Summary and Analysis
As this sequence begins, the action occurs on no particular day or any particular time of day; we are simply given a report of the father-son relationship. The sadness of the events which follow are sublimely tempered by the wisdom and kindness of the old Vasudeva. Despite Siddhartha's efforts to win the love and respect of his son, the son is more drawn to the enticements of the city, the milieu of his mother, than to the spiritual leanings of his stranger-father. Vasudeva reminds Siddhartha that, like his father, the boy will have to rebel, that he too must run away and learn things for himself.
Earlier the ferryman told Siddhartha that he would soon he learning something that he could not verbalize, and Siddhartha now realizes what it is as he looks into his son's face. The child's face evokes the memory of Kamala when she and Siddhartha told each other that they were incapable of love, and that it was this that separated them from ordinary people. Because of the anguish of this memory, Siddhartha realizes that he not only loves the river, but that — like ordinary men — he loves another person — the essence of Kamala in little Siddhartha.
The time comes when Siddhartha must accept little Siddhartha's departure. Little Siddhartha runs away bitterly from his father, returns late in the evening, and departs across the symbolic river with Siddhartha and Vasundeva following — not, as Vasudeva warns, to catch him, but to observe him and to retrieve the boat. Vasudeva's laughter concerning the boy's departure is not the cruel laugh of ridicule, but a sublime laugh embodying Vasudeva's knowledge of the boy's way — that is, his destiny, meaning that all things return. Siddhartha wants to spare his son from the grueling ordeal of sansara, but Vasudeva knows that this is impossible. Siddhartha has a sudden visionary glimpse of the city and sees that Kamala converted her pleasure garden into a refuge for Buddhist monks. His mind returns to the early days when he first saw the rich Kamala from outside, when he was a poor Samana; recalling the processes of life and death, he remembers the syllable OM, symbolized by the caged songbird. The sense of loss because of his son's abrupt departure lingers in Siddhartha like a deep wound. For the first time, Siddhartha has direct, firsthand experience with the pain of love.