The Alchemist is rich with allusions to biblical parables, multiple systems of faith, and elements of myth that hint at its theme, an exploration of the necessity of pursuing one’s “Personal Legend,” the ultimate goal or joy in life. A child, the novel suggests, understands the spiritual truth of his or her Personal Legend, but loses it, corrupted by external forces as others impose their own expectations and act in ways that subvert that understanding. The novel’s conflicts emphasize a solution: one’s Personal Legend can only be achieved with persistence; wisdom is attained through observation and attentiveness; simple things have extraordinary value and are not to be overlooked; and God is universally manifested in everything that exists. 
The novel’s protagonist, Santiago, is a spiritual and thoughtful young man from the Andalusian region of Spain. Originally destined to be a priest by his father, he decides to become a shepherd because he loves to travel, hinting at events to come. He is introduced in the modest setting of an abandoned church, and the inciting incident occurs as he wakes from a disturbing, recurring, and yet undefined dream. From that point on, the reader is taken along as a traveling companion on Santiago’s physical and spiritual journey.
Events in the rising action describe Santiago’s adventures and chance encounters, each of which contributes to his understanding of the nature of his Personal Legend, including his responsibility to that legend. He first meets a fortune-teller, who tells him that his dream—“the language of the soul”—means that he must venture to the Egyptian Pyramids to find his treasure. What that treasure may be, as well as whether he will find it, form the main conflicts of the novel, motivating him to engage in his quest, one fraught with obstacles to success. Santiago, once he sets out, meets a quasi-mystical figure in Tarifa, who teaches him that people control their own fates and are, therefore, accountable for their conditions. The old man reveals himself as the king of Salem, Melchizedek, an allusion to the biblical character from Genesis. He explains that one’s true desires derive from the “Soul of the World,” and that people must realize their destinies in order to be happy. Melchizedek gives Santiago a white and a black stone—Urim and Thummin—from his breastplate, respective symbols of “yes” and “no,” that will help Santiago read omens. The stones serve as a symbolic reminder of one’s control over decision-making.
As the rising action continues, Santiago’s understanding of life, its meaning, and his authority over his own existence grows. He journeys to Morocco, where he is robbed and subsequently falls into a trap of negative thinking, bitterness, and blame. The stones, however, remind him to rely on himself in seeking his life’s potential. This epiphany leads him to the candy maker whose generosity and fulfillment of his own Personal Legend restores Santiago’s faith in the world. As a matter of contrast, Santiago’s next meaningful interaction is with the crystal merchant, his foil, who is stagnant, stuck in his ways, and fearful of fulfilling his own dream. The merchant is bound to the satisfactions of daily life, making him incapable of realizing his Personal Legend; he is unable to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. With these spiritual lessons in mind, Santiago resists an implied temptation to end his quest. He earns money working at the shop—convincing the owner to innovate—yet he will use that money to travel to Egypt, not to settle into an unfulfilled, comfortable existence. 
As the novel approaches its climax, Santiago gains an awareness of the need for spiritual growth and of the power of love. He joins a caravan with the Englishman, who seeks to find the alchemist who discovered “The Philosopher’s Stone” and the “Elixir or Life.” Their quests are associated, and at the desert oasis, seeking the alchemist, Santiago falls in love with Fatima. She urges him to continue his quest, as does the alchemist, who will accompany Santiago to the Pyramids. 

At the novel’s climax, amid a desert storm, Santiago learns from the sun and wind that alchemy represents more than its material goals: the act of seeking improvement itself improves everything, and love is the transformative force. This awareness leads Santiago to see oneness between his own soul and God’s soul. With this spiritual insight, the novel moves into its falling action. Santiago sees the Pyramids from afar, falls to his knees in the sand, and begins digging in response to the omen of a passing scarab beetle. Refugees attempt to rob him of his gold, and the leader laughs at him, pointing out the futility of the effort, since his own recurring dream in that very spot revealed an abandoned church with a hidden treasure. Santiago’s conflict resolves as he finally realizes where his true treasure lies.
The novel’s resolution occurs as Santiago’s journey comes full circle and he returns to where he began, the abandoned church in Spain. His holy quest formed the spiritual treasure in and of itself, and after speaking directly to God, he digs up the physical treasure of Spanish gold, fulfilling his Personal Legend. The conclusion harmonizes the balance between adventure and commitment and the interconnections among all things. Santiago’s fate and free will are not contradictory—for it is written, or “maqtub.” The wind blows, Santiago smiles, and says “I’m coming, Fatima.”