The Alchemist

by: Paulo Coelho

Motifs

Dreams

In The Alchemist, dreams represent not only an outlet into one’s inner desires, but also a form of communication with the Soul of the World. Santiago’s dream of a treasure in Egypt, for instance, reveals to him his Personal Legend and sets the entire plot of the Alchemist into motion. Whether or not an individual believes in dreams creates a dividing line between the “enlightened” and “unenlightened” characters in the novel. The tribal chieftain takes Santiago’s dream of the hawks very seriously, and he understands the dream as a message from the desert of an impending assault. He also relates a story about Joseph’s ability to read dreams, concluding that those who truly believe in dreams also have the ability to read them. The chief’s insight, we see, allows him to successfully defend the oasis against attack. Later in the novel, the man who beats Santiago does not believe his own dream, but when he describes his dream to Santiago, Santiago recognizes it as an omen telling him where to find the treasure. The importance of actual, sleeping dreams parallels the importance of personal, symbolic dreams as embodied by Personal Legends.

Maktub

Many of the characters that Santiago meets during his journey use the word maktub, which as the crystal merchant explains, means “it is written.” The word typically appears just as Santiago is about to turn to a new chapter in his quest, usually by taking a big risk or abandoning a comfortable situation. It becomes a reassuring refrain for Santiago, because it reminds Santiago to see his actions in the context of fate. As Santiago learns, fate always cooperates with those in pursuit of their Personal Legends, so as long as he remains focused on his goal he can find comfort in the fact that his destiny has already been written in the history of the world. In addition, the repetition of maktub reinforces the Biblical tone of The Alchemist. The word gives Santiago’s story the universality and spiritual heft of a fable (much like the other capitalized terms that dominate the book, such as the Soul of the World and the Hand that Wrote All).

Omens

The motif of omens serves a dual purpose in The Alchemist. For one, omens offer Santiago guidance on his journey and reassure him that the Soul of the World has endorsed his journey. As Melchizedek explains, omens make up part of the Universal Language of the World, and if Santiago taps into this language he can always find the meaning in his environment. For example, when the stones Urim and Thummim drop from Santiago’s pocket, Santiago chooses to consider the event an omen. In doing so, he continues to feel that the universe conspires to help him, and he finds meaning in the seemingly random event. In this way, the motif of omens reinforces the book’s theme of the unity of nature.

Omens also serve to demonstrate Santiago’s spiritual growth throughout the story. The omens that Santiago experiences grow in relevance from being small, limited events to important visions that affect many lives. The vision of the hawks and approaching armies that Santiago has in Al-Fayoum, for example, tells Santiago of an assault on the oasis that could lead to the deaths of hundreds. That his omens become more and more important signifies that Santiago is getting closer to understanding the pure Language of the World.


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