Siddhartha and The Alchemist Comparative Essay by JF

The Significance of Love and Wealth on Human Fulfillment

In their early teenage lives, both Hermann Hesse and Paulo Coelho struggled to cope with their parent’s conflicting outlook on their lives and ultimately, their purpose. For separate reasons, Hesse and Coelho spent time in institutions designed to “reinvent” the individual. The authors endured many months in this compulsory prison yet after release, proved their individuality and perseverance was more than a product of teen angst– they pursued their aspirations. Moreover, Hesse and Coelho’s persistence through a childhood polluted by parental control yet followed by complete success, demonstrates not only the genuine existence of destiny, but also the continuous opportunity to achieve happiness and greatness. Exemplified by the stories of their lives, Hesse and Coelho channel this idea in their works Siddhartha and The Alchemist. Using the wisdom the protagonists obtained from personal journeys, both Hesse and Coelho convey the importance of sacrificing love and common human pleasures to become entirely fulfilled. However, only Coelho advocates an ultimate return to such pleasures suggesting that love and possessions are essential in a truly authentic life.

Characterized as the protagonists’ greatest loves, Kamala and Fatima symbolize the natural temptation to settle for love instead of pursuing one’s fated desires; however, Siddhartha and Santiago’s resistance of such temptation illustrates the presence of greater human strength designed for the benefit of the individual. After abandoning his practice as a Samana, living through an ascetic lens among nature, Siddhartha met his love Kamala in a residential town. This captivating love brought with it a natural comfort, weakening Siddhartha, and for years he allowed himself to succumb to the lure of riches and superior social status. Similar to Siddhartha, Santiago too became distracted in the midst of his journey after meeting young Fatima and entranced by her beauty and grace, Santiago conveys his willingness to settle with his love in a small oasis in the Sahara, “ ‘I want to stay at the oasis,’ the boy answered.  ‘I’ve found Fatima, and as far as I’m concerned she’s worth more than treasure’ ” (118, The Alchemist). Displaying obvious determination throughout the months of tedious travel, Santiago’s sudden change of heart illustrates the consuming nature of unconditional love and its ability to alter the mindset of even the most indomitable individuals.

From the beginning, Coelho and Hesse portray both Siddhartha and Santiago as ambitious and highly motivated to enhance their lives. The characters’ temporary surrendering of such ambitions for love reveals an irrepressible aspect of life, one in which visions and dreams may be clouded and deemed unimportant. However, the writers create characters that eventually continue their journeys proving their ultimate strength. After years of living a gluttonous lifestyle, Siddhartha realizes his mistake of conforming to society, “This whole world of Kamaswami people had only been a game to him, a dance, a comedy which one watches… but was it worth playing continually? Then Siddhartha knew that the game was finished, that he could play it no longer. A shudder passed through his body; he felt as if something had died “ (84, Siddhartha). Referring to his excessive life as a game, Siddhartha mocks much of the human condition and human fascination with propriety, possessions, and according to Hesse, love as well. Similarly, Coelho suggests these fascinations act as distractions that interfere with fate, “ ‘You must understand that love never keeps a man from pursuing his Personal Legend. If he abandons that pursuit it’s because it wasn’t true love… the love that speaks the Language of the World’ ” (120, The Alchemist). Ultimately, Hesse and Coelho imply that love acts as the central obstacle standing between one’s desires; possessing the ability to resist love’s temptations demonstrates a beneficial strength proven by the protagonists to be advantageous to the individual.

Both Hesse and Coelho address the attractive, almost hypnotizing, qualities of wealth and acceptable social status through the experiences of each protagonist, illuminating that one must reject the intense lure of riches and reputation in order to attain one’s highest potential. Similar to love, wealth and social status can divert one’s objective in life, however, obtaining such riches and titles often become more of an obsession rather than an emotional desire. In the years Siddhartha lived within an organized society, he lost himself, “For a long time Siddhartha had lived the life of the world without belonging to it. The years passed by. Enveloped by comfortable circumstances, Siddhartha hardly noticed their passing. He had become rich… people liked him” (75, Siddhartha). Hesse depicts the detrimental consequences of devoting life to becoming wealthy and publicly accepted which includes loss of time. Again ridiculing human fixation with such material pleasures, Hesse describes living under the conformities of society as “living without belonging” indicating a distancing from “Self” and the good intentions of the fated life. In The Alchemist, Santiago first ignored his dream to travel to Egypt and locate his treasure because a thief robbed him of his possessions. Now intent on earning back the money he lost, Santiago became employed at a crystal shop, “For nearly a year, he had been working incessantly, thinking only of putting aside enough money so that he could return to Spain with pride” (62, The Alchemist). Instead of saving his hard earned money for a trip across the Sahara desert, Santiago wished to uphold his pride and return to Spain once again a mere shepherd. Hesse and Coelho presented both Siddhartha and Santiago with enticing opportunities to permanently settle down and live among people with effortless wealth. Siddhartha realizes the lack of significance in his life, “How many long years he had spent without any lofty goal, without any thirst, without any explanation, content with small pleasures yet never really satisfied!” (83, Siddhartha). Recognizing the illegitimacy of a lifetime tainted by gluttony, Siddhartha and Santiago continue their journeys requiring strong resistance to the influential pull of society.

Although Hesse and Coelho both deem sacrificing common pleasures necessary for genuine success–following fate, Coelho commends returning to love and wealth, illuminating how only temporary sacrifice is necessary to achieve Personal Legend. Moreover, Coelho suggests that afterward the universe rewards the individual with common human longings. For Siddhartha, abandoning his life among society and wealth allowed him to continue his path and befriend an old Ferryman whose lifestyle along the River Siddhartha eventually adopted. Living a simple life, Siddhartha learned more from the Ferryman and the River than the Samanas, Kamala, or economic success ever could have taught him. His permanent residence with the Ferryman marked Siddhartha’s final step in finding himself and his purpose. Using the tools both the wise Ferryman and the all-seeing River provided, Siddhartha reached enlightenment and achieved his ultimate goal. Following the guidance of his mentor the Alchemist and leaving Fatima, Santiago too achieved his Personal Legend in locating his treasure and decoding the Language of the World. Therefore, both authors find it essential to continue journey to completion so one may obtain the wisdom they require to live entirely fulfilled.

Conversely, Hesse and Coelho possess opposing views about life following the achievement of one’s ultimate goals. Hesse’s Siddhartha, a novel imbued with Buddhist principles and ideologies, suggests the presence of true happiness and enlightenment derives from solitude and isolation from the materialistic society. Not only does Hesse imply contentment evolves solely from the individual, but also that all other aspects of life, including love, act as stepping stones in the pursuit for enlightenment. On his final day with Kamala, Siddhartha ponders the nature of their relationship, “Only Kamala was dear to him- had been of value to him-but was she still? Did he still need her- and did she still need him? Were they not playing a game without an end? Was it necessary to live for it?” (84, Siddhartha). Siddhartha objectifies Kamala portraying her as valuable, yet disposable knowledge. In this way Hesse challenges common conceptions about true love deeming the purpose of life as something more selfish than others may perceive. Coelho, however, advocates the essentiality of love and possessions implying human reliance on both the external world and the internal “self”. Using a metaphor of nature to explain the immense presence of love, Coelho writes, “ ‘What is love?’ the desert eagle asked. ‘Love is the falcon’s flight over your sands. Because for him, you are a green field from which he always returns with game’ “ (144, The Alchemist).  Here, Coelho compares love to the natural occurrences of the world suggesting the magnitude it possesses in life. Furthermore, Coelho does not condemn wealth in society as Hesse does. Coelho writes, “ ‘This is why alchemy exists,’ the boy said, ‘So that everyone will search for his treasure, find it, and then want to be better than he was in his former life’ ” (150, The Alchemist).  Instead, Coelho accepts and interprets these pleasures as a reward to the individual for the vital sacrifices made while fulfilling their destiny.

Holistically, Hesse and Coelho both convey the importance of embracing selfishness throughout one’s life. Without some presence of self-interest, realizing and achieving personally authentic goals becomes close to impossible.  Furthermore, the authors suggest that only those who possess strength and wisdom will understand the value of sacrifice and actually reach their highest potential. Hesse and Coelho both clarify this idea through the lives of their protagonists exemplifying the rarity of a person strong enough to overcome the lure of wealth, love, and comfort. Unfortunately, life’s powerful distractions can delay, or even prevent, true fate leading to resentment and pure sadness later on. Both having realized their dreams, Hesse and Coelho demonstrate how having faith in one’s destiny is more rewarding than all other aspects of human existence.

Siddhartha/The Alchemist Comparative by J.F.

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