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The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho

Key Facts

Important Quotations Explained

Study Questions & Essay Topics

full title ·  The Alchemist

author · Paulo Coelho

type of work ·  Novel

genre ·  Fiction

language · Portuguese

time and place written · 1988, Brazil

date of first publication · 1988

publisher · The original publisher was a small Brazilian publishing house; Rocco, another Brazilian publishing company, was the first large publisher to print the book. HarperOne is the American Publisher.

narrator · The narrator is an anonymous omniscient observer. The narrator speaks in a simple tone and knows the thoughts and feelings of every character in the book.

point of view · The point of view is third person omniscient, though the narrator focuses on Santiago’s journey. Occasionally, the narration will step back from Santiago and focus on an ancillary character, but it always returns to its protagonist. Notably, the narrator stops referring to Santiago after the first third of the book. Though the point of view comments on some of the characters’ innermost thoughts and desires, it is a mostly objective observer.

tone ·  The Alchemist reads like an ancient myth or fable. It is simple, direct, and overtly didactic. It also has elements of a picaresque, an episodic tale detailing a hero’s adventures during his quest.

tense · The story is told in the past tense.

setting (time) · The Alchemist is set in an indistinct time in the past. It is clearly a pre-modern time, before automobiles and most modern technology existed.

setting (place) ·  The main plot of the alchemist takes place in the Spanish pastures, the Spanish town of Tarifa, the city of Tangier in North Africa, and the Sahara desert.

protagonist · The novel’s protagonist is Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd.

major conflict ·  The major conflict of the book is Santiago’s personal tension between completing his Personal Legend to travel all the way to Egypt to find a treasure at the pyramids and settling along the way for the treasures he has already earned.

rising action · Santiago makes a series of material sacrifices in order to pursue his Personal Legend to reach the pyramids of Egypt.

climax · Santiago struggles to turn himself into the wind while being held by warring tribesman in the Sahara Desert.

falling action · Santiago arrives at the pyramids, but in a twist, he must go back to Spain as he learns that his treasure was buried in an abandoned church by a sycamore tree where he started his journey.

themes · The Centrality of Personal Legends; The Unity of Nature; The Danger of Fear

motifs · Dreams; Maktub; Omens

symbols · Santiago’s Sheep; Alchemy; The Desert

foreshadowing · One piece of foreshadowing occurs when Santiago has initial dream of the pyramids under the sycamore tree. Later, we learn that the treasure he saw in his dream is buried under that very tree. As story progresses, Melchizedek foreshadows Santiago’s success with the crystal merchant when he explains the notion of “beginner’s luck.” Additionally, the innocuous run-ins Santiago and the alchemist have with various tribesmen in the desert foreshadow Santiago’s and the alchemist’s eventual capture. Finally, Santiago’s ongoing envy of the wind foreshadows his climactic effort to turn himself into it.

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