Siddhartha had lived a worldly life for a while and had learned about things like lust and power. He had a material life similar to Kamaswami’s, a house and his own servants, but he never entered this life fully. As the years passed, he received visitors, asking for advice and money, but the only real connection he made was with Kamala. He reflected on the feeling he’d had after he left Govinda with the monks, of delight at realizing his own voice, and it seemed like a dim memory.
Siddhartha’s voice has been hidden beneath all the sounds and sights of the business world, so that he has been living for the sake of others and ignoring his own ego, which had before been so clear to him. These pleasures and riches are like illusions, things he sees and feels but which aren’t entirely real to him, and in living a life dedicated to the pursuit of such illusions he loses his connection to himself.
Some things that he learned from the Brahmins and Gautama and the samanas have stayed with Siddhartha but others have as good as disappeared. His thinking has slowed but his senses have awakened. He has learned how to play the gambling games of the town, how to eat delicacies, but he still feels like an outsider, and still watches with scornful eyes. But as the time has gone on, his scorn has become less outright, and he starts to take on characteristics of the ‘child people’.
Siddhartha’s character had seemed so clear at the beginning of the book, when we see him described in superlative terms, the most handsome, the most talented, most reflective. But through this possession-based life, Siddhartha’s qualities have shown to be mutable. Sensuality and contemplation jostle for room in Siddhartha’s mind and show that he is not so definite a character as he seemed.
As Siddhartha grows more anxious, he envies the child people, because they still have something that he lacks, a sense of the importance of their own lives and of their worldly pursuits. Siddhartha feels ill at ease with this life. He stays in bed, feels lazy, loses patience with Kamaswami, and though he still wears the spiritual expression of the samanas slightly, his face has begun to wrinkle and turn sickly. Weariness like a mist settles over Siddhartha. His life has grown old. Most importantly to Siddhartha, the inner voice that had been awakened, is now quiet.
Though Siddhartha has looked with scorn at the child people, it is he that is the most dangerously under the spell of the town. The other residents seem not to sicken so much, or their sickness is more well-hidden or more innate. Either way, it is Siddhartha who embodies the sin and sickliness of the place, because he sees it for what it is. It is as if it’s the knowledge of the illusion that gets to him, rather than the business lifestyle itself.
The vices of the town have captured Siddhartha, and now the need for property and money keeps him in a cycle that seems unending. Siddhartha has a particular weakness for throwing dice. He gambles more and more often, and gets addicted to the euphoria of winning, and wagers higher and higher stakes. With each loss, he plots with greater seriousness how to get back his money. And through the escalation of this habit, Siddhartha’s way with people changes, he is no longer patient with beggars and the poor. It is a vicious cycle.
Each game and trade is a cycle in itself. Each roll of the dice even represents a cycle. All these cycles add up and add up until they create a machine of cogs that keeps Siddhartha trapped. This game-like state is driven by short-term excitement and profit, and the brevity of these achievements starts to deeply affect qualities that we thought were essential to Siddhartha, like his generosity and patience.
One night, Siddhartha spends the evening with Kamala and she asks all about the Buddha and wishes one day to take refuge in his teaching. Then Siddhartha and Kamala make love, in the battling, teasing way that Kamala has taught him, and it occurs to Siddhartha how close lust is to death. Lying with Kamala afterwards, he also notices that she is becoming old, there is a fear in her face that wasn’t there before, a fear of death perhaps. After this, Siddhartha spends the night dancing and drinking, but is not joyful. Everything is too bright, too sweet. He feels gluttonous and disgusted with his own life.
Being with Kamala had at first seemed like such a departure from life in the forest and life as a monk, but as Siddhartha gets closer and closer to this woman and they become equals in love, he begins to notice all the details that align her with the paths he has already traveled. She, too, will face death. Even love is not safe from the cycles of life.
That night, when Siddhartha falls asleep for a moment, he has a dream, in which Kamala’s pet song bird turns suddenly mute. When Siddhartha goes over to the bird in the dream, the bird is dead on the cage floor and as he picks it up and throws it away, he feels like he is throwing away all value and goodness. When he wakes up he feels a deep sadness. He goes out to his own pleasure garden and sits with these terrible thoughts.
The songbird is a symbol of both the natural world and the voice, important factors in Siddhartha’s path to enlightenment. Without nature and voice, Siddhartha cannot see the beauty and wisdom that he saw in his moments of awakening in conversation with the river.
Siddhartha replays the path of his life and thinks about his moments of genuine happiness. These moments all involve him hearing the inner voice calling him forward on his own path. When he was a boy listening to the Brahma teaching, and going from the Buddha into the unknown. But he hasn’t heard that voice for some time. He had been living for the goals and desires of the child people, but these goals and desires were not his own, he had been playing a game, over and over again. But now he knows the game is over.
Siddhartha’s voice is the constant that reminds him when he is on the right path. It is his own voice, own ego, own essence that he looks for. It is of a different quality than the words and thoughts that he had distrusted, it is a more ephemeral, sensual concept.
Siddhartha feels something die within him. He sits contemplating in the grove, and considers how he has left Govinda and Gautama in order to own things like this grove and sees that it was wrong to do so. He says goodbye to these possessions. Then he feels hunger, but says goodbye to this too. He leaves the town. For a while, Kamaswami searches for him, but Kamala has expected his departure. She knows that he still has samana in him. She is glad to have had their final, intense moment together. Later, she finds out that she is pregnant with Siddhartha’s child.
Siddhartha’s experience in the town comes to an end, For the first time he doubts his own choices and finds that his path has been wrong. But Kamala, who he has admitted is a kindred spirit to him, sees beyond Siddhartha’s unease and seems to understand that his path has not been wrong but has continued as she expected and as his whole path so far has been leading.