The Alchemist by Paul Coelho



Paulo Coelho. The Alchemist. New York: Harper Collins, 1998.


The Alchemist tells the tale of Santiago, a shepherd boy from a small Andalusian town, of whom we follow on his journey of self-discovery as he searches for a hidden treasure located near the pyramids in Egypt. He is determined, headstrong, and curious to learn all he can about the world. As a result, he resisted his parent’s desires that he become a priest and chose instead to work as a shepherd so that he would have the opportunity to travel throughout the country.

In his journey, Santiago sees the greatness of the world, and meets all kinds of exciting people like kings and alchemists. However, by the end of the novel, he discovers that the treasure was the journey itself, the discoveries he made, and the wisdom he acquired.

I chose to report on this novel because it contains a lot of metaphors and hidden imagery which encourages everyone’s own personal perception of the novel. I wish to highlight a couple of these examples below.

  • “You don’t have to understand the desert: all you have to do is contemplate a simple grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation.”

This quote is said by the alchemist, a supposedly 200 year old extremely powerful practitioner of alchemy. In the novel he is a mysterious character who serves as a teacher and guide to Santiago. When Santiago comes upon the vastness of the desert he is overwhelmed and finds it difficult to comprehend. The alchemist is thus urging Santiago, and us readers as well, to consider a vast desert from a visual standpoint. The desert is beautiful but all that beauty, all marvel, all complexity can be found within a given speck of that terrain, a grain of sand. Because without the individual grains of sand, the desert would not exist.

  • “…every blessing ignored becomes a curse. I don’t want anything else in life. But you are forcing me to look at wealth and at horizons that I have never known. Now that I have seen them, and now that I see how immense my possibilities are, I’m going to feel worse than I did before you arrived. Because I know the things I should be able to accomplish, and I don’t want to do so.”

Throughout the novel, Santiago is not always constantly on the move. For one year he stayed in a town called Tangier and worked for a crystal merchant. The crystal merchant says these words to Santiago as he prepares to leave Tangier after an extremely successful year working at the crystal shop. The crystal merchant is an important friend to Santiago however he also functions as a cautionary case of someone who has become complacent and given up the pursuit of his Personal Legend. A Personal Legend is the word used in the story to depict one’s dreams or destined path in life.

every blessing ignored” refers to all the opportunities one has been given but ultimately decides not to act on. In the case of the crystal merchant, he has a dream to make a pilgrimage to Mecca but does not pursue it because he thinks he will have nothing to live for once he’s achieved his dream.

now that I have seen them …” is the courage Santiago displays as he decides to continue his journey and “I’m going to feel worse … because I know the things I should be able to accomplish” refers to the crystal merchant’s regret as he knows that he did not achieve all that he can in life when he see’s Santiago’s determination and feels depressed as a result. While he takes no pride in his conservative approach to life, he feels rooted in his ways and thus still refuses to change.

The novel portrays his fate as one to avoid and brings forth the message that those who ignore their Personal Legends in favor of settling into material comforts always feel haunted by their untapped potential. This fear of failure seems to be the greatest obstacle to happiness.

  • before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream.”

The Soul of the World is a magical force of nature within the novel, it can be interpreted as God. In this quotation the alchemist says these last words to Santiago before the two part ways at the end of the novel. The alchemist explains to Santiago why he had to endure so many trials if the Soul of the World, does actually want him to fulfill his Personal Legend. This statement implies that the important part of pursuing one’s Personal Legend consists not just in reaching the final goal, whether that be turning lead into gold like an alchemist, or finding a treasure near the pyramids as was Santiago’s journey, but also in learning through action. Santiago, ultimately travels through Spain, into Africa, and across the Sahara to the pyramids, only to learn that the treasure he seeks lies under a tree in the area where he began his trip. Along the way, he gained magical powers, he learned to read omens, to communicate with the elements, and even to turn himself into the wind. His transformation, however, could not have occurred without this journey and the experience he gained from living out his Personal Legend.

These quotes are just a sampling of the wonderful imagery and underlying messages portrayed in The Alchemist. Although it can be considered a difficult text I definitely encourage everyone to read it.



Paulo Coelho. The Alchemist. New York: Harper Collins, 1998.

Paulo Coelho. “Interview with Paulo Coelho.” 2008-10-21.