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Characterisation in Siddhartha and The Metamorphosis Essay


Hesse and Kafka make specific use of their main characters. Kafkas Samsa is a trapped man. We are introduced to him just after his metamorphosis into a bug. He remains in this state until his death at the end. Hesses eponymous character is portrayed as an enviably successful attractive, intelligent, revered - character that nevertheless chooses to set out upon a spiritual journey in order to reach enlightenment. Thus, Hesse emphasises the quality of his main character and shows us that a privileged life is not necessarily a happy one. By choosing the name Siddhartha for his main character, Hesse is obviously linking him with the historical Buddha. The way the authors characterise their protagonists convey the message of the story which, in both of these novels, is more important than the characters themselves. The bug symbol relates not only to Samsa, but to Kafkas view of society which he believed to be suffering greatly from the effects of capitalism. Hesse gives us his philosophy of living. Siddhartha, a character smiled upon by nature from the start eventually discovers in the thousand voices of the river a symbol of the whole world. Both authors use symbols in particular; Hesse gives his main character a mythical quality with a use of simile and a simple style of direct speech. He describes his stages of learning through an episodic plot and spiritual language. Kafkas direct and factual style brings out the comical side of Gregors situation and his attention to detail makes us empathise with Gregors predicament. Each characters reaction to the settings reveals their personalities to us.

The setting that is described in the novella Metamorphosis plays an important part in the characterisation of Gregor Samsa. Firstly, nearly the entire plot is set within Gregors house. This instantly gives the audience a sense of his entrapment, as the surroundings seem claustrophobic. The room size, his solitariness, shows him trapped and alienated: His room, a regular human bedroom, only rather too small The phrase human bedroom is contrasted with his new bug like appearance. Gregors familiar walls gives us an indication of his lonely life and frustration, before the transformation. Gregors leisure time spent chiefly in his room reveals his lack of social life and happiness. He is trapped both literally and metaphorically:

Gregors eyes turned next to the window,

and the overcast sky one could hear

raindrops beating on the window gutter

made him quite melancholy. What about

sleeping a little longer and forgetting all

this nonsense

(Kafka, 1916: 9)

Kafka uses pathetic fallacy here; the overcast sky represents the effect of the metamorphosis on Gregor. This transformation is, obviously, a completely negative experience for him and when put alongside dull, bleak, depressing weather, this reinforces the sorrow. Moreover, at the end of the quotation, all Gregor can think about is going back to bed to sleep longer. This unusually calm reaction portrays him as being quite an odd individual; he even refers to it as being nonsense.

As opposed to Metamorphosis, the setting in Siddhartha often changes. This is due to the much larger timescale and every new journey Siddhartha seizes takes place in the most naturally beautiful places, such as, In the shade of the house, in the sunshine on the river bank by the boats, in the shade of the sallow wood and the fig tree. The opening of the text immediately uses poetic repetition of sibilance and rhythm to associate Siddhartha with the perfection of nature; the natural beauty surrounding him for example, the sunshine plays a part in creating an attractive looking man with brown slender shoulders. Siddharthas handsome exterior represents his inner qualities. The elevating descriptions in the opening section contrast with the negativity in the opening of Metamorphosis.

By describing the setting is an affirmative way, Hesse emphasises Siddhartha as confident, enthused and kind, possibly the best aspects of an individuals personality, and thus the best person to make this sort of spiritual journey. Moreover, the river is the most important setting in this novel as it leads to Siddharthas eventual enlightenment:

He heard the soft rippling of water; he did

not know where he was nor what had brought

him there. He looked up and was surprised to

see the trees and the sky above him. He

remembered where he was and how he came

to be there.

(Hesse, 1922: 155)

When Siddhartha believes he has given up and no hope remains for enlightenment, the soft rippling of water at once becomes his solace, the river strengthens his character and he once again appreciates the beauty of world he lives in and he knows that he wants to complete his spiritual journey for Nirvana.

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