The Alchemist tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure. Santiago sees this treasure as his Personal Legend. However, his quest to obtain this treasure leads him to riches far different and far more satisfying. Santiago experiences hardship, love, and friendship. Plus, he learns that keeping focused on a life goal provides you with the drive to carry on. Plus, the pursuit of the dream becomes more important than the outcome. Beaten and tired, Santiago is happier than he ever was before embarking on this journey.
About Paulo Coelho
Paulo Coelho is a Brazilian writer who specializes in spiritually-inspired novels. Coelho had a troubled childhood. He rebelled against his catholic parents’ religion. Subsequently, they committed him to a psychiatric hospital on three occasions. Paulo used this hardship and his spiritual awakening, while on his 500-mile journey on Santiago de Compostela, as inspiration for his books. Before becoming a writer, Coelho engaged with multiple professions. For example, he has worked as a lawyer, songwriter, actor, journalist, and theatre director. The Alchemist was initially a slow seller but has since become the most translated book by a living author. Coelho lets the world guide his writing. His ritual is to begin writing a novel when he sees a white feather in January of an odd year.
Part One Section One – Dreaming is What Makes Life Interesting
The main character in The Alchemist is a shepherd, Santiago. The story starts with Santiago pondering the nature of his work. Santiago is very close to his animals. He calls each of them by name, his schedule revolves around them, and he has conversations with them. Recently, Santiago’s conversations have been about a girl that he met a year ago at the town that is the next destination on his journey. Santiago hasn’t stopped thinking about this girl all year. She is a merchant’s daughter he met while delivering wool to a shop she was browsing. This shop owner bought from Santiago and encouraged him to come back one year later. Hence, Santiago was on the way back to the town where he first met this girl.
Santiago sees his shepherding life as providing him with great freedom. He allows his sheep to lead the way, and eventually, he finds a new path. However, Santiago realizes that this is not true discovery. He had once dreamed of traveling the world. Santiago accepts that dreaming about what you don’t have is what makes life interesting. This is why he has been dreaming for the last year about seeing this girl again.
Part One Section Two – Achieve Your Personal Legend
Once Santiago reaches Tarifa, his last stop before the city where his dream girl lives, he visits an old gypsy woman. This woman claims to be able to interpret dreams. Santiago has had a recurring dream where a child shows Santiago to the location of some treasure. However, Santiago wakes up just before he finds out exactly where it is located. The gypsy woman tells Santiago that this treasure is real. She explains to Santiago that dreams are a language used by the Soul of the World to communicate with people. The woman accepts her payment as being one-tenth of the treasure when Santiago finds it.
Upon leaving the gypsy woman’s house, Santiago sits in the plaza to read a book. An old man comes up to Santiago and tells him that he has read the same book before. The man reveals himself to be Melchizedek, who is the king of Salem. He bestows wisdom upon Paulo Coelho. This wisdom was that the world believes the lie that fate is preventing people from achieving their Personal Legend. Personal Legends are dreams that individuals have wanted to achieve their entire life. Just as the gypsy woman said, Melchizedek explains that Personal Legends come from the Soul of the World. However, fear and routine obscure our Personal Legends. Melchizedek explains to Santiago that he only appears to people who are ready to achieve their dreams. Plus, that he can tell Santiago about the treasure in his dream if he gives him one-tenth of his sheep.
After deliberation, Santiago decides that his sheep and the merchant’s daughter were just steps on the way to his Personal Legend (the treasure). Therefore, he decides to sell his flock immediately and gives Melchizedek six for free. Melchizedek tells Santiago always to follow the omens. Plus, he gives Santiago two stones. One stone was black and called Urim (meaning ‘yes’), and the other stone was white and called Thummim (meaning ‘no’). These stones are there in case Santiago is struggling to understand the omens. With the money from selling his flock, Santiago buys a ticket from Tarifa to Africa and sets sail to find the treasure.
Upon arriving in Tangiers, Santiago realizes that obtaining his Personal Legend will be more complicated than he first thought. For starters, he does not speak Arabic. While sitting in a bar alone, Santiago is approached by a young man who, in Spanish, offers to help him to get to the Pyramids where the treasure lays. However, when the young man offers to help Santiago buy a camel, he robs Santiago of all his money. Santiago weeps with despair. He had nothing, but he asked the stones if Melchizedek’s blessing was still with him. The answer was yes. So, Santiago continued on his journey toward obtaining his dreams.
Wandering the streets in search of opportunities, Santiago came across a crystal shop that was struggling financially. Santiago cleans the front window, and the owner subsequently offers him a job. The owner is willing to pay Santiago enough to save up for a new flock of sheep and a passage back to his home. Santiago agrees and takes the job.
Personal Legends Explained
Personal Legends are a common theme in The Alchemist. Throughout the book, Personal Legends serve as the only means by which an individual can live a satisfying life. Those who put off their Personal Legends will suffer from regret and will fail to experience the wealth associated with achieving them. Additionally, following your Personal Legends will allow the world to bestow favors upon you. In fact, the novel even explains that natural elements have to try and achieve their Personal Legends. For example, alchemy involves turning metal into its own Personal Legend: Gold.
Part Two Section One – Everything Happens For a Reason
After obtaining enough money to buy another flock and travel home, Santiago has a conversation with the crystal shop owner. He asks for the owner’s blessing to go home. Although the owner gives his blessing, he also tells Santiago that he knows he will not return to Spain. Instead, he knew that Santiago would continue to pursue his Personal Legend. Santiago accepted that he was far from home and far closer to the pyramids and the treasure. Therefore, he took a chance and started living in a caravan in a desert, so he could start searching for the treasure.
While living here, he meets an Englishman in search of his own Personal Legend. Just like Santiago, this man had been given Urim and Thummim by Melchizedek. At this moment, Santiago realized that the series of events he had experienced had all guided him toward nearing his Personal Legend. Even being robbed was part of his journey toward finding the treasure.
While traveling across the desert, the Englishman talks to Santiago about the Soul of the World. He describes this as the principle that governs all things. If we have an intuition or genuinely want something, then we are immersed in the Soul of the World. Santiago read some of the Englishman’s alchemy books. He discovered that almost all famous alchemists dedicated their lives to realizing their Personal Legends. However, Santiago wants to read the world’s omens through everyday life rather than in old books.
Part Two Section Two – Love Helps You Hear the Soul of the World
The caravan finally reached the oasis where the alchemist was awaiting its arrival. This alchemist had known from reading the omens of the desert that someone in a caravan sought them out. At this time, a war is taking place between the tribes of the desert. This war makes the desert too dangerous to pass. Therefore, the caravan must stay at the oasis indefinitely. During this time, Santiago meets a beautiful girl at a well. Santiago falls deeply in love with her and comes to learn that being in love helps you hear the language of the Soul of the World. Santiago starts meeting Fatima, the woman he has fallen in love with, every day at the well. He told her about his story and everything he had learned during his journey.
Santiago is so in love with Fatima that he tells her he wants to marry her. In fact, he tells her he is even thinking about giving up on his quest so he could be with her. Fatima tells Santiago that she understands that he needs to find the treasure to realize his life goals. While thinking about this alone on the oasis’ outskirts, Santiago has a vision of an invading army. After consulting one of the caravan’s guides, Santiago resolves to tell the oasis’ chiefs what the desert’s omens have shown him. Santiago tells the chiefs and, after some deliberation, they decide to ready themselves for war – even though this is against the oasis tradition, which is usually considered neutral ground. The chiefs make a deal with Santiago. If the enemy arrives, the chief will give Santiago a gold piece for every ten enemies slain. However, if Santiago’s vision is wrong, he will be killed. Walking home from his meeting with the chiefs, Santiago is pensive but sure that he has made the right decision.
Suddenly, he is assailed by a man with a falcon on his shoulder, dressed all in black, riding a white horse. The man holds a sword to Santiago’s head and demands to know how he knew of the coming of the army. Santiago, frightened, explains to the man about the omens of the desert and his Personal Legend. Santiago explains that he had no choice. To Santiago’s surprise, the man understands completely. He takes his leave, telling Santiago to see him if he survives the coming days. As the horseman rides away, Santiago realizes that he has just met the alchemist.
The next day, the men of the oasis kill all of the intruders. Subsequently, the oasis’s chieftain awarded Santiago with 50 pieces of gold and asks him to become the oasis’ counselor. Instead, though, Santiago makes the difficult decision of leaving Fatima and the opportunity of becoming a counselor so he can pursue his Personal Legend alongside the alchemist.
Part Two Section Three
In the final part of the book, Santiago travels across the desert with the alchemist. Santiago grows restless, wanting to learn more of the alchemist’s secrets. However, the alchemist explains that although he has learned much, some things cannot be taught. Instead, Santiago must learn these things himself. The alchemist also explains to Santiago that men complicate matters by seeking their Personal Legends’ treasures without living their Personal Legends. Hence, Santiago is advised to listen to his heart.
When nearing the treasure, the two are traveling through dangerous lands. At this moment, Santiago’s heart is becoming agitated. Santiago hears from the Soul of the World about others who have failed to find their fortune. Subsequently, Santiago is scared and wants to return to Fatima. However, he learns to be at peace with these worries.
War finally catches up with the travelers. A warring tribe captures them and threaten to kill them. To momentarily save their lives, the alchemist gives the tribe all of Santiago’s money and tells them that Santiago is a powerful wizard who can turn himself into the wind and destroy them. The tribesmen do not believe them but give Santiago three days to prove his powers.
Although the alchemist is unaffected, Santiago begins to continually worry about proving his abilities. On the third day, he goes to the top of a cliff and tries to speak to the desert and explain that he needs to turn himself into the wind to return to his love, Fatima. However, the desert does not know how to do this. Santiago then asked the wind, but the wind was unaware of what love was. Finally, the sun suggests that Santiago asks the Hand That Wrote All. Subsequently, Santiago begins to pray. This prayer was not a request but an acknowledgment that his heart and the Soul of the World were the same. Upon this realization, Santiago turned into the wind. The tribesmen arrived to see that Santiago had disappeared and then reappeared on the other side of the camp. So impressed, the tribal chiefs let the two travelers go and gave them a guide to find their destination.
The next day, the alchemist takes his leave at a Coptic monastery. Santiago continues his travels and finally reaches the pyramids where the treasure is located. He realizes that the real treasure in life is not the gold or jewels that will lie here but the wisdom he had gained on his way to the pyramids. Plus, the love for Fatima he has gained along the way. Santiago would have happily walked back home at this point. However, the alchemist told him to listen to his heart. His heart was telling him to start digging in the spot where there was a scarab beetle. Upon digging, a group of men approach him and beat him savagely. They also take all of his money. Santiago tries to explain what he is doing and how he had come to be here. However, the men tell him that he is a fool and that they had the same recurring dream. They had dreamt of treasures in Spain. However, they explained that they were not stupid enough to chase after this dream.
Santiago had been beaten down; however, he was ecstatic. He now knew where his treasure lies.
Lessons to Learn From the Alchemist
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” – Paulo Coelho
Fear is the primary obstacle that Santiago has to overcome on his journey. Throughout the book, Santiago is told by wise individuals that fear becomes irrelevant if you faithfully pursue your dreams. This wisdom is supported by the times that Santiago truly pursued his dreams, such as when turning himself into the wind.
“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” – Paulo Coelho
Although dreams are common throughout The Alchemist, the most important dream is Santiago’s Personal Legend. Personal Legends help enlighten the characters in this book and form communication with the Soul of the World. Similarly, you can use life goals to guide you through hardships.
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” – Paulo Coelho
Throughout the book, many characters use the term ‘Maktub’. Maktub means ‘it is written.’ Santiago’s story shows that fate always cooperates with those in pursuit of their Personal Legends. Therefore, you should remain focused on your goals and find comfort in the fact that your destiny is already written in the world’s history.
“I don’t live in either my past or my future. I’m interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living now.” – Paulo Coelho
Omens allow you to find your meaning in whatever environment. This is because omens are part of the Universal Language of the World. We also need to try and find meaning in random events. Every event can be applied to our Personal Legend and be considered another step toward achieving our goals.
Don’t Be a Sheep
The sheep in The Alchemist are symbolic. Although Santiago cares for his sheep, he also understands that they lack something that he has. He comes to understand that his sheep do not have the same capacity to have a Personal Legend as he does. This is why they follow him wherever he goes. Before Santiago started chasing his dreams, he was like a sheep. He was following others like a sheep and was focused on material desires and social acceptance. Identifying your Personal Legend is vital in preventing you from becoming a sheep.
Hardship Helps You Find Your True Personal Legend
“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.” – Paulo Coelho
Santiago’s journey to find his Personal Legend was not easy. The Alchemist is filled with difficult times for Santiago. He was robbed, abducted and threatened with death, then beaten and robbed again. However, Santiago ends the book happier than he was before embarking on this journey. The most important takeaway message from this book is that desiring a goal in life is where we gain happiness. A life of challenges in pursuit of a Personal Legend is a happier one than a safe and directionless life.
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