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The Alchemist | Study Guide

Paulo Coelho

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The Alchemist | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In The Alchemist, when Santiago thinks about his life, what makes him most proud?

Santiago is proud of a number of things in his life, starting with his decision to follow his love of travel and become a shepherd. This decision is not easy, given that his parents have worked hard to provide an education for him and wanted him to become a priest. Likewise, he's proud of his choice to leave behind his flock of sheep to pursue the long, difficult journey of realizing his Personal Legend. Along the way, he learns a new language and picks up several other new skills. Although many obstacles crop up, he perseveres, sticking with the goal and overcoming each impediment that arises.

In The Alchemist, how does Santiago's experience as a shepherd help him throughout his journey to Egypt?

As a shepherd, Santiago learns to pay attention to and understand nature, a skill that he builds on throughout his journey to the pyramids in pursuit of his Personal Legend. His success hinges on his ability to tune in to his natural surroundings, and throughout the story, it is always in nature that Santiago gleans insights that help him continue his quest. For instance, he notices the omen of the hawk attack in the sky, and while crossing the desert with the alchemist, he reads the reactions of his horse to discover danger lurking ahead. In these ways and others, Santiago uses and enhances the skills he gained as a shepherd boy in Andalusia.

Consider the desert as a teacher. What does Santiago learn from the desert in The Alchemist?

Hot, dry, barren, and full of danger, the desert presents Santiago with various tests and teaches him lessons that prepare him for the end of his journey. It is in the desert that Santiago learns to tune in to his natural surroundings to such a degree that he is able to learn from something as small as a single grain of sand. He also learns to tune in to his own thoughts and feelings and to come to terms with his fear. Likewise, the desert teaches Santiago to recognize the Language of the World in all living things, providing him the practice he needs in interpreting the movements and reactions of animals (such as the cobra and his horse) and in seeing death in the eyes of the tribesmen and refugees he meets along the way.

What is the significance of the alchemist's parting ways with Santiago just before the boy reaches the pyramids?

The alchemist parts ways with Santiago right after he demonstrates how to turn lead to gold at the Coptic monastery. In all likelihood, he does this so that Santiago can apply everything he's learned along the way to this last leg of the journey. Also, the alchemist warns Santiago earlier in the story that the Soul of the World will test him severely right before he achieves his dream, and by finishing this part of the journey on his own, Santiago is put to yet another test. Furthermore, the alchemist believes that learning by action is the only way to learn. When he says good-bye to Santiago, he gives him the invaluable experience of traveling to the pyramids and overcoming obstacles on his own.

In The Alchemist, Santiago arrives at the pyramids only to discover his treasure is in Andalusia, not Egypt. Why does Coelho make this plot choice?

Coelho likely places the treasure in Andalusia to make the point that pursuing one's dreams and Personal Legend is more about the process than the end product (in this case, the buried treasure). This is in keeping with the hero's journey, or quest motif, of the novel. Had the treasure been located at the pyramids, the journey would have come to an end with Santiago's reaping the material rewards of the jewels and gold. Instead, Santiago's journey continues to the place where it all started—the site of his dream, beneath the huge sycamore tree at the abandoned church. He returns more aware and enlightened than when he was last there. Regardless of everything he's learned, though, his evolution, and thus his journey, will continue.

Consider the lessons Santiago learns from the alchemist. Which lesson saves his life at the pyramids?

The alchemist helps Santiago discover a number of important insights, but one in particular saves his life at the pyramids. As the refugees beat him, Santiago remembers the alchemist saying that most people don't believe in things like treasures and dreams. Specifically, the alchemist said, "When you possess great treasures within you, and try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed," Santiago remembers this advice and tells his attackers about his dream of a buried treasure at the pyramids. This, in turn, convinces the refugees to leave him alone, as they find the dream ludicrous and conclude that the treasure doesn't actually exist.

The Alchemist ends with Santiago saying, "I'm coming, Fatima." Discuss the significance of this line.

Readers learn that Fatima and Santiago are now sending messages to each other in the universal language. Santiago's line is a response to a wordless message from Fatima—a trace of her perfume and a warm kiss that float in on the wind from Africa. When Santiago replies, "I'm coming, Fatima," he reveals that his quest to fulfill his dreams has not yet come to an end. Although he now has his treasure, he will not simply live happily as a rich man in Andalusia. Instead, he plans to return to Al-Fayoum to be with Fatima. From there, he will continue his pursuit of learning, growth, and enlightenment, wherever it happens to lead him.

How does the epilogue to The Alchemist provide a sense of closure?

The epilogue provides a sense of closure by reinforcing story elements and tying up loose ends. Readers learn that Santiago, after a long, hard journey, at last finds his buried treasure. The honor of his character is reinforced when the narrator reveals that Santiago will keep the promise he made to the gypsy woman. He will pay her one-tenth of his treasure in exchange for her earlier interpretation of his dream. Closure is also provided through Santiago's recollections of some of the influential, inspiring people he met during his journey, especially Melchizedek and the alchemist. Readers learn that Santiago and the alchemist communicate with each other through the wind, which implies that their relationship will continue. Santiago also communicates via the wind with Fatima, who uses it to blow "a kiss that came from far away, slowly, slowly, until it rested on his lips." The story ends with Santiago responding, "I'm coming, Fatima." Although this line suggests that Santiago's adventures and journey will continue, it also reveals that Santiago and Fatima will end up together. Thus, the epilogue concludes by reinforcing Melchizedek's lesson that "when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."

What do Santiago's actions in The Alchemist reveal about his character?

Throughout The Alchemist, Santiago comes across as an honest, adventurous, passionate, and highly thoughtful young man in search of his Personal Legend. He challenges himself, taking a number of risks and never choosing the easy way out. Time and again, he refuses to return to his life as a shepherd in Andalusia. Santiago has a strong sense of perseverance, a quality that comes across when he decides to stay on and work for the crystal merchant in a foreign country, even though he has enough money to return home. He makes a similar choice when he opts not to stay with Fatima at the oasis of Al-Fayoum. Instead, he ventures into the dangerous desert to pursue his dream. All of these actions provide insight into Santiago's character as the protagonist or hero and paint a picture of a courageous, reflective young man intent on finding the meaning of life—and living his own life to the fullest.

Consider how The Alchemist is like a self-help book.

Many readers and critics of The Alchemist consider it a type of self-help book. For instance, Spencer Johnson, coauthor of The One Minute Manager (1982), describes the book as a "tale of universal wisdom we can apply to the business of our own lives." Here, Johnson taps into the idea that Santiago's journey toward self-fulfillment reflects the search for truth, enlightenment, and a meaningful life that many people engage in. In this sense, many people can relate to and learn from Santiago's experiences throughout his journey and then apply what they learn to their own lives.

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