing month. We get the strong sense that Siddhartha must break out of this life in order to get back his vitality, but it's not clear anymore that he will be able to do so.

Part Two, Chapter 8 – By the River Quotes

With a twisted face he stared into the water, saw his face reflected, and he spat at it. In deep fatigue, he loosened his arm from the tree trunk and turned slightly in order to plunge in a sheer drop, to go under at last. Closing his eyes, he leaned toward death.

Related Characters: Siddhartha
Related Symbols: The River
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the book, Siddhartha has definitively realized his mistake; he stayed too long in the town and allowed his inner voice to fall silent. By living for the desires of the child people while knowing that their desires were not spiritually sufficient, Siddhartha feels that he has become even worse than the child people, since they, at least, seem happy. As a result of this realization, he abandons his possessions and flees the town, but worries that this action is not enough since his voice has not come back to him and without it he has nothing to push him forward and no reason to live.

This sense is amplified by his proximity to the river, which is always moving forward and changing and adapting to the riverbed in which it runs. Siddhartha longs to be more like the river, but he fears that he has betrayed himself to the extent that his self no longer exists as it once did. The thought of this brings him to consider suicide – he hangs over the river ready to plunge himself in. He does not yet recognize that the frustration he is feeling with his missing inner voice is itself dissatisfaction, is itself the inner voice. Though his despair feels like his true condition at that moment, it is actually an indication that he is breaking out of the false satisfaction with his merchant life. Siddhartha is finally seeking out the life he is meant for, even though it is deeply painful. 

“Where,” he asked his heart, “where do you get this merriment? Does it come from that long, fine sleep, that did me so much good? Or from the word ‘om’ that I uttered? Or was it that I ran away, that my flight is completed, that I am finally free again and standing under the sky like a child?”

Related Characters: Siddhartha (speaker), Siddhartha
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Siddhartha has just awakened from his restorative nap by the river. He had been close to drowning himself in despair over the inner voice he thought he had lost, but when he leaned over the river, he heard the word "om" and was reminded of the spiritual purpose of his life. He then fell asleep, and, upon waking, felt born anew. This moment restores Siddhartha to nature, much like his experience in the grove with Gautama did after he left the Samanas.

In a sense, the novel is structured around Siddhartha straying from nature to learn more about one facet of human experience, then devoting himself too much to that facet (like fasting with the Samanas, or pursuing wealth as a merchant), and then needing to be restored to the natural world again. These restorations drive home the point that a life of intellect, theology, or human compassion must be unified with nature, not at odds with it. By now it should be obvious that in order to attain enlightenment Siddhartha must devote himself as much to the natural world as to anything else.

Part Two, Chapter 10 – The Son Quotes

He felt deep love in his heart for the runaway. It was like a wound; and he also felt that the wound was not for wallowing, that it must become a blossom and shine.

Related Characters: Siddhartha, Young Siddhartha
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

Siddhartha does not relent and allow his son to make his own path, so his son defies him and runs away, humiliating his father in the process by stealing the ferryman's boat and money. While he and the ferryman search for his son (at the ferryman's insistence this is only to get the boat back), Siddhartha finds himself in Kamala's grove and he remembers every step of his own journey. This memory forces him to acknowledge that he cannot change his son – only his son's experiences and choices can do that. As Siddhartha learned from the river, all he can do is wait for his son's journey to play out as it will.

This realization is another step on Siddhartha's own path to enlightenment. He has never experienced the kind of love before that he feels for his son, and it made him vulnerable to the possessiveness and warped behavior that he judged in the child people. After having had this experience with his son, he can now accept the child people, and by letting his son go, he is gaining all the benefits of giving love and transcending its limitations. This is what Siddhartha means when he describes the wound of his son as one that would become a blossom. It is only this heartbreak with his son that can allow him to attain enlightenment.