How does the story of Narcissus relate to the broader message of
The myth of Narcissus usually ends when Narcissus becomes so
thoroughly entranced by his own reflection that he falls in the lake and
drowns. In the novel’s version of the myth, however, we learn that the lake
felt upset because Narcissus died, since it enjoyed looking at its own
reflection in Narcissus’s eyes. This version of the myth presents a more
complicated picture of vanity than the original. As opposed to being an
undesirable trait that leads to death, vanity appears to be an entirely
natural characteristic, so much so that the lake displays it.
Like the introductory Narcissus story, The Alchemist
itself has a message that focusing on oneself can connect a person to nature
and the spiritual world. Only through single-mindedly pursuing his own
Personal Legend does Santiago learn the secrets of the Soul of the World,
for instance. Throughout the book, Santiago must put his own interests first
repeatedly, as when he chooses to be a shepherd rather than a priest and
when he leaves the oasis to continue on his journey. But through
disregarding everything but his own dream, Santiago realizes his true
potential. In this way, he penetrates to the Soul of the World.
What attitude does The Alchemist take toward
Unlike many popular literary tales, The Alchemist
initially presents love not as a goal, but as an obstacle. Santiago says his
initial love of the merchant’s daughter acts as the only thing that makes
him want to stay in one place forever. This desire stands in direct
opposition to the journey he must complete in order to fulfill his Personal
Legend. When Santiago finds his true love, Fatima, in the oasis, he feels
even more convinced to abandon his Personal Legend. Fatima and the alchemist
must show Santiago that his dream holds more importance than staying with
This picture of love is unique compared to traditional illustrations
of romantic love. For one, this love is completely distinct from possession.
Santiago has a significant internal dialogue about this distinction, and he
puts it to the test when he leaves Fatima. Love, in The
Alchemist, is also secondary to pursuing one’s Personal Legend.
As the alchemist tells Santiago, Santiago’s love for Fatima will only
survive if he continues living out his Personal Legend so that he will have
no regrets later. Despite these facts, which seem to downplay the importance
of love, Fatima’s kiss serves as the final image of the book, suggesting
that love remains necessary for Santiago to live a contented
What is the attitude of The Alchemist towards
material wealth and individualism, and how does it differ from major world
religions in this regard?
Unlike many religions, The Alchemist does not draw a
distinction between the material and the spiritual world. The book also
espouses individuality as a means for achieving the ultimate goals of
creation. Additionally, elements of pantheism appear throughout the book.
For one, Santiago communicates and finds omens in natural entities such as
the desert and the wind. The alchemist says that these elements have
Personal Legends just like humans do, and that they were also born from the
Soul of the World. The alchemist also associates the process of purifying
metal into gold with spiritual purification.
The book’s dominant strain of evolutionary spirituality appears most
clearly when Santiago tries to turn himself into the wind. In the context of
the novel, when a natural element or individual pursues a Personal Legend,
it will evolve into a higher state of being. The goal of creation consists
of all nature, humans and inanimate objects included, undergoing this
evolution until the universe achieves perfection. This philosophy differs
from traditional spirituality in that it requires everything pursuing its
individual dream to achieve this state rather than practicing selflessness.
In fact, the novel even portrays religious characters that practice
self-denial, such as the crystal merchant, as failures.