© 2021 Deal Global Communication

In terms of modern art, the distinction between graphic design and studio art matches the Apollonian-Dionysian, abstractive-associative, low context-high context distinction. Goldmund's work and style would be considered in the realm of studio art or Dionysian. He became contexted in his artwork by having so many inspiring experiences. "Narcissus had awakened him, women had made him aware, the wandering had brushed the down from him" (Hesse, p. 167).

Goldmund thought of how some artwork was beautiful but did not possess "true images of the soul" (Hesse, p. 165). He had been to many different places and "people existed inside of him" (Hesse, p. 245). At a time when he was not able to express his experiences through art, he was described as an "overfilled picture book" (Hesse, p. 235). His sculpture of Narcissus (St. John) came from his love and friendship with him. In the statue, Goldmund "saw his friend Narcissus, the guide of his adolescent years...[His hands] were filled with youth and inner music" (Hesse, p. 171). He later sculpted a former lover, Lydia, and Narcissus was able to tell that "the girl's form had long lived in Goldmund's heart" (Hesse, p. 300).

Since Goldmund had become an associative, high-context, Dionysian artist and Narcissus was an abstractive, low-context, Apollonian monk, when they met in later life, Narcissus had to be open-minded with respect to Goldmund's culture. In order to communicate well with the changed Goldmund, Narcissus had to understand the context that his artwork came from. Narcissus allowed himself to think in an associative way. He said "'I have seen many works of art...which did not seem to me merely faithful copies of a specific person who once lived and whose shapes or colors the artist has preserved'" (Hesse, p. 269). Goldmund confirmed this by saying, "'The basic image is not flesh and blood; it is mind. It is an image that has its home in the artist's soul'" (Hesse, p. 269).

Narcissus's perception of and admiration for Goldmund's statue of Abbot Daniel represents one of the instances when the two were able to communicate effectively, despite their differences. This was because they had both known the Abbot; therefore, they both had the same context. In this exchange, Goldmund said "'...if he cannot understand it, all my working here will have lost its value'" (Hesse, p. 288). Upon seeing the statue, Narcissus remarked,

'...at first glance I recognized our Abbot Daniel in this evangelist, and not only him, but also all the things he once meant to us: dignity, kindness, simplicity....not only have you given our Abbot Daniel back to me; you have opened yourself completely to me for the first time. Now I know who you are' (Hesse, p. 288).


Goldmund exhibited some of the other characteristic features of associative culture as well. He resented having to look toward the future (Hesse, p. 209) and he regretted the inevitability of change (Hesse, p. 233). His realm was the world of the senses, not the mind (Hesse, pp. 99-100). However, there did not always exist such a clear-cut distinction between the two extremes. Goldmund's art "might start in utter sensuality [associative] and lead to total abstraction; then again it might originate in pure concept and end in bleeding flesh" (Hesse, p. 169).



According to Hall, an action chain is a cultural phenomenon consisting of a "set sequence of events in which usually two or more individuals participate."21 It is also theorized that high-context cultures have a tendency toward high commitment to the completion of action chains.22 In Narcissus and Goldmund, this theory lends support to the fact that the wayfarer life Goldmund adopted after leaving the cloister was high-context. This is because he immediately learned the action chain of immediate and temporary courtship; it made him both happy and sad.

Everywhere women desired him and made him happy... Many women said farewell in the early hours of the morning...He could not remember a single woman for whom he had not stopped longing in the arms of the next. Still, it seemed a bit odd and sad that love had to be so extremely short-lived wherever he went...and that it was satiated as rapidly as it was kindled. (Hesse, p. 98).


Hall describes the consequences of breaking action chains as traumatic and serious, possibly leading to the impediment of normal behavior.23 It would appear that the final breaking of this particular action chain of Goldmund's was particularly profound. He had ventured out to see a woman and win her heart, but she rejected him (Hesse, p. 309). "That actually was the end of my journey....as I rode along, force and youth and intelligence had completely abandoned me, because I stumbled into a gully with my horse and fell into a stream..." (Hesse, p. 309). This incapacitated him to the extent that the Goldmund who returned to the cloister was very different; he was a "false Goldmund" (Hesse, p. 301).



Peter Adler identified some of the characteristics of a multicultural identity. He wrote that a person with such an identity makes no clear boundaries between himself and the different contexts he interacts within.24 He does not see one situation or one culture in terms of another and he is able to shift his frame of reference, to "disavow a permanent character."25 His life is characterized by a constant birth and rebirth process. When he enters a new culture, he puts away his old self and acquires a new self. Thus the multicultural identity he eventually obtains is one that is very flexible and adaptable, but at the same time very durable and true due to the nature of his variety of experiences. The multicultural man can select the best from each of the cultures he knows and integrate it into his identity. The benefits of cross-cultural adaptation such as increased self-awareness and the ability to view problems from multiple perspectives apply in an even more profound way with a multicultural person.26

Goldmund's life put him into a variety of different cultures. He learned from each one, as Adler and Church would probably have predicted, and he developed an identity which related to all of his varied life experiences. He eventually became aware of his multicultural identity.

He saw his own face in the dark mirror of the well and thought that the Goldmund who was looking up at him from the water had long since ceased being the Goldmund of cloister days, or Lydia's Goldmund, or even the Goldmund of the forests. He thought that he, that all men, trickled away, changing constantly, until they finally dissolved, while their artist-created images remained unchangeably the same. (Hesse, p. 155).


Being multicultural is not in every case the optimal state, because disadvantages exist and pitfalls must be avoided. Adler points out that multicultural man is vulnerable, may become confused about the location of boundaries between cultures or identities or by the multiplicity of stimuli encountered. He may also suffer from a loss of congruence and integrity or may eventually become aloof and detached from reality.27 By the end of Goldmund's life his two driving forces, art and sensuality had died out in him (Hesse, p. 307). His long life of incredible experiences had taught him much, but he felt like he knew nothing. He was ready for his mother to lead him back to "nonbeing and innocence" (Hesse, p. 308).



The fictional lives of Narcissus and Goldmund provide several examples of the concepts of intercultural communication. Goldmund's life of high mobility illustrates cross-cultural adaptation. Most evident is his loss of cues or reinforcers. Narcissus, by virtue of the fact that he wanted to be Goldmund's friend, also experienced some of the stresses of culture shock, and like Goldmund, struggled with an identity crisis.

Narcissus and Goldmund also personify the duality of contrast cultures. Goldmund's behavior and thinking, both learned and unlearned, represent the associative world of high-context, often nonverbal communication and the use of the senses to experience life. Narcissus, on the other hand, represents the abstractive world of low-context, analytical, rational thought which denies the senses.

Having identified the differences between Narcissus and Goldmund, one may explain their apparently paradoxical friendship by supposing that in some way their internal cultures were similar even if their external cultures were not. Another explanation is the concept of cultural synergy, which would say that they were able to transcend their differences and allow themselves to complement each other. A final explanation could be that originally they were much the same until Goldmund found a new life and adapted to changing surroundings. In the process he developed a multicultural identity. This fact, assuming it is true, coupled with the fact that Narcissus also adjusted, may explain how they were still able to communicate effectively after Goldmund returned to the cloister.

Therefore, analysis of Narcissus and Goldmund from different theoretical perspectives produces slightly different explanations for the events in the novel, but allows one to develop and clarify the theory and to better understand the novel.




1. Young Yun Kim, Communication and Cross-Cultural Adaptation: An Integrative Theory, Philadelphia, PA: Multilingual Matters, 1988, p. 6.


2. Gary R. Weaver, "Understanding and Coping With Cross-Cultural Adjustment Stress," in Weaver (ed.) Readings in Cross-Cultural Communication, 2nd ed, Needham Heights, MA: Ginn, 1987, p. 193.


3. Hermann Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund, New York: Bantam Books, 1968, p. 15-17. Note: each subsequent citation of Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund will be in the text itself as (Hesse, p.__).


4. Kalvero Oberg, "Culture Shock and the Problem of Adjustment in New Cultural Environments," in Weaver (ed.) Readings in Cross-Cultural Communication, 2nd ed, Needham Heights, MA: Ginn, 1987, p. 176.


5. Ibid. p. 176.


6. Weaver, "Understanding and Coping With Cross-Cultural Adjustment Stress," p. 195.


7. Ibid. pp. 195-196.


8. Ibid. pp. 198-199.


9. Weaver, Course 33.341, Lecture, 2/11/93


10. Weaver, "The Process of Reentry," The Advising Quarterly, No. 2, Fall 1987, p. 2.


11. Weaver, Course 33.341, Lecture, 2/18/93


12. Weaver, "Contrast Cultures Continuum," in Weaver (ed.) Readings in Cross-Cultural Communication, 2nd ed, Needham Heights, MA: Ginn, 1987, p. 226-227.


13. Edward T. Hall, Beyond Culture, Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1976, p. 91.


14. Ibid. p. 116.


15. Weaver, "Understanding and Coping With Cross-Cultural Adjustment Stress," p. 216.


16. Richard W. Brislin, Cross-Cultural Encounters, New York: Pergamon, 1981, p. 114.


17. Brislin, Cross-Cultural Encounters, p. 282.


18. Nancy J. Adler, International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior, 2nd ed., Boston, MA: PWS-Kent, 1991, p. 108.


19. Weaver, "Contrast Cultures Continuum," p. 227.


20. Hall, Beyond Culture, p. 124.


21. Ibid. p. 141.


22. Ibid. p. 147.


23. Ibid. pp. 148, 156.


24. Peter Adler, "Beyond Cultural Identity: Reflections on Cultural and Multicultural Man," in Weaver (ed.) Readings in Cross-Cultural Communication, 2nd ed, Needham Heights, MA: Ginn, 1987, p. 130.


25. Ibid. p. 131.


26. Austin T. Church, "Sojourner Adjustment," in Weaver (ed.) Readings in Cross-Cultural Communication, 2nd ed, Needham Heights, MA: Ginn, 1987, p. 161.

27. Adler, "Beyond Cultural Identity: Reflections on Cultural and Multicultural Man," pp. 135-136.



Adler, Peter S. (1974). "Beyond Cultural Identity: Reflections on Cultural and Multicultural Man," in Weaver (ed.) Readings in Cross-Cultural Communication, 2nd ed, (Needham Heights, MA: Ginn), 1987, pp. 125-141.

Brislin, Richard W. (1981). Cross-Cultural Encounters, (New York: Pergamon).

Church, Austin T. (1982). "Sojourner Adjustment," in Weaver (ed.) Readings in Cross-Cultural Communication, 2nd ed, (Needham Heights, MA: Ginn), 1987, pp. 146-174.

Hesse, Hermann (1968). Narcissus and Goldmund, (Bantam Books: New York).

Kim, Young Yun (1988). Communication and Cross-Cultural Adaptation: An Integrative Theory, (Multilingual Matters: Philadelphia, PA).

Oberg, Kalvero (1979). "Culture Shock and the Problem of Adjustment in New Cultural Environments," in Weaver (ed.) Readings in Cross-Cultural Communication, 2nd ed, (Needham Heights, MA: Ginn), 1987, pp. 175-177.

Weaver, Gary R. (1993). American University, School of International Service, Washington, DC, Course 33.341, Intercultural Communication, Lectures (not published), 2/11/93, 2/18/93.

Weaver, Gary R. (1987). "Contrast Cultures Continuum," in Weaver (ed.) Readings in Cross-Cultural Communication, 2nd ed, (Needham Heights, MA: Ginn), pp. 226-227.

Weaver, Gary R. (1987). "The Process of Reentry," The Advising Quarterly, No. 2 (Fall), pp. 2-7.

Weaver, Gary R. (1986). "Understanding and Coping With Cross-Cultural Adjustment Stress," in Weaver (ed.) Readings in Cross-Cultural Communication, 2nd ed, (Needham Heights, MA: Ginn), 1987, pp. 193-225.

© 2005, 1993 Christopher Deal.


Low-context and High-context


One aspect of the abstractive-associative analysis which was emphasized by Edward Hall was that of high-context versus low-context. This will be used as the premise for determining whether Goldmund's world exhibited the characteristics of the associative world. According to Hall, communication in a high-context system is characterized by the reliance upon the physical context or the internalized information in the people who communicate, rather than on the transfer of explicit information, as in a low-context system.13 Regarding this, Hall wrote, "The more that lies behind his actions (the higher the context), the less he can tell you."14

This theory is further clarified by using the iceberg analogy used by Weaver. Culture is visualized as an iceberg, with external culture being exposed above the surface of the water. This includes behavior and some beliefs. Below the surface of the water, the iceberg consists of internal culture, which includes more beliefs as well as values and thought patterns. External culture is obvious to all; it is conscious and can easily be changed. Internal culture, on the other hand, is hidden; it is unconscious and difficult to change. However, internal culture constitutes a larger proportion of the makeup of culture than external culture, which makes it both important and illusive.15

Concerning the value part of internal culture, Brislin suggests that people find comfort in associating with people with the same values.16 Hesse describes a vast difference between Narcissus and Goldmund. "Narcissus was dark and spare; Goldmund, a radiant youth. Narcissus was analytical, a thinker; Goldmund, a dreamer with the soul of a child" (Hesse, p. 15). How then, did they get along? Narcissus saw in Goldmund a "kindred soul" (Hesse, p. 15). Perhaps this points out that while they appeared on the outside (their external culture) to be very different, the values and ways of thinking inside them (internal culture) were very similar. It may also be useful to note at this point that regarding adjustment, Brislin contends that complete cross-cultural adjustment includes not only a change in peoples' behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs, but also confronting and questioning their own values.17

Another point of view can be examined which helps to clarify the concept of cultural synergy. One can assume that Narcissus and Goldmund are different culturally since Goldmund values truth through experiences and the senses whereas Narcissus denies the senses, as discussed previously. The theory of cultural synergy, although applied by Nancy Adler mainly to organizations, suggests that when culturally-different people are put together as a group, they can "transcend the individual cultures of their members."18 This means that differences are not ignored, but are instead capitalized upon. Different ways of thinking lead to a wider variety of solutions and a broader understanding. While still the student of Narcissus, Goldmund was told by him, "It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize each other, to learn to see the other and honor him for what he is: each the other's opposite and complement" (Hesse, p. 41). This is the essence of cultural synergy; accepting differences and discovering how they complement each other.

Going hand in hand with the very premise of low-context high-context theory is the idea that associative or high-context culture includes the tendency to depend on nonverbal communication to a greater extent than abstractive, low-context culture does.19 Nonverbal interaction serves the purpose of communicating based on what is implicit, what is left unsaid. Goldmund became so accustomed to this method of communication that he felt uncomfortable communicating some ideas verbally. He said, "'I could say it a thousand times better without words. With words I can give you nothing!'" (Hesse, p. 111).

Apollonian versus Dionysian Thinking


Hall also makes the distinction between Apollonian and Dionysian thinking, corresponding to abstractive and associative culture respectively. The Apollonian develops established lines to perfection while the Dionysian is more open to new things and must be deeply contexted in his work.20 Goldmund was an artist who was relatively Dionysian in his work.

Had man really been created to live a regulated life, with hours and duties indicated by prayer bells? Had man really been created to study Aristotle and Saint Thomas, to know Greek, to extinguish his senses, to flee the world? (Hesse, p. 297).


However, as part of his identity crisis, Narcissus questions the tenets of his cloister life.

'The mind favors the definite, the solid shape, it wants its symbols to be reliable, it loves what is, not what will be, what is real and not what is possible' (Hesse, p. 60).

Certainly, seen from the point of view of the cloister, from the point of view of reason and morality, his [Narcissus's] own life was better, righter, steadier, more orderly, more exemplary [than Goldmund's]. It was a life of order and strict service, an unending sacrifice, a constantly renewed striving for clarity and justice (Hesse, p. 297).

Abstractive versus Associative


It can be posited that the culture of Narcissus in the cloister was abstractive while that of Goldmund during his wayfarer days was associative. Indeed Narcissus's world had overt rules and an emphasis on analysis and logical, systematic thinking. Narcissus said to Goldmund,



Two categories of cultures are identified and explained by the concept of contrast cultures. Weaver divides world cultures into two broad groups, the abstractive world and the associative world. These cultures differ relative to each other in how they perceive the world, think, and behave. Some of the features of the abstractive world are overt societal rules, reliance on analytical thought patterns, emphasis on change or action, preference for things systematic, and emphasis on verbal interaction. Conversely, some of the features of the associative world are implicit societal rules, reliance on relational thought patterns, emphasis on stability and harmony, preference for things spontaneous, and either verbal or nonverbal interaction.12



Reentry is the term used to describe the experience of culture shock upon returning to one's original culture. It is theorized to have the same characteristics as culture shock, but it is more stressful than normal culture shock.10 Surprisingly, the theorists contend that, in this case, worrying is of value because it helps people anticipate change. Cross-cultural trainers encourage sojourners to know how they have changed during their experience and recognize that their homes will have changed as well.11 Hesse fails to mention in detail Goldmund's or Narcissus's reentry stress. However, upon returning to the cloister culture, Goldmund found some of his old cues. Except for Narcissus, none of the people were the same as before, but the familiar statues and courtyard helped Goldmund readjust to a semblance of his life as a boy (Hesse, p. 274).

Goldmund may have also had an identity crisis after first embarking on the life of a wanderer. He was out of human contact for days at a time, and he wanted to literally go native there in the wilderness, although his thoughts may not have been serious. He thought, "Oh, if one could only transform oneself!...He would have spoken woodpecker language" (Hesse, pp. 87, 88).

To communicate with his friend, Narcissus had to adapt by changing his way of thinking and in effect changing his identity.

The world in which he lived and made his home, his world, his cloister life, his priestly office, his scholarly being, his well-constructed thought edifice-all this had often been shaken to its foundations by his friend [Goldmund] and was now filled with doubt (Hesse, p. 297).

Culture shock may also cause the sojourner to experience an identity crisis. It may be necessary for a sojourner to alter her perception of herself in order to fit into the new cultural context. Freud said that in order for someone to take on a new identity, he has to let go of the old one.9 This causes much of the pain and frustration of culture shock, but is usually a growth process in which one is freed from habitual ways of thinking and behaving. One can develop an awareness of how her culture has shaped her thinking and perception and discover the substance of one's primary level culture. In this process, new ways of thinking and even new values are learned, which contribute to successful adaptation. In re-establishing his friendship with Goldmund many years after Goldmund's initial departure, Narcissus experienced an identity crisis.

The breakdown of communication in a foreign culture causes pain, frustration, anxiety, and alienation from others. It often results from language differences, but is even more strongly affected by nonverbal codes which are usually given and received unconsciously and usually involve feelings. Differences in the level and forms of feedback also contribute to the breakdown of communication.8 In the novel, on one occasion when Goldmund had been travelling alone for many days, his need to communicate showed itself and pointed out the dysfunctional effects of not being able to communicate with other people. He grew accustomed to speaking to a dog for hours at a time about a wide variety of topics. He had "naturally grown a trifle mad..." (Hesse, p. 221).

Goldmund seems to have developed a way of letting go of his cues when leaving a place. In anticipation of leaving the cloister, he said farewell in his mind. The people he knew there became "unreal" (Hesse, p. 67). His perception of his physical surroundings also changed. "Even now, while he was still in its midst, it started to fade away from him, lose its reality, change phantom-like into something that no longer was" (Hesse, p. 67). He experienced the same sensation as he prepared to leave the city much later. "Suddenly the street and city became transformed, had the unfamiliar face that familiar things take on when our heart has taken leave of them" (Hesse, p. 189). This preparation was his method of coping with his loss of cues before he actually lost them.

Goldmund's loss of cues and desire to transfer his old cues can be seen in the importance he placed on Bless, his horse, described as "a little bit of home" (Hesse, p. 11). Later, when he set out on his own in the wilderness, he felt profoundly the meaning of the loss of his friend Narcissus. "Today he felt he had entered a country in which he must find his own roads, in which no Narcissus could guide him" (Hesse, p. 80). His new cues in this new world included hunger and love and the changing of the seasons (Hesse, p. 193). When he had to leave the room he had stayed in while learning from Master Niklaus, he appears to regret having to leave his cues behind. He had to say goodbye to most of his belongings. "Each piece had a meaning and a story...he could take nothing along" (Hesse, p. 190).

Causes of Culture Shock


Three overlapping and complementary causes of the phenomenon of culture shock have been identified by Gary Weaver: 1) the loss of cues, 2) a breakdown of interpersonal communication, and 3) an identity crisis.6 A loss of cues refers to the parts of one's normal physical and social environment which are taken for granted. These may be words, facial expressions, customs, or gestures which tell people how to act or react in social situations. The cues can also be physical objects which one has grown accustomed to and which provide a sense of comfort and predictability. They are normally taken for granted, but when they are removed, their reinforcing functions cease.7

Kalvero Oberg, the originator of the term culture shock, divides the phenomenon into four distinct stages. The first stage is the honeymoon stage during which everything seems wonderful and people are "fascinated by the new."4 Goldmund experienced this soon after venturing into his new life as a wanderer. "He liked everything...all this was beautiful and good" (Hesse, p. 93). During the second stage, the sojourner develops hostile and aggressive attitudes towards the new culture. This is because of the difficulties incurred in adjusting to the new environment. In the third stage, the sojourner takes her difficulties in stride, may take a superior attitude to the people around her, and may be able to exert her sense of humor. The fourth stage consists of acceptance of the new culture's customs.5 In Narcissus and Goldmund, Oberg's second and third stages are not apparent in Goldmund's experience. Goldmund does eventually make it to the fourth stage, but his journey to that stage is not described by Hesse in the terms Oberg uses. Therefore, there is no strong evidence that Goldmund experienced culture shock in a way that neatly fits into Oberg's theoretical framework.



The theory of cross-cultural adaptation is one of the foundations of intercultural communication and provides a good starting point. It is a term used to describe the process whereby people alter their thinking and behavior in response to a changed cultural environment.1 The stress of such a change is often referred to as culture shock. The resulting symptoms can vary in severity and nature from person to person, ranging from minor physical discomfort to severe psychosis.2 At the beginning of the novel, Goldmund experienced culture shock as a result of entering the new cultural environment of the Mariabonn cloister. Initially, he wanted to run away, internalized much anger, often felt tired and sick, and had recurring headaches.3 Much later, after becoming accustomed to a life of wandering, he experienced culture shock again after settling down to live in one house with one woman for a while. He became restless; "he felt anguish and the urge to move on" (Hesse, p. 213).

Hermann Hesse's contemporary novel Narcissus and Goldmund contains numerous examples of the concepts constituting the theory of intercultural communication. These concepts will serve as the basis for a case study which analyzes and interprets the events and characters of the novel. It may be observed that the theoretical concepts help to provide greater understanding of the novel while the novel itself helps to clarify the concepts by presenting actual examples of the concepts.

By Christopher Deal

An Intercultural Communication Case Study of Hermann Hesse's Novel, Narcissus and Goldmund