My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This novel runs a continuous debate about two philosophical questions as to which one is better: life of hedonism and creativity or life of spirituality and rationality. But does Hesse settle this debate in the book? I believe he does, however it very much depends upon your own interpretation.
What Hesse does is that he tries to answer these two philosophical questions through his two diametrically opposed characters Goldmund and Narziss. Godlmund represents the passionate "feminine mind" of emotion and sensuality while Narziss represents the disciplined and pious mind of altruism and reasoning. Both of these characters seek to find their true nature, and meaning and connection to the world. One tries to do so by being a wanderer, succumbing his life to sensuality and Artistic creativity while the other living a life of devoted priest and theorist.
Although both Goldmund and Narziss live the lives of extremes, there is a true connection of friendship and respect between them. They also learn from each other. It is through Narziss that Goldmund realizes that he is not meant to become a scholar and in fact it is against his true nature. Narziss clearly points out the danger of someone trying to force into a role that is not meant for them.
Golmund thus leaves the monastery to fulfill himself and after years of travelling and experiencing life and even death, he returns to the same monastery. Narziss whose true nature is to become a scholar is shown 'awake', having an understanding of his true intent and in fact when Goldmund returns, Narziss is already an Abbot, holding a high position in monastery – very wise and accomplished.
It is here that Hesse tries to settle the philosophical debate. When Goldmund returns and carves sculptures, Narziss sees his true nature and respects him. However, Narziss also realizes something else – when compared to Goldmund, how poor he was, with all his knowledge, his monastic discipline and dialectics! Narziss - "Yes, and perhaps it was merely not simpler and more humane to live a Goldmund-life in the world. Perhaps in the end it was more valiant, and greater in God's sight, to breast the currents of reality, sin, and accept sin's bitter consequence, instead of standing apart, with well-washed hands, living in sober,quiet security, planting a pretty garden of well-trained thoughts, and walking then, in stainless ignorance among them......"
However, this realization he never shares with Goldmund.
Eventually, when Goldmund comes back again from his yet another wanderings, sick and close to death but looking evermore peaceful and satisfied – Goldmund feels sorry for his friend Narziss. His last words to him is, "But how will you die, Narziss? You know no mother. How can you die without a mother? Without mother we cannot die."
Goldmund's last words seared Narziss heart like a flame.
I somehow feel like Goldmund's life was more satisfying and accomplished towards the end but Golmund was also a troubled individual compared to Narziss who knew his true nature and was disciplined towards achieving his goal. Both the polar opposite throughout the story respected each other differences and also learned from each other.
Ultimately, what is important is creating a balance of Golmund and Narziss in our lives (between passion and reason), for obviously we all have that polar extremes.
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