Hesse's work became increasingly popular after the World War II. His literature gave young readers a means of tranquility after a time of such confusion. It opened up a new world for them, as they could explore themselves and make sense of the chaos around them.
In Hesse's Siddhartha, the theme of soul-searching and Dhamma, even when set against the backdrop of Buddhism, can be read by people of all races. What is more intriguing is that, a Westerner, Hesse being a German, wrote this novel about Eastern philosophy. It is a novel about self-exploration and the coming together of mind, body, and spirit.
Hesse's emphasis is upon an historical figure of Siddhartha, a questing and questioning protagonist. He is in many ways the fictional counterpart to the Buddha himself, who, according to scholars, was Sakyamani Gautama, born in India in the sixth century B.C. Like Gautama, Siddhartha is a member of the Indian elite, a Brahmin born to luxury and power. Hesse writes that the "handsome Brahmin's son" was expected to become a "great learned man, a priest, a prince among Brahmins." "Love stirred in the hearts of the young Brahmins' daughters when Siddhartha," writes Hesse, "walked through the streets of the town, with his lofty brow, his king-like eyes and his slim figure" (p. 3 - 4). Inevitably, Siddhartha, like Gautama, becomes disillusioned with his privileged existence. Both men discover that an existence framed by temporal realities is meaningless. After encountering a group of Samanas, which is described as "lean jackals in the world of men" around whom "hovered an atmosphere of still passion, of devastating service, of unpitying self-denial" (p. 9), Siddhartha makes the fateful decision to leave his father's palace and to join them. While his commitment to the Samana's life of self-denial is genuine and deep, Siddhartha remains dissatisfied. He does not discover in ascetism the much sought after release from samsara, or the cyclical nature of existence. In these particulars, Hesse remains faithful to the fragmented history in which Gautama, the Buddha, is enshrouded.
In Siddhartha, after crossing a river on a ferry, he meets and falls in love with Kamala, a famous courtesan. With her help, Siddhartha becomes wealthy and is able to afford anything he wants, including Kamala herself. After a while, however, he realizes that this life of indulgence is just as pointless as a life of denial, that both luxury and asceticism are extremes that clutter rather than clear the path to spiritual illumination. He decides, therefore, to turn his back on the world of samsara and illusion. Unaware that Kamala is now pregnant with his child, Siddhartha flees the city and returns to the river where, in despair, he almost commits suicide. But at the last moment, something from his old self stirs inside him, and he realizes that suicide is an evasion, not an answer.
After twelve years have passed, Kamala comes to the river with her son in search of Buddha. She dies from a snake bite, and Siddhartha begins to care for the boy. He loves his son desperately, but the boy longs to get away from the two old boatmen and return to life in the city. Eventually he escapes, and as Siddhartha realizes how deeply he loves his son, he