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am 31. Juli 2000
Throughout this beautifully-written and mystical book, Hermann Hesse continuously explores the conflicts we all face as we search for our true identity...that which best expresses the essence of who we truly are.
Pure Appolonian and Dionysian archetypes, Narcissus and Goldmund are two medieval men whose characters are actually metaphors for the book's underlying theme of the universal phenomenon of the search for self through life experience.
Brother Narcissus, a monk at the Mariabronn cloister is the epitome of the analytical intellectual; his student, the young Goldmund, is the total opposite, an individual with the soul of an artist and a lover, born to live life to the fullest, yet fighting his desires due to paternal forces. It is Narcissus who recognizes Goldmund as "a dreamer with the soul of a child," and urges him to leave the cloister and pursue the life he was meant to lead.
Acknowledging his suppressed childhood and, most of all, the image of his mother, Goldmund leaves Mariabronn and becomes a wanderer of the medieval countryside, a seducer and lover of women and a student of painting and sculpture. It is through the revival of the memory of his mother that Goldmund is able to accept his life as a free spirit and yield to the temptations of love.
Goldmund had remembered little of his childhood and next to nothing of his mother. "Mother had been a subject he was forbidden to mention--something to be ashamed of. She had been a dancer, a wild and beautiful woman of noble, though poor birth."
Having been denied a mother, Goldmund had filled the void in his life with thoughts instilled by his father, thoughts intended to insure that he lead a holy life of prayer and meditation in repentance for what his father termed Goldmund's mother's sins.
These impression led Goldmud to believe his destiny was with the Church. Upon meeting him, Narcissus knew otherwise, perhaps because he saw reflected in Goldmund that which he had denied himself.
Once Goldmund recovers the lost memory of his high-spirited mother, "he knew the meaning of love again and his father's image had suddenly shrunk next to hers and become joyless and almost repugnant." It was only after releasing his fear of love that Goldmund found the identity of that which he was seeking as well as the ability to love to the fullest measure.
Goldmund lives out his life as a wanderer, a lover and an artist, only returning to Mariabronn and Narcissus when it is time for him to die.
In the characters of Narcissus and Goldmund, Hesse was no doubt stressing the fact that any lifestyle, lived to an extreme, can be dangerous to the individual. In a interview with Rudolf Koester, Hesse, himself, said, "The development to become a personality with privilege to think, feel and act independently is the primary responsibility of the individual. Extremes such as a complete withdrawal into a hermetically sealed ego are as dangerous as the individual who succumbs to the allure of conformity while yielding to pressure. The individual must establish a balance between the two forces."
Hesse expresses these feeling beautifully in Narcissus and Goldmund as each character exists in the mind of the other throughout their separate lives. When Goldmund is carving a statue of John the Baptist he realizes that he has subconsciously carved the face of Narcissus. Each man sees, reflected in the other, that which he desires and finds unobtainable.
As Goldmund lays dying, his final words to Narcissus are of his mother, words that Narcissus finds painful and that "burned like fire in his heart."
"But how can you die when your time comes, Narcissus, since you have no mother?` Without a mother, one cannot love. Without a mother, one cannot die." Perhaps in embracing life in all its fullness, Goldmund found it easier to embrace death as well.
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