Maarten's Reviews > Narcissus and Goldmund

Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse
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's review
Jan 11, 2011

really liked it
Read from January 11 to February 12, 2011

‘Narcissus and Goldmund’ is a parable about two different paths one can follow through life: One of the mind, and one of the heart. The narrative itself is but a vehicle, and the character interactions are wooden. But the message runs deep.

I was at first bothered by the complete lack of nuance in portraying the two main characters. Narcissus is an ascetic thinker, Goldmund a playful dreamer, and neither of them ever step outside these bounds. But it all came together for me in the end, when the protagonists are older and evaluate what they have achieved in life. The answer as to which was more successful is entirely ambiguous. Narcissus achieved all that he had set out to do and more, Goldmund is a vagabond leaving nothing but a few works of art. But Goldmund can apply his attitude of enjoying things while they last to life itself, and is at peace with the prospect of final death. Narcissus could never be, without his faith in the afterlife.

I believe that the power of this simple story lies in the fact that many people are part Goldmund. What Hesse helps them do is identify those parts, and learn to value them. Some of the characterizations of Goldmund in this book can affect the reader quite profoundly, as they touch upon essential aspects of life itself that are difficult to delimit, justify or contain. For that, I forgive Hesse his strictly dichotomous treatment of the subject, and look forward to reading more of his work.

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