The Alchemist

by: Paulo Coelho

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained
4. “The alchemists spent years in their laboratories, observing the fire that purified the metals. They spent so much time close to the fire that gradually they gave up the vanities of the world. They discovered that the purification of the metals had led to a purification of themselves.”

The Englishman relates this history to Santiago as Santiago reads a book on alchemy. The quotation summarizes the key insight that connects the practice of transforming metals through alchemy with the idea of human beings attaining spiritual perfection by pursuing their Personal Legends. Just as alchemists purify lead, removing its impurities to transform it into gold, a person can purify himself by focusing completely on living out his Personal Legend. This process strips the person of impurities, transforming him as the lead is transformed. Similarly, the alchemists the Englishman speaks of did not purify themselves because they wanted to create gold but because they became so focused on their Personal Legends that they rid themselves of all other concerns, “the vanities of the world” as the Englishman puts it.

Santiago’s guides through The Alchemist, including Melchizedek and the alchemist himself, stress to Santiago that he must also put aside all other concerns. The alchemist councils Santiago to leave the oasis, for instance, even though Santiago wants to stay for Fatima. But abandoning these other cares acts as the equivalent of removing impurities from lead, and only by remaining committed foremost to living out his Personal Legend will Santiago transform himself. This idea implies that all other desires, including that for romantic love, should play a secondary role to pursuing one’s Personal Legend.