Hermann Hesse

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Siddhartha: Style 1 key example

Part Two, Chapter 12 – Govinda
Explanation and Analysis:

Hesse's meditative style contains a few characteristic formal techniques. The first is triplicate rhythms. The author creates this kind of rhythm by combining three-part grammatical structures. Sentences often contain three similar words, phrases, or clauses. And sometimes, a page will contain three similar paragraphs. This rhythm, which appears on a microcosmic level, also reflects the macrocosmic structural aspects of the novel (i.e., Siddhartha's story takes place in three parts, as he stays with the Samanas, the Child People, and Vasudeva). The number three carries great significance in both Buddhism and Hinduism, but on a simply stylistic level, triplicate sequences give the text a rhythmic, lyrical quality that makes it very enjoyable to read.

The second stylistic aspect of this story is realistic detail. The narrator provides extensive descriptions of each character's key features—for example, the Buddha's smile. Many words go into each paragraph about the "fine, impenetrable, perhaps kindly, perhaps quizzical, wise, thousandfold smile of Gautama." The relative level of detail in which characters are described places emphasis on those that Hesse believes to be the most important. They also make the text easily visualizable and bring to life the largely internal achievement of enlightenment.

Lastly, the novel's style grows increasingly lyrical as it approaches the final chapter. The poetic prose of the story's final chapters reflects Siddhartha's enlightenment. Hesse fills Chapter 12 with graceful, flowing, long sentences that evoke Govinda's emotional reaction to discovering that the ferryman is, indeed, his childhood friend.

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. He saw the face of a fish, a carp, with a mouth open in infinite pain, a dying fish, with breaking eyes—he saw the face of a newborn child, red and wrinkled, twisted with weeping—he saw the face of a murderer, saw him plunge a knife in another man’s body—

Here is an almost page-long sentence interrupted by em dashes that separate each vision. The poetic nature of this passage, which comes from its nontraditional, flowing grammatical structure, conveys the beauty of what Govinda sees through Siddhartha's eyes. The catalog of scenes takes on a dreamlike quality due to its apparently non-rational sequence. From consistent triplicate rhythms to detailed descriptions to the lyricism in this passage, Hesse employs a number of stylistic techniques to craft an impressively resonant story with a meditative style.