The Alchemist (Coelho): Theme Analysis
Santiago’s repeated dream of treasure by the Pyramids reveals the importance of dreams generally in the novel, and not just literal ones. This particular dream is presented as key, and both the fortune teller and Melchizedek encourage Santiago to follow it literally. But the centrality of dreams in the novel is based more generally on the idea that youthful hopes for the future should not be displaced as one ages, but rather should be held on to and pursued with passion throughout one’s life. Santiago is in this way an everyman hero in that he holds fast to his dream despite discouraging events such as the theft of his money in the marketplace. Coelho suggests that because he has his dream to fall back on, even material deprivations cannot discourage the boy from pursuing his goal and following his dream, literally of the Pyramids and figuratively of leaving the comforts of home for a great adventure. Unlike the baker or crystal merchant, who, like most, prioritized material success and comfort over following the dreams of their youth, Santiago experiences the joy that accompanies fulfillment of one’s spiritual quest.
A secondary theme in The Alchemist is that of love, which Santiago craves at the novel’s opening as he fantasizes about his next encounter with the merchant’s daughter with whom he spoke briefly the previous year. He is young and alone, and wishes heartily for true companionship, which he hopes to find with the beautiful girl with the raven hair. However, in recounting her reaction to his literacy, she seems limited in her ability to appreciate his desire for something more in life, a passion that is recognized and esteemed by Fatima, whom he meets in the oasis as he attempts to discover his Personal Legend. Her love is of a different variety, one that encourages him to soar to new heights rather than asks him to clip his wings to stay with her. Fatima expresses her love as a wish to be with Santiago once he has found himself and is ready to share with another.
The term that Melchizedek, Santiago and the Alchemist use to refer to the realization of human potential is different from most and is a central theme of the novel. While the metaphors of dreams and quests are present, the Personal Legend symbolizes elements of both and adds a further dimension of uniqueness for being a term new and different in this novel. It possesses an aura of magic and mysticism, and yet is basically the same concept as the age-old belief in fulfilling one’s destiny as though it is an adventure story in the process of being written.
Another important motif in the novel is that of reading, not just books, but the world. Reading serves a central function in The Alchemist, as Santiago and other characters attempt to make sense of the world around them through written words, only to learn that a deeper understanding can be achieved through the act of living itself. Santiago thus applies the same skill he attained at the seminary to literally “reading” the world, most notably in interpreting the flight of the hawks, which earns him recognition both by the alchemist and the tribal chieftains of Al-Fayoum who invite him to stay. But Santiago is not finished reading the world written by the hand that wrote all, and he embarks on the second phase of his quest with the knowledge that the stories most worthy of his attention do not reside in books.