A theme is an overarching idea that runs through a literary text in one or some parts. It makes up the major point the author wants to convey to the readers. Themes in The Alchemist, a masterpiece of Paulo Coelho, are diverse and temporal. The novel presents the human quest for knowledge and treasures as well as the world of dream, love, and fate in which they have to want to enter. Some of the major themes in The Alchemist have been discussed below.
Themes in The Alchemist
Dreams and Aspirations
Dreams and materializing them is one of the major themes of The Alchemist. The story starts with Santiago having a dream to pursue and find his destiny. He dreams about finding a treasure at the foot of the pyramids in Egypt while living in Andalusian town as a shepherd. He is rather amazed at this strange dream and asks the Old Woman of Tarifa about it, who guides her that it is true. She also urges him to go on this expedition to find his destiny.
Santiago remains uncertain until he meets Melchizedek, who claims to be the king of Salem. Melchizedek also interprets his dream in the same way. In fact, both of the dream interpreters implore Santiago that he must pursue his dream. The author wants to convey that dreams are a message from the universe. In fact, the different terms used by different fortunetellers, the alchemist and the Englishman to Santiago are aspirations that come from dreams. Hence, Santiago goes to Egypt to fulfill them.
According to the conversation of the crystal merchant, everything is pre-ordained or already written. For Santiago, he means that working to gain his Personal Legend, which will bring happiness for him if it is meant to be. Santiago shows this fate when traveling through the desert and learning about the Personal Legend. When he asks the wind to blow a storm, it happens because of his faith, fate, and his Personal Legend. That is why he tells the Englishman that alchemy is not as complicated as he has made. He needs to learn it through his day to day simple existence because he wants to get the treasure from the pyramids. He knows that when he wants to get that treasure, it means that it is his destiny. Santiago firmly believes that it is pre-ordained, but at the same time, he must strive for that.
Love is another major thematic strand of this novel that runs parallel to other themes. Santiago is highly conscious of the real objective of the Egyptian pyramid and the treasure. However, he also falls in love with Fatima while staying at the oasis of the Al-Fayoum. He resolves to come back to marry her. Hence, the introduction of love at this point further makes him firm in his resolve to visit the pyramids to find the treasure. Although he feels that he should stay, Fatima urges him to follow his Personal Legend and fulfill his dream. Santiago returns to his love, and he also fulfills his Personal Legend for love.
Unity of Spirit
The Alchemist demonstrates the concept of the Soul of the World to clarify that all the religions agree about this presence of the soul. That is why the alchemist tells material elements to possess a Personal Legend and that everybody should follow their own goal. If Santiago weren’t united with the Soul and his dreams, he would not have found the treasure. In other words, his soul is also part of the Soul of the World that is God.
At first, Santiago has a dream and then its interpretation from the old gypsy woman and Melchizedek. Later, he experiences his self-discovery and leaves home, despite his father’s desire to make him a priest. Santiago chooses to live an independent life. However, his father, gypsy woman, and Melchizedek inspire him in his self-discovery and his Personal Legend. Melchizedek’s words that when a person intends upon doing something, the whole world seems to conspire to stand by him stands true in his case. He discovers it when transforming the wind into a storm to fulfill his prediction.
Wisdom and Knowledge
According to the author, true wisdom is to know how to turn lead into gold. It is a metaphor for the transformation of a shepherd into a wise person who can bring a storm as per will. This wisdom lies in knowing the Soul of the World and aligning the Personal Legend with this Universal Soul. Although Santiago does not claim to be a wise person at first, he learns.
Selfishness is a minor theme of the novel. Narcissus’ and the lake’s selfishness were obvious. Later it reappears in the novel through different characters in the shape of Personal Legend. As every person has his own desire to fulfill even if he comes across another person. Hence, Santiago had to remain a little selfish on his self-discovery mission. However, he returns to claim his true love for Fatima.
Santiago dreams about the treasure in the church. He abandons his religious duties and starts following his dream to achieve his Personal Legend. Besides his religious upbringing and learning to read, he doesn’t believe the written knowledge is useful. This religious debate entails that religion is important, but the experience of the world is more important to lead a successful life.
The ideas of the Soul of the World, Personal Legends, and mysticism point to the thematic strand of spirituality that runs parallel to other themes in the novel. In fact, the entire adventurous quest of Santiago is a spiritual quest to discover his soul following his dreams. That is why he declares that “everything on the face of the earth had a soul”. Here, the Soul of the world could be God.
Although omens play an important role in our lives, in the novel, they have a specific role. They are central to their actions. When Melchizedek gives Santiago two precious stones, he is actually handing him the power to see good or bad omens and act accordingly. That is why Santiago can understand them and interpret the fight of hawks in the desert as a bad omen. After that, he witnesses the attack of an opposing tribe, which proves true.