Great Books experiments with sacrifice following lessons of Hesse’s ‘Siddhartha’

In an age where Americans can’t seem to consume enough, some students are cutting back.

To connect to the current reading of Hermann Hesse’s “Siddhartha,” both sections of Margaret McCawley’s AP Great Books II,  for the past week, were tasked with fasting from a significant material part of their life. Whether it’s driving, sweets, caffeine or social media, students gave up a distraction in their life in an attempt to understand the thoughts of Siddhartha, the book’s main character. Last semester’s Great Books II students also did this assignment.

Hesse’s “Siddhartha” follows the titular character through his struggle to understand his inner self and the truths of the world. One way he does this is by giving up all material things and living a nomadic lifestyle.

“In his effort to remove distractions from his life, he was able to find himself, his purpose and ultimately enlightenment,” McCawley said. “By participating in these ‘fastings,’ I hoped to make his experience more relatable.”

Students have had various experiences with this unique assignment. Senior Alex Dobrila gave up spending money. “I am realizing that I spend money quite often at work to purchase food,” he said. “I typically buy a drink and something to eat before going on my breaks, but now I have to prepare food ahead of time and actively remind myself to not buy anything.”

Senior Nicasio Martin Ask, who gave up his bed, said, “My back has been a little sore after following through with this for a few days.”

Senior Max Dupree gave up listening to music. “My biggest challenge has honestly been not accidentally turning on music when I get in the car or when I sit down to do homework,” he said. “It can be hard to break habits that you don’t notice yourself doing.”

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