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Essay: The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
  • Reading time: 5 minutes
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  • Published: 26 July 2022*
  • File format: Text
  • Words: 1,368 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 6 (approx)

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In The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho continuously shows how Santiago conquers fear and is greatly rewarded for it. In order to get his treasure and achieve his personal legend he must first travel through the well-known dangers of the desert. It is an extremely expensive trip that many do not return from. This causes him to fear the future because he knows that if he chooses not to go then he can still go home rich and happy. Despite this knowledge he knows that the outcome is worth the risk. After taking this journey he soon reaches the oasis. After traveling through the desert for many days and nights, this place is a paradise for Santiago. He fits in well with the society at the oasis and begins to create a life for himself there. He meets a girl, gets a job interpreting omens, and becomes a wealthy man. When it comes time to leave he experiences a new kind of fear. Not a fear of danger or death, but a fear of loss. He fears that if he leaves he may not return to his life that he loves so much and holds so dearly. When he gets the option to leave he confronts the difficult decision with something his tour guide told him. The guide said, “Because 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” (88). This allowed Santiago to continue with his journey knowing that he is responsible for fulfilling his personal legend and not staying out of fear of loss. The Arab tribal camp is Santiago’s next stop in his journey. He is captured along with the alchemist, who promises them that in three days Santiago will become the wind and destroy the camp. This causes him to panic out of fear for another time, even with all he has learned. He is now experiencing the most crippling fear yet, the fear of failure. This type of fear is so bad because it causes people to not continue with what they need to do. It tells them that they are not good enough so they should not even try. If Santiago had fallen to this fear then he would have been killed without a second look. If he had not tried then he would have failed anyway and this realization allowed him to build up the strength to try. By trying he conquered the last of the fear he would have to worry about in his life. Santiago conquered fear and by doing so achieved his personal legend. While this is what Paulo Coelho is trying to show his audience to teach his theme, Lily Hasanah has found a pattern in The Alchemist that is similar. Hasanah explains, in her article, that each of Santiago’s decisions end in the same outcome. They each in with a feeling of dread radiating through Santiago. She continues to say that each of Santiago’s decisions, or everyone’s everyday decisions, have some variable of dread. She uses the example of leaving Fatima when she says, “Another dread which Santiago feels is when he decides to leave Al- Fayoum oasis because leaving Al-Fayoum oasis means leaving Fatima whom he loves” (47). She explains here the dread radiates from the thought of leaving Fatima because he dreads the loss of her love and memory. Hasanah explains that this dread is an important part to Santiago’s journey because it is a sign that he is freely making the decision. Rejendra Kumar Dash has a final perspective of The Alchemist. Dash explains each portion of Santiago’s adventure. He explains that each portion comes with an obstacle that must be overcome. For example, he talks about Santiago needing to learn to follow omens more effectively and through the process of learning; he is robbed of all of his money. While this is unfortunate for Santiago, if he had not gone through this the rest of the journey would be impossible to accomplish. Dash also talks about Santiago having to leave Fatima. This is an obstacle that is required for him to overcome, so he can realize the importance of following his dreams. He believes that these obstacles are essential to Santiago’s journey and its success. These three powerful minds together will fully unveil the underlying theme in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.

Lily Hasanah’s article “Decision Making in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist” is obviously just a different perspective of Coelho’s theme in The Alchemist. This is made obvious because Hasanah also talks about an element of fear, or in her case dread, and how that fear impacts the character. Hasanah and Coelho believe that an element of fear takes place in the journey towards ones personal legend and there is true power in fear. Although they share this believe and view on the power of fear and where it comes from, they differ in their belief on what the impact of that fear has on the main character, Santiago. Coelho believes that the element of fear is a sort of test that must be overcome to continue successfully on ones personal legend. This is proved when he writes, “Don’t give in to your fears… If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart” (148). This line from The Alchemist shows Coelho’s stance on fear and how to address fear. Hasanah’s article shows a different perspective on the impact of fear. She believes that fear is a mental sign that one is freely choosing to do something. For example, no one fears that they are making a bad decision by walking into a room if someone is holding a gun to their head telling them too. This is true because since there is no other option there is no comparative factor. In other words, Hasanah views the element of fear, or in her words dread, as symbolism and representation of the element of freedom. This slight difference in opinion completely changes the point and impact of Coelho’s theme.

Rejendra Kumar Dash’s “Alchemy of the Soul: A Comparative Study of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha and Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist” is another perspective of the theme of Coelho’s The Alchemist. Dash and Coelho find the theme in the multiple settings of The Alchemist and how each settings has a different obstacles one must overcome. Dash explains in his article that the main character of a story, in this case Santiago, goes through stages in their journey and it is through conquering each stage they can find their personal legend. Coelho agrees with this stance because he layers Santiago’s journey with a different setting for each part. While they agree that there are stages to Santiago’s journey towards his personal legend they disagree on what the obstacles are. Dash believes that the obstacles in Santiago’s journey are different moral dilemmas that he must work through. Coelho believes otherwise. He believes that there is one obstacle in Santiago’s journey and that obstacle is fear. He repeatedly talks about how fear is something that must be let go in order to move on to the next stage in his journey. Coelho’s idea on this subject is ultimately more accurate because he is more specific than Dash who just says moral dilemmas.

So while all three of these brilliant writers, Hasanah, Dash, and Coelho, agree for the most part where the theme is derived from in The Alchemist, they have minor differences in view points. These differences are for the most part in the impact of the theme and not in where the theme is seen. The analysis of The Alchemist and these articles really opens the eyes of the reader to what the true theme of the novel is. It will also help the reader realize the impact that this theme has on Santiago and even in his or her own life. They can apply this theme to their own journey and be one step closer to finding their personal legend.


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