Siddhartha Essay: The Symbols of the Smile and the River in Siddhartha

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The Symbols of the Smile and the River in Siddhartha

An important symbol in Siddhartha is the smile. Each of the three characters in the story who attain a final state of complete serenity is characterized by a beautiful smile which reflects their peaceful, harmonious state. In each case this smile is a completely natural phenomenon; it cannot be created at will by people who have not attained the prerequisite state of harmony with life.

The first character who is described as possessing this smile is Gotama, the Buddha. When Siddhartha first sees him, he recognizes him immediately, largely on account of this mysterious smile. Gotama is imperturbable and he retains his smile - and his equanimity - even when Siddhartha
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The smile, like the river, suggests perfection and unity, and it is Siddhartha's smile that makes such a strong impression on Govinda at the close of the story. Just as Siddhartha perceived unity and perfection by listening to and gazing into the river, Govinda comes to feel at least an intimation of the Unity of all things by looking into Siddhartha's face and experiencing a genuine emotional response to the saintless revealed in his smile.

The smile and one aspect of the much more complicated river are closely related. Each suggests unity and harmony, and each is associated with Siddhartha at key junctures in his life. Although Gotama possesses the smile, the absence of the river as a significant factor in his life suggests that the smile is symbolic of one aspect of existence, whereas the river must also signify the World of the Mother, a world with which the Buddha has no contact.

In Siddhartha, the symbol of the river far surpasses all others in importance. Suggesting fluidity as well as the paradoxical union of permanence and flux - it seems to remain always constant, although the individual drops of water of which it is composed are constantly changing. The river is an age-old symbol suggesting eternity and
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