Hesse's Portrayal of Women Herman Term Paper

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He leaves his home regardless of the fact that she does not go, because "it is the road to life" (Hesse, 79) specifically because it is the road to further carnal adventures. He finds that all women are receptive to his advances (at first) and even approach him lustfully, which he understands as being due to his dedication to the Mother. Lydia's restraint, likewise, he sees as a form of the Madonna's nature. He believes the Mother to be natural and physical and therefore preverbal, and finds that "It was fortunate that love did not need words." (98) the Mother may be life-giving (as with the woman whose child he helps to birth) or proudly dedicated to death, as with Rebekkah and the abstracted Mother of whome he says "instead of death... It will be my mother..." (Hesse, 313) in all the women he sees and loves, he does not find anything which requires his personal lifelong devotion (which devastates a few of them, such as poor Lene), and yet to each he is truly devoted as they are a part of the force of the goddess.

All this idealism of the feminine may serve to falsify or obscure real female experience. As one feminist writer says in reference to Jung's ideals of integrating the anima, "It strikes me as the ultimate in male hubris. Why bother with pesky flesh-and-blood women when they can be infatuated with a concept of the feminine in themselves? [Men try to] override [their] devaluing of women sufficiently to appropriate those 'feminine' qualities that will make [them] more complete person[s]...and, as a woman, I begin to feel like the witch doctor's mask hanging on his wall." (Knuth) This critique is unfortunately valid regarding Goldmund's treatment of the women he idealizes and abandons. His own selfish lusts frequently interfere with the legitimate treatment of a woman. For example, he often hushes women who wish to speak to him, or refuses to share with them. For example, his relationship with Lydia frequently bypasses her desire to speak and be spoken to: "How stupid of him; [he thinks] words were unnecessary in love; he should have kept silent. He said no more." (110)

Many other women also feel his slights when they try to approach him as complete humans rather than merely symbols of the Mother. For example, poor Maria --who is not beautiful enough to attract his attentions as he becomes more demanding of the Mother's beauty-- is not treated as if she were wholly human and he passes right over her feelings, though she loves him very deeply. Lene, as well, who ends up carrying his child, is hushed and even threatened (with losing her home and him) when she speaks of wanting him to give up his wandering ways and stay with her. She is forced to be falsely carefree and undemanding, even though her actual female nature seeks to keep and to nurture. Rebekkah, to whom he gives his aid in burying her father, is abandoned by him once she refuses any offer of his love. Rather than understand that she needs time and space in which to grieve, he presses his suit immediately. His theories of the Mother somehow seem to ignore the actual procreative ability of women and the demands that places on him and on them (he never seems concerned with impregnating the unmarried women he loves and leaves, though in that culture such a shame could destroy their lives and that of the illegitimate children). Nor does he allow that they might have the sort of intense logical and intelligence which he admired in Narcissus.

Moreover, the idealism expressed by all the characters regarding womanhood serves to divorce men and women from each other, severing lines of commonality that lead to communication. One recalls the way that Narcissus suggests that he and Goldmund are nothing alike because Goldmund is like his Mother -- once Goldmund comes fully into his mother-nature, they must separate. Neither protagonist ever actually makes a friend of a woman. "Hesse will ceaseless contrast Narcissus's and Goldmund's relationship with the relationships that Goldmund forms with women and he will ceaseless insist on the inferiority of the latter. On the matter of relationships between men and women, Hesse seems to... asserts the superiority of the friendship between males over any relationship with a woman and quite clearly asserts his belief that women are incapable of friendship:" (Ruckh) Goldmund only finds companionship in women when they serve his interests, and leaves them when they no longer meet his sexual needs.

The book does not necessarily promote homosexuality as more valid than heterosexuality (for only the male-female connection can merge masculine and feminine into a whole person), but it does seem to promote homogendered affection and friendship as more real than heterogendered affection. Not until Narcissus says to Goldmund, "Let me tell you today how much I love you, how much you have always meant to me, how rich you have made my life," (Hesse, 310) is Goldmund truly satisfied that he has been truly loved.

So one might say that the idealization of women in this work simultaneously demeans them, reducing them to the role of stereotypes and pawns in a male's path to self-understanding. However, this conclusion might not be entirely fair. Though this story does not entirely give women an equal voice to men, it is, after all, a book written by and about men. It might be unfair to expect a male author to give an accurate and comprehensive view of the psychological development of a woman. Surely a woman could equally well write a book called Echo and Goldwyn, about the love between women and one woman's search for her animus through a series of lovers -- and such a book would not necessarily be full of misanthropy, but rather would simply show that way that women approach men. It is a male book, but not necessarily a sexist one. If anything, the world of women is presented as more valid than the sterile world of men, because it is connected to the real and physical world, the world of life and of death and art and beauty, while the male is cloistered away and cold. While it may be argued that the separation placed between men and women in this book indicates they can never meet, one also sees how the book argues that separation is the only good basis for friendship: "His text repetitively deploys metaphors, figures and structures of distance, space and room. Hesse will insist that friends don't converge in a 'oneness of mind' and that friendship is directed not toward the erasure of 'space' between friends but rather toward its maintenance. He has Narcissus insist to Goldmund that 'no road will bring us together.' " (Ruckh) if anything Goldmund has trouble befriending women because he is too much filled with the anima to communicate across adequate space, and sees them too much as part of himself rather than distinct and mysterious individuals. So while it is possible to argue that Hesse here shows a streak of misogyny, it might be more accurate to say merely that he idealizes women and is puzzled by them, and that some of his characters through this puzzlement in their private lives efface women.


Baumann, Ganter. "It shakes you to the very core and is painful. But it helps: Hermann Hesse and the psychology of C.G. Jung." Paper given at the 9th International Hesse Colloquium in Calw, 1997. http://www.hermann-hesse.de/eng/biographie/lebenskrise/lebenskrise.pdf.

Field, George Wallis. "Hermann Hesse," in Twayne's World Authors Series Online New York G.K. Hall & Co., 1999. [Online database]

Hesse, Herman. "Narcissus and Goldmund" Trans. Ursule Molinaro. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1983.

Knuth, Elizabeth. "Male Spirituality: A Feminist Evaluation" http://www.users.csbsju.edu/~eknuth/xpxx/malespir.html

Ruckh, Eric. "The Labyrinth of Friendship: Reading Space in Herman Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund http://www.siue.edu/EASTASIA/Ruckh_0603.htm#_ftnref1

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