Childhood friends Govinda and Siddhartha are foil characters. The first and most obvious difference between them is that Govinda always follows in the footsteps of another person. Throughout his childhood, he admires Siddhartha and initially follows him in order to achieve sainthood. He believes that all of the answers to life's hard questions can be answered by the right teacher. By contrast, Siddhartha refuses to accept any single person as his primary teacher. He prefers to live through "his own knowing, his own seeking" and wonders "What father, what teacher could shield him from living his own life [...] finding the path for himself?" Unlike Govinda, Siddhartha does not readily accept any other person's way of life or learning without critical thought.
A second major difference appears in Chapter 3 when Govinda takes refuge in Gautama's teaching. By contrast, Siddhartha refuses to follow the Buddha, because he believes that one's own deliverance cannot come from another person's teaching (no matter how wise they are). The following passage containing Siddhartha's thoughts from Chapter 3 highlights the contrast between them:
The Buddha has robbed me, thought Siddhartha, he has robbed me, yet he has given me more. He has robbed me of my friend, my friend, who believed in me and who now believes in him—my friend, who was my shadow and is now Gautama’s shadow. But he has given me Siddhartha, has given me my self.
This brief moment of stream-of-consciousness narration permits insight into Siddhartha's thoughts, which differ greatly from Govinda's. Siddhartha feels sad that the Buddha has "robbed" him of his friend, yet he also sees value in his newfound independence. If the Buddha had robbed Govinda of Siddhartha, then Govinda would have felt lost, alone, and insignificant. Thus Siddhartha has a fortitude of soul and mind that Govinda seems to lack.
The third major difference is that Siddhartha achieves enlightenment, whereas Govinda does not. Govinda wears a perpetual expression of "seeking"; even as an old man he seeks knowledge from the ferryman (who turns out to be Siddhartha). When the two friends reunite in the novel's final chapter, "the feeling of deepest love, of humblest veneration burned in [Govinda's] heart like a fire." The juxtaposition of the fire in Govinda's heart and the river that prompts Siddhartha's enlightenment adds another layer of symbolic contrast between the characters. For a flame to survive, it must have something to consume, just as Govinda requires the constant presence of a teacher or leader. But a river carves its own path through the land, flowing in its own strength as Siddhartha trusts in his own intuition. Siddhartha's independent mind drives him to discover enlightenment in a way of which Govinda seems incapable.
The contrast between Govinda and Siddhartha is significant to the story because it shows how mature and unique Siddhartha is compared to his peers. He makes mistakes and learns hard lessons, but he is more willing than the average young man (like Govinda) to be uncomfortable and strike out on his own despite the prospect of loneliness on the journey toward enlightenment. Despite the challenges of independent life, Siddhartha prevails and receives immense spiritual rewards.