Narcissus & Goldmund – The Duality of the Soul in Hermann Hesse

Right after tweeting something profane with a hint of complaining about the need to post a new blog entry, I got a reply from this dude saying, “Perhaps, ‘The Duality of the Soul in Hermann Hesse’ …”

I would never have thought of that myself. I’ve been reading quite a lot lately; but none ever piqued my interest the way James Luchte’s (guy on Twitter) genius idea did. For a guy to pitch in quite a subject, it’s only natural to think that he knows a whole fucking lot – he can probably shut me up and tell me 100 things I know nothing of – as seen on his blog (follow him; he’s like the needle through your veins).

And so, having read Narcissus & Goldmund by the great Hermann Hesse myself, it was easy for me to seek inspiration. For Hesse enthusiasts, you already know that he’s keen on the turmoil and duality of the human soul. That is, according to my research. For the unfortunate souls who haven’t had the life-changing encounter yet, well… this might help – I pray.

herman hesse

In Narcissus & Goldmund, Hesse takes two young men – one devoted to the hermetic religious life and another more into the decadent artistic life – and follows them through adulthood. It is obvious that Hesse wants to examine the spiritual/cerebral approach to existence versus the more artistic/physical approach to life, and to find them both wanting.

Narcissus and Goldmund simultaneously seek for life’s meaning through the sacred and the profane. They offer a binary of opposing beliefs, depicted with few successes and mortal failures. Goldmund, the wayward wayfarer, understands the demand for atonement on his life. But this burden can only temporarily bind — not transform — his spirit of rebellion. Narcissus, accepts the joyless labor of his calling because he needs the security and order within the Church.

The pervasive theme in Narcissus and Goldmund depicts the human longing to find lasting contentment. Goldmund lost his soul in the search for purpose and fulfillment while Narcissus’ secure but joyless life of drudgery (masquerading as devotion) was demolished. Although Narcissus acknowledges “a man may abide by the Commandments and be far from God,” he never grasps this truth in his experiential knowledge of God. He serves without love or thought. He, like Goldmund is a slave, abject in existence.

This novel is a philosophical and allegorical story of the friendship between two exact opposites, one staying in the medieval monastery to pursue his career of deprivation, intellectualism, scholarship and logic; the other becoming a vagabond who wanders from landscape to landscape, trouble to trouble, love affair to love affair. The two are almost personifications of opposites, but this only strengthens their friendship built on differences and ensures that despite years of separation, they continually think of each other and enrich each other’s life through a different worldview.

This conflict between flesh and spirit, between an emotional and a contemplative man, was a life study for Hesse. It is a theme that transcends all time. I haven’t read all of Hesse’s major works yet, but next on my list is Steppenwolf, the theme of which describes the conflict between bourgeois acceptance and spiritual self-realization in a middle-aged man, and then The Glass Bead Game – the dualism of the contemplative and the active life.


Sorry if some points are scattered – I write like a maniac. I recommend you read the book for you to understand better, and maybe you’ll find this post somewhat enlightening.

Again, my eternal gratitude to Mr. James Luchte. Your brain is bad-ass, sir.

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