Course Hero Logo

The Alchemist | Study Guide

Paulo Coelho

Get the eBook on Amazon to study offline.

Buy on Amazon Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "The Alchemist Study Guide." Course Hero. 4 Oct. 2016. Web. 29 May 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2016, October 4). The Alchemist Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2016)



Course Hero. "The Alchemist Study Guide." October 4, 2016. Accessed May 29, 2023.


Course Hero, "The Alchemist Study Guide," October 4, 2016, accessed May 29, 2023,

The Alchemist | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


Describe the role of nature in The Alchemist.

In The Alchemist, nature plays the role of teacher and guide to Santiago, who turns to his outdoor environment time and again for insight and awareness. For example, just before he sees the hawk attack, Santiago sits in the desert, soaking up his surroundings and contemplating his journey. The desert helps him make sense of it all. It calms his mind so he can figure out and prepare himself for the next part of his journey. This contemplative time also enables him to notice and read the omen of the hawks in the sky. Had Santiago not spent time meditating in the desert, he might have missed the sign. Additionally, nature plays the role of a partner in The Alchemist. The sand, wind, and sun, for instance, are personified and work together to help Santiago transform himself into the wind. And it's the wind that warns the alchemist to be on the lookout for the boy's arrival by caravan in Al-Fayoum. These examples reflect the theme of oneness that runs throughout the story—the idea that all beings share and come from the same soul (the Soul of the World).

In The Alchemist, if Santiago had chosen to stay with Fatima in Al-Fayoum, instead of crossing the desert, how would his life have been different? Could he have been happy?

Just as the crystal merchant suffers the consequences of not following his dream, so, too, would Santiago suffer by turning his back on his Personal Legend and the pyramids. Santiago is fully aware of his dream, and he must pursue it to achieve optimal happiness and fulfillment. Before Santiago and the alchemist set out on their journey across the Sahara, the alchemist paints a picture of what life will be like if the boy stays with Fatima. "You'll marry Fatima, and you'll both be happy for a year," the alchemist says. He then predicts, however, that Santiago will start to think of his treasure. He'll see omens but ignore them, and tension will grow with Fatima. Thus, Santiago will spend the rest of his life unfulfilled, "knowing that [he] didn't pursue [his] Personal Legend, and that now it's too late." Santiago realizes that abandoning his Personal Legend could happen only if the love he has for Fatima is not true love. Because their love is true, he is able to continue with his journey.

Why, in The Alchemist, does Santiago describe his heart as a traitor? How does he come to trust his heart?

Santiago refers to his heart as a traitor not long after he and the alchemist set out across the desert. At this point, he is feeling a great deal of fear—fear of the armed tribesmen they continue to pass along the way, fear of not finding his treasure, and fear that leaving the woman he loves, Fatima, to pursue his dream is the wrong decision. "My heart is a traitor," he says. "It doesn't want me to go on." The alchemist, in turn, helps Santiago come to trust his heart, explaining that fear is a normal reaction to pursuing a dream and is the reason most people never realize their Personal Legends. "Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself," the alchemist says to Santiago. He continues, "No heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams." Upon hearing this, Santiago realizes the truth in the statement and starts to trust his heart.

Consider the effect of foreshadowing as used in The Alchemist.

Throughout The Alchemist, Coelho uses foreshadowing, a literary device in which the author hints at what will happen. One of the clearest examples is during a conversation between the alchemist and Santiago as they cross the Sahara. Here, the alchemist warns Santiago that each time a person starts a search, "[It] begins with beginner's luck. And every search ends with the victor's [luck] being severely tested." Hearing this, Santiago recalls an old proverb from home: "The darkest hour of the night came just before the dawn." Coelho uses the two characters' dialogue to alert readers to trouble brewing for Santiago, who is nearing the last leg of his journey and inching closer to his dream. Sure enough, the boy and the alchemist encounter armed tribesmen the next day and are taken captive. It is during this time that Santiago faces his ultimate test: transforming himself into the wind.

In what ways does the alchemist serve as a guide who provides occasional help and encourages Santiago to learn independently? Why does he take this approach?

In the novel, the alchemist fills the archetypal role of mentor or scientist. To Santiago, the alchemist is a guide who provides occasional help and encourages him to learn independently. This is seen, for instance, when the alchemist tells Santiago that nearly everything he needs to know lies within. He encourages the boy to immerse himself in the desert and listen to his heart, but he never explains the precise steps for doing so. The alchemist takes this approach because, as he says, "There is only one way to learn. It's through action." By being more of a guide than a lecturer with step-by-step instructions, the alchemist empowers Santiago to figure out how to do things on his own. This guidance assists Santiago's character development; in this way, the alchemist changes Santiago as surely as if he were turning lead into gold.

In The Alchemist, how is the practice of alchemy a metaphor for Santiago's journey?

In many ways, the practice of alchemy can be seen as a metaphor for Santiago's quest to realize his Personal Legend and live out his dreams. The goal of an alchemist is to purify metals and turn base metals into the most evolved (or most perfect) metal—gold—while also discovering the Elixir of Life, a liquid that can cure all of life's ailments. Essentially, the practice of alchemy is a transformation of an imperfect to a perfect form—or to the most evolved state. This is similar to Santiago's journey toward truth and enlightenment, in which he strives to learn, grow, listen to his heart, and finally "be better than he was in his former life," as he confides to the sun during a discussion about alchemy. In this sense, Santiago is evolving as a human being, a process not unlike the evolution that occurs when an alchemist transforms base metals to the more perfect metal, gold. Both journeys take time and practice and require a great deal of growth and learning, along with an understanding "of nature and the world," the alchemist tells Santiago. With perseverance and dedication, however, Santiago and some alchemists can achieve their goal.

Consider Santiago's recurring dream in The Alchemist. Why is a child the one who tells Santiago about his buried treasure?

In The Alchemist, both Melchizedek and the alchemist discuss the idea that children believe in and are willing to pursue treasures and dreams. As children grow into adults, however, skepticism and fear set in, turning treasures into the stuff of pipe dreams (fantasy). Grown-ups have responsibilities, and running off to pursue a dream comes with risks that most adults just aren't willing to take. By having a child tell Santiago about his buried treasure, Coelho taps into the idea that children are more likely than adults to believe in buried treasures and dreams. He also puts the onus on Santiago to have the gumption to follow the advice of a child—and not even a real child, but rather one in his dreams. Because the buried treasure turns out to be real, the child is the one who ends up being right. In this way, Coelho suggests that children are far more insightful and knowledgeable than they seem.

In The Alchemist, how does the theme of oneness play out in the desert scene as Santiago attempts to turn himself into the wind?

As Santiago attempts to turn himself into the wind, he immerses himself in the desert and consults the sand, wind, and sun—all elements of nature—for help. Together, the four engage in a dialogue about Personal Legends, love, and the Soul of the World. This dialogue leads Santiago to success. With the help of the natural elements around him, he brings about a massive sandstorm and eventually becomes the wind. A great illustration of the theme of oneness that runs through The Alchemist, this scene exemplifies the idea that all living and nonliving things come from and share the same soul and work together to move the universe forward. It also illustrates the idea that when a person wants something, all the universe conspires in helping that person to achieve it, as both the alchemist and Melchizedek tell Santiago at various points in his journey.

In The Alchemist, who is "the hand that wrote all"?

Mentioned repeatedly in The Alchemist, "the hand that wrote all" refers to a higher power, the source of creation, that is responsible for forming the soul shared by all things in the universe. This same "hand" is also responsible for writing a Personal Legend for each living and nonliving entity. When Santiago asks the sun to help transform him into the wind, the sun responds by telling him to "speak to the hand that wrote all." Santiago speaks to the "hand" using the Language of the World, which consists not of words but of universal sentiments (like love and gratitude), to convey his needs. In turn, "the hand that wrote all," which understands the Language of the World and wants all individuals to succeed, complies with Santiago's request by enabling him to become the wind.

As mentioned in The Alchemist, what are two obstacles that can interfere with the fulfillment of a Personal Legend? Why?

A number of things can block an individual's realization of his or her Personal Legend. Two obstacles discussed throughout The Alchemist are fear and the belief that one is undeserving. As the Englishman works on his hand-built furnace in Al-Fayoum, he acknowledges that for ten years, a fear of failure kept him from trying his hand at the first phase of alchemy. Now that he has overcome the fear, he's "learning by doing" and making progress in uncovering the secret of alchemy and in the pursuit of his Personal Legend. Likewise, fear nearly leads Santiago to stay at the oasis of Al-Fayoum and to abandon his Personal Legend and dream altogether. Several times in the story, a person's belief that he or she is undeserving of success interferes with the fulfillment of a Personal Legend. Readers see this when the monk tries to refuse the alchemist's gold, saying that the payment is worth more than his generosity. The alchemist responds, "Don't say that again. Life might be listening, and give you less the next time." The alchemist's response suggests that people must believe in their own self-worth so that good things will come their way.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Alchemist? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!