There is figurative language throughout the book. Coelho was a master at magic realism fiction. The figurative language often illustrates dreams and the subjective interpretation of reality. Symbolism, metaphor and personification often take...
The Alchemist (Coelho) Video
Watch the illustrated video summary of the novel, The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho.
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, is a story about a young shepherd named Santiago who is able to find a treasure beyond his wildest dreams and feelings of self-doubt. In this fable, the author uses magical realism to portray Santiago’s physical and spiritual journey, as he learns to listen to his heart and realizes that his aspirations belong not only to him but to the universe as well.
Living in Andalusia, Spain, Santiago is a humble shepherd who wants only to roam with his sheep, enjoy wine, and read a good book. Fate intervenes, however, in the form of a recurring dream about a great treasure hidden at the base of the Egyptian Pyramids.
Santiago meets Melchizedek, a strange wise man and king from a far-off land. Melchizedek appears to those who are seeking their Personal Legend, or deepest life-long goal. This ambition comes from the Soul of the World which conspires to help everyone reach their deepest desire. Unfortunately, fear and routine often get in the way.
Soon, Santiago decides to sell his flock and seek his treasure. Melchizedek gives Santiago two stones, a black stone called Urim, meaning "yes," and a white stone called Thummim, meaning "no.” Santiago is to consult these if he cannot understand the omens. He sets sail for Africa to seek his treasure and “Personal Legend.”
Santiago’s first day in Tangiers, Morocco, he is robbed and left completely alone. Unable to speak a single word of Arabic, Santiago contemplates giving up and turning around. But he remembers the words of the wise man and carries on. Eventually, he finds work at a crystal shop for one year, where he
earns enough money to buy a new flock of sheep and return home. Instead, he joins a caravan crossing the desert to Egypt, thus moving closer to his dream.
On the caravan, Santiago meets an Englishman who has come all the way to Africa to seek a renowned alchemist. His new travel companion carries two stones just like Santiago’s and believes it is not accidental that the two of them have met. Santiago finds the Englishman's ideas to be similar to Melchizedek's. They both speak of a Soul of the World to which we are all connected. The Englishman also reveals that the goal of alchemy is the “Master Work,” which includes a liquid called the Elixir of Life and a solid called the Philosopher’s Stone.
When they finally arrive at the Al-Fayoum oasis—the home of the titular Alchemist—Santiago meets a beautiful girl named Fatima with whom he immediately falls in love. He soon discovers that love, like the Personal Legend, comes directly from the Soul of the World.
While walking in the desert, Santiago has a vision of an upcoming battle. He rushes back to warn the elders at the oasis. The next day, 500 armed tribesmen enter the oasis as Santiago has predicted. The men, duly warned, kill all of the intruders. The chieftain of the oasis awards Santiago 50 pieces of gold and offers him a position as a counselor.
Santiago considers staying at the oasis with his new-found love Fatima, instead of seeking the Pyramids. Fatima, however, tells Santiago that she understands his need to realize his goal. The women of the desert, she explains, are proud of their men's freedom. This confuses Santiago, who is unable to separate love and possession.
The Alchemist finds Santiago and tells him that he will lead him to his treasure. While on the move, the Alchemist teaches Santiago that hearts can be treacherous, but the best way to keep them from fooling you is to listen to them intently; one must listen to the Soul of the world to find one’s treasure. Everything on earth, even minerals, has a Personal Legend. This is why alchemists can change any metal into gold: they are simply helping the metal achieve its Personal Legend.
When the two travelers are taken prisoner by a warring tribe, the Alchemist—in an effort to save their lives--claims that Santiago is a magician who can turn himself into wind. Santiago has no idea what he is doing, but eventually starts to pray with acknowledgement that his heart and the Soul of the World are one. Immediately, the wind whips up, and Santiago disappears and reappears on the other side of the camp. The tribal chiefs are so impressed that they let the travelers go.
The next day, the men arrive at a monastery. The Alchemist uses his piece of the Philosopher's Stone to turn lead into a quantity of gold and gives some to Santiago and some to a monk. Santiago continues on to the Pyramids alone. There he is overwhelmed with joy realizing he can turn back now—that the real treasure is not gold or jewels, but the wisdom he has gained from his journey and his love for Fatima.
His heart tells him to dig in a spot where he sees a scarab beetle. As he starts digging, robbers beat him savagely, taking all of his money. When Santiago tries to explain what he is doing, one of the men tells him that he is a fool. The robber explains to Santiago that he had a recurring dream too, depicting the same treasure—but the treasure was in Spain instead. He, however, was not stupid enough to go chasing after it. After the robbers leave, Santiago gets up, elated, realizing that the treasure was back in Spain the entire time.
Back in Andalusia, Santiago digs a hole at the base of the sycamore tree where he first had his dream about the treasure. He finds a trunk full of gold. Just as the Alchemist insists that all of the secrets he holds are simple, so too was the treasure always at home. Santiago returns to Fatima, confirming the Alchemist’s prophecy: in the end, he was able to achieve his Personal Legend and find his true love.