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Overview of Paulo Coelho's 'The Alchemist'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1844 words Published: 25th Aug 2021

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The first few pages of the book stood out to me because it describes the setting as well as laying a good foundation for Santiago’s character and his close relationship with his sheep. The shepherd’s name also caught my attention. Perhaps Paulo Chelho chose the name “Santiago” because it is Spanish for James who is one the apostles of Jesus. This seems likely considering Paulo Chelho said he was Catholic in the beginning of the book and Santiago’s father wanted him to be a priest. When Santiago slept in the old church with his sheep it seemed realistic due to the author’s detailed descriptions. This section was well written because it was a believable situation for a shepherd and made the story easier to relate to. Santiago talking to the gypsy was also memorable because it set up the plot’s rising action and the foreshadowing of Santiago’s journey. In this scene the shepherd didn’t appear to have much life experience and got taken advantage of. By the end of the novel Santiago will hopefully gain wisdom from his journey.

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A person’s “Personal Legend” means what is your purpose in life, what dreams are you going to pursue, and how are you going to accomplish it. Santiago’s “Personal Legend” is to go to the Pyramids in Egypt and find “a treasure that will make you a rich man.” Melchizedek (a name present in the Bible) helps Santiago choose to follow his “Personal Legend” instead of giving up. Paulo Coelho also seems to point out that it’s not about where you’re going but how you get there. The concept is cliché for a novel written so recently. My Aunt Jan is following her personal legend. Her entire life she has wanted to help the impoverished. A few years ago she started to volunteer at a Christian Church. Every summer she goes to Mexico on a Christian missionary trip to help build houses for the poor. She also distributes medical supplies and clothing following her dream. Ever since I was a child I’ve wanted to become a software programmer because computer’s interest me. This summer I have been reading through a XHTML guide, learned GIMP, Inkscape, GML and studied some JavaScript, slowly working towards my goal.. Hopefully by continuing to work towards my goal I can achieve my “Personal Legend.”

The crystal merchant was memorable for his kindness and the rewards he received for his actions. By following the Koran and his own beliefs the crystal merchant let Santiago into his home and gave him a job. In return Santiago provided his knowledge and helped increase pedestrian traffic on the hill, making the crystal merchant wealthier. This situation of giving and receiving kindness is thought provoking and makes me wonder what would happen if everyone in the world acted upon these principles. The quote, “Well, when I took my sheep through the fields some of them might have died if we had come upon a snake. But that’s the way life is with sheep and with shepherds.” said by Santiago used good imagery to display that one should never give up even when there is risk involved. This comment was directed at the crystal merchant who didn’t want to change the way he ran his business by having a display case. The crystal merchant did eventually agree and gained an increase in profits from his decision. The way the crystal merchant didn’t want to change reminded me of the Native American elders in I Heard the Owl Call My Name when they resist the change brought by white people. This line written by Paulo Coelho contains vivid imagery and is a great metaphor that makes sense while not being overly simplified.

In this part of the book Santiago is still working towards his “Personal Legend” while encouraging the crystal merchant to not give up his dream. The crystal merchant is Muslim and One of the Five Pillars of Islam requires every Muslim to perform the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca once in their life if they are able to do so. The crystal merchant had always dreamed of going to Mecca after he had become rich by starting his own business but he was afraid if he went he would be disappointed. While the crystal merchant decides not to go to Mecca he did pay Santiago enough to go fulfill his “Personal Legend” of traveling to Egypt. Paulo Coelho did write, “Not everyone can see his dreams come true in the same way.” so perhaps the crystal merchant did not necessarily fail his “Personal Legend.”

One moment that stood out to me in this section of The Alchemist is when Santiago is robbed. It shows how vulnerable he was in a strange land and that the universe and the Soul of the World doesn’t always try to make you succeed. It also reminded me of how, earlier, Santiago had been tricked by the gypsy into giving her one tenth of the treasure when he finds it. When Santiago was talking to his heart was also memorable because the phrase “listen to your heart” was taken quite literally. While an interesting concept, I didn’t understand what Santiago was doing and felt ‘out of the loop.’ It probably can be more easily related to if the reader was into meditation but it made the book less mainstream.

When I read the phrase “Soul of the World” I wondered if Paulo Coelho was talking about God, Gaia(Greek goddess of Earth), the Native American’s view that all things have a soul, Allah, or a source of knowledge that can be tapped into similar to the Na’vi’s in Avatar. The author could be referring to God, which is more familiar to me, considering he says he is a Catholic in the beginning of the book. Phrases such as the “Sacred Heart of Jesus”, the shepherd, Melchizedek, and “Fatima and Santiago” are all Catholic references that I know from being Catholic. The book also talks about grains of sand having as much importance as God which has more similarities to Native Americans who believe that every part of the Earth has a soul and should be respected. The “Soul of the World” also seems like the Na’vi from Avatar because the “Soul of the World” contains knowledge and can be learned from. Allah could also be related to the “Soul of the World” as the novel does contain Muslim characters, specifically the crystal merchant. The use of multiple religions by Paulo Choelho makes his novel have more appeal to a wide range of people which allows his message that “One’s only obligation in life is to pursue one’s destiny” to reach a wider range of people. This decision makes his novel more mainstream and let The Alchemist earn the title of being the most translated single title in the history of the world.

The entire section with the girl, Fatima, stuck in my mind as I read the book but not for a good reason. Fatima is named after Our Lady of Fatima which is a title for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Paulo Coelho’s book, The Alchemist, contains few women characters and the only one with any real importance is Fatima. She is portrayed in a very sexist manner and was not what I expected in a novel that has sold over 65 million copies. She is introduced retrieving water and isn’t given much of a personality or importance in the story. Santiago falls in love with her a first sight which is exactly what William Shakespeare, a true literary master, warned against. Then Santiago decides he needs to continue his quest to fulfill his “Personal Legend” and leaves Fatima behind. While Santiago is traveling around looking for buried treasure her duty as a women is to wait for him to return. The concept that Fatima’s only purpose in life is to wait for Santiago to return is exceptionally prejudiced. In the world of The Alchemist women are apparently not allowed to have “Personal Legends.” Paulo Coelho said even metal has a “Personal Legend” which is to become gold but he doesn’t give females one. I was extremely disappointed that The Alchemist was so blatantly discriminatory towards women.

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The sentences in The Alchemist are usually written in a simplistic nature by Paulo Coelho who uses short words and sentences and avoids adjectives. This is most likely due to the author writing it as a fable and possibly to make the book easier to understand. What ever Paulo Coelho’s goal was he did accomplish writing a novel that presents no problem translating. With phrases such as, “The boy began to read his book,” there seems little possibility that the translator would have trouble finding the correct words as opposed to translations of The Odyssey where “weird” most certainly does not mean “strange” in the context of the epic and The Odyssey did suffer from its sentence fluency being awkward in English. The decision to use simple words by Paulo Coelho in his writing is a double-edged sword. While the book can be translated into numerous languages without losing its meaning it also lacks good word choice and sentence fluency. The decision of mass distribution over quality in a single language is a difficult one. Do you want to reach as many readers as possible or profoundly impact fewer readers? Only time will tell if Paulo Coelho made the right decision with The Alchemist.

The scene in The Alchemist where Santiago turns into wind was impossible, difficult to understand, but most importantly did not add much to the story. When the alchemist turned metal into gold it made sense because the book is a fantasy, the man is a wise alchemist and the concept isn’t entirely unbelievable. Santiago on the other hand is a poor shepherd and him having conversations with the wind, the sun and the desert is impossible . The author probably included this section to show that if you have a dream the universe does literally help you achieve it. This scene takes away from the idea that hard work creates success. If Santiago had studied for years on how to achieve the act of turning into wind then at least the shepherd would have deserved this accomplishment and the treasure. As it stands this event in the novel was out of place and detracted from the themes present in The Alchemist.

The Alchemist concludes with Santiago learning that the treasure was not by the Pyramids. Instead the treasure was in his native land of Spain and Santiago gets angry that he traveled all the way to Egypt only to discover that the treasure was always with him. Then a voice on the wind reminds him that “If I had told you, you wouldn’t have seen the Pyramids. They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” This demonstrates the phrase “it’s not about where you’re going but how you get there.” While this idea has become overused and cliché it is still important to remember. If Santiago had focused on the treasure he wouldn’t have learned lessons from the crystal merchant or the alchemist. The English man on the other hand became so focused on making metal become gold he didn’t learn as much from his journey. By weaving this idea into The Alchemist Paulo Coelho makes the “Personal Legend” concept more engaging and leaves the reader with more to think about. The ending of this novel was satisfying, surprising, and most importantly made sense in regards to the themes present in The Alchemist.


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