Oh boy. When the novel opens and a character wants something, you know that this something is probably going to be chased throughout the entire novel. In this case, Siddhartha is dissatisfied with his home life and his Brahman teachers. He seeks enlightenment and decides to join the Samanas, who are a group of wandering ascetics.
When two best friends fight, we call that a conflict. Govinda argues that Siddhartha should stick to the Samana lifestyle, and that Siddhartha will almost certainly become a holy man, but Siddhartha disagrees. He doesn’t see the Samana way of life as bringing him closer to enlightenment.
While Siddhartha recognizes the holiness of Gotama Buddha, he believes he has to carve out his own path to enlightenment. The next step on this path is extreme self-indulgence. Siddhartha becomes a wealthy merchant and skilled lover, but soon he becomes greedy, unhappy, and troubled.
He achieves his objective! Sitting by the river with Vasudeva, Siddhartha learns to hear all the voices in the river as one voice, and, by extension, everything in the world as one unified whole. This deep awareness of the oneness of life is Siddhartha’s final accomplishment, and the climax of the book.
At this point in the novel, Siddhartha and Govinda have not seen each other in years. They have taken different paths – Govinda is a monk and Siddhartha is a ferryman – and it’s unclear if or how their relationship has changed. In the same way that we wait with bated breath for the answer to "what’s for dinner?" we’re also eager to find out where the Siddhartha/Govinda relationship is going.
Siddhartha tries to teach Govinda what he has learned, but Govinda does not absorb the teachings. After Govinda asks for one final word of advice, Siddhartha tells Govinda to bend down and kiss him on the forehead.
The novel has come full circle. The two friends are together again, and Siddhartha is passing on his wisdom as a holy man.