Paulo Coelho’s Message in The Alchemist
It is a common belief that people have a specific path or purpose to carry out during their time on Earth. In The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, a shepherd named Santiago embarks on a journey to the Egyptian Pyramids in search of treasure after meeting an old man. The man, who is the self described King of Salem, speaks about Personal Legends and convinces Santiago to live out his dream of travelling the world. Unbeknownst to him at the time, Santiago would face many difficulties that would challenge and impede him on his quest for the treasure. During that same period of time, however, he would discover nuances about himself that were previously unknown, go places that he thought he would never see, and learn secrets about the world around him that far outweigh any tangible object by realizing his Personal Legend. Through the use of Santiago’s experiences and development over the course of the novel, Coelho conveys the message that anybody who sees their Personal Legend through to the end despite the numerous obstacles life throws at them are able to make vast, more profound impacts on the world.
Everyone is born with a Personal Legend. In simple terms, a Personal Legend describes the personal ambitions that everyone possesses. In the words of Paulo Coelho, “it is God’s blessing, it is the path that God chose for you here on Earth” (“Introduction” VI). For Coelho, his Personal Legend was and still is his writing career. However, one’s Personal Legend can be becoming a professional soccer player or the head of a successful business. According to the king, named Melchizedek, a Personal Legend is, in essence, “‘what you have always wanted to accomplish’” (Coelho 23). It is specific to each and every person on Earth. In the case of Santiago, his Personal Legend is to discover and travel the world. Unlike most people who are apt to letting life get in the way, Santiago actively works to achieve his Personal Legend by becoming a shepherd despite the wishes of his father, who wanted him to become a priest (Coelho 10). With Melchizedek’s blessing he travels to the Great Pyramids of Egypt in search of treasure. Throughout his journey Santiago finds omens along the way that help guide him on his search, whether it be the Urim and Thummim falling through his pouch so as to tell him to form his own decisions, or the hawks fighting in the desert signifying impending war (Coelho 44, 103). The use of omens are one of the ways “all the universe conspires” in helping one achieve their Personal Legend (Coelho 24). In other words, life rewards those who take a leap of faith and go after their calling. Although succeeding in realizing one’s Personal Legend is a priority for both the individual and the universe, people are prone to letting certain obstacles hinder their abilities to see their Personal Legend through.
People who succeed in realizing their Personal Legend all have the innate ability to push themselves through hardships and adversity. Like life itself, the road to achieving one’s dreams is chock full of hurdles and obstacles. Some are more literal than others, such as when the man at the bar steals Santiago’s money (Coelho 41). Other predicaments are not as obvious and fly under the radar seeming to crop up at specific points in one’s life. For instance, people tell others that their dream is impossible or unrealistic at the start of their journey to realize their aspirations. An excellent example of this is how an adult may laugh at a child for wanting to become an astronaut. This injects feelings of self-doubt and apprehension into children that only grow more pungent as they grow up. Paulo Coelho experienced this same phenomenon when he was writing The Alchemist. “At the time, I was struggling to establish myself as a writer and to follow my path despite all the voices telling me it was impossible” (“Introduction” V). Thankfully, Coelho decided to keep going with his goals. Secondly, if someone happens to make it through the first roadblock and block out the noise, they will usually face the dilemma of not wanting to hurt their loved ones. However, they will come to find out that true loved ones want them to be happy and will do whatever necessary to make them happy (“Introduction” VI). An illustrious example of this is when Fatima convinces Santiago to proceed with the alchemist despite the knowledge that they may never see each other again (Coelho 126). In addition to that, the third and most common fear is the fear of failure which affects almost everyone at one point or another during their lives. This fear is present from the very beginning but slowly manifests itself over time in the minds of dream chasers and settlers alike. It is common for a Personal Legend to increase in difficulty as one progresses, just like how Santiago got beat within an inch of his life the moment before finding his treasure (Coelho 167-168). Although in most cases people will not be obliged to suffer as Santiago does; one may be required to complete a mammoth of an essay to graduate or compete for the last roster spot on a professional sports team. In any case, failure is a necessary part of success, and as Paulo Coelho states “the secret of life… is to fall seven times and to get up eight times” (“Introduction” VII). The final obstacle is possibly the most unfortunate of the four, it being the fear of reaching the goal one has worked their entire lives to achieve. It is unfortunate in the sense that some people claw their way to within arms reach of their destination then decide to give it all up. The crystal merchant describes this best: “I’m afraid that if my dream is realized, I’ll have no reason to go on living” (Coelho 57). In simple terms, some people do not want to finish the only incentive that is keeping them going just for a smidgen of satisfaction at the end. On the other hand, some people make concerted efforts to finish their Legend all the way through. These people have the ability to live successful and fulfilled lives and make notable impacts on the world.
Completing a Personal Legend can and will lead to positive outcomes that affect both the individual and the people around them. The Alchemist is a superb example of how finishing a Personal Legend can leave a lasting impression on others. The novel only began to pick up steam when HarperCollins published it in English, which presented it to a wider demographic. As of today, Coelho reports that “the book has been translated into fifty-six languages,” and “has sold more than twenty million copies” (“Introduction” V). Because Coelho saw his Legend through millions of people get to enjoy the novel and undoubtedly see their lives change from the moral and life lessons presented throughout. Another example that ties both into real life and The Alchemist is Melchizedek. His purpose in the novel is to guide people through the process of reaching their Personal Legend and to give reminders when necessary. In the physical world, the Christian considers him the “forerunner of Christ” (Thomas). Melchizedek is also the man who blesses and sends Abram off to eventually become Abraham, one of the most important figures in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, all of which are labelled as “Abrahamic” religions (Thomas). With Melchizedek’s blessing, Abraham permanently enshrined and engraved himself into some of the most prolific religions in today’s world, showing how far of an impact one can make by simply following their Personal Legend. Staying true to the name, the satisfaction and rewards from completing a Personal Legend tend to be personal in most cases. For Santiago, the journey he goes on affects a smaller amount of people, at least compared to Coelho and Abraham. However, his impact is no less impressive as the people around him learn important lessons about themselves and the world. According to Santiago, “life really is generous to those who pursue their Personal Legend” (Coelho 170). Life has a way of being so ruthless yet so rewarding at the same time, and those who stick with it through thick and thin have a propensity to leave their own unique mark on the world.
Everyone possesses the ability to make something of themselves, but only those who persevere through the gauntlet that is life truly understand the significance behind a Personal Legend. Personal Legends stand for so much more than just the yearning of a starry-eyed child or a disenchanted crystal merchant, representing the fire that drives someone forward on the path that they are destined to take. In other words, a Personal Legend is interwoven into every aspect of life because, as Melchizedek says, “everything you deal with is only one thing and nothing else” (Coelho 33). All the obstacles and adversities that come with life are and always will be necessary. Relationships, failure, and fear are all crucial ways in which one grasps the necessary tools to fulfill their Legend. Alas, an unfortunate amount of people get hung up on these challenges. Nevertheless, those who continue to persist with great tenacity despite the hardships reap the rewards of completing their calling. Sometimes the rewards extend far beyond the personal level such as Coelho’s while others stick close, neither being more valuable than the other. At the end of the day, a Personal Legend should be something that brings joy to the pursuer, however it is up to the individual to decide how far they will go on their path.