Originally published in 1988, The Alchemist was written by the world renown and best-selling author Paulo Coelho. Being an allegorical novel, the author writes a story about a young shepherd from Andalusia who is on a journey to the pyramids in Egypt. His goal is to acquire the treasure that he keeps having recurring dreams about. Throughout his journey, he meets many influential characters and faces a multitude of situations that leads him towards searching for his personal legend- one’s destiny or purpose in life to find something greater than themself. The main character Santiago, is trying to pursue his personal legend; although, he might not know it at times especially due to the adversity he has to face on his journey to understand the soul of the world. The author extensively uses various themes to deliver the message of the story; such as, achieving one’s personal legend, amalgamation of nature in life, and fear which guides the risks taken. Throughout the journey of Santiago attempting to achieve his treasure- searching for his personal legend- it allows us to reflect on our own lives and ask ourselves what our personal legends are; as well as making us more aware of the tests we may face in every aspect of life around us.
The main, and rather driving theme of the novel is discovering one’s personal legend. The author illustrates that personal legends are satisfied by venturing out on an unknown, yet educational quest by finding the someone’s personal significance and purpose in accordance with the rest of the world. In addition to that, the author emphasizes that seeking out our own personal legend and fulfilling it is an essential purpose in life. The old king of Salem, Melchizedek, explains the concept of personal legends when he tells Santiago that:
“Whoever you are, or whatever is is that you do, when you really want something, it’s
because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on Earth…To realize one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only real obligation. All things are one. And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” (Coelho 24).
From this, the king of Salem unfolds that everyone, and even everything, has its own goals or dreams to achieve in life. In addition, the whole universe is there to support them as they try to achieve their destinies. But personal legends don’t necessarily have to be realized by finishing the race. A personal legend is truly fulfilled when one is satisfied with what they have completed of their journey so far. People interpret the omens that guide them to find their personal legend differently, which is why everyone’s is unique. And those who cannot reach their goals or dreams, are left the rest of their life wondering what their treasure was, because they didn’t know what they could achieve.
The danger of fear that Santiago experiences throughout his journey to seek his personal legend is the most frequently seen barrier. It is what is holding him back from actually achieving his personal legend. The reader sees how the situations Santiago encounters has an emotional and physical toll on him. One of Santiago’s most prominent weaknesses is his self-doubt mindset, which is perfectly highlighted towards the end of the book. When Santiago feared for his life because he couldn’t figure out how to turn himself into the wind, the alchemist told him that “if a person is living out his Personal Legend, he knows everything he needs to know. There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure” (Coelho 146). The alchemist told Santiago that if he gave into his fears, then he would be able to listen to his heart, because his heart is always right. In doing so, Santiago learned the language of the desert and the wind- the Soul of the World. Ironically, the opposite of fear is love which is a universal language.
Love is what brings us towards our goals, unlike fear which drives us away, the latter being the beginning of Santiago’s journey and the former being the end. If we are love, we can do almost anything. Love is support, whether it is from our family and friends, or from the universe around us. As Santiago was trying to have the wind grant him the access to turn him into it, the boy told the element this, “When you are loved, you can do anything in creation. When you are loved, there’s no need at all to understand what’s happening, because everything happens within you, and even men can turn themselves into the wind” (Coelho 152). The wind, and eventually the desert, and the heavens all supported Santiago to show the tribal chiefs that he could turn himself into the wind. Without the sense of fear, Santiago believed in himself and with everything he already knew about his personal legend, he was able to perform alchemy and save his life.
Many times in life, the fear we have for own self doubt that doesn’t compare to the doubt others have for us. From the time we are young, many of us most likely dreamed of being a professional athlete, or attending some of the most prestigious colleges in the country. Often times we hear people say that we can’t do that, or that it is impossible or unlikely. Much like how Santiago thought that turning himself into the wind would be impossible. Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign has been a motivational call for athletes all around the world from youth to pro, whether disabled or gifted. But no matter the differences, all these people have in common the ability to move the world forward by the power of sports. The “Dream Crazy” video, narrated by Colin Kaepernick, displays feelings of encouragement to those who have what seem to be impossible or crazy goals that are unlikely to be achieved. At the end, Colin says “it’s only crazy until you do it” which sets the standard many seem to be afraid of. Santiago thought it was impossible to turn himself into the wind, but that is only because he never tried something so audacious. However, he put his mind to it and showed that anything is possible with power and love.
Many people have experienced the beginning of their journey to find their personal legend even though they probably never realized it. Sometimes like Santiago, we think our personal legend is seeking out our treasure whether tangible or intangible. But it seems like more often than not our personal legend it what we learn about on the journey to find our treasure and not the treasure itself. The adversity we face, especially by overcoming our fears, and the obstacles in the way, is where the true value of our destiny lives. The author uses the integration of the themes of achieving personal legends, unification of nature, and the danger of fear as a brilliant allegory to the reality of many people’s lives who don’t fulfill their destiny. The mood that the novel creates makes us, just like Santiago, realize what we were missing in life so we can venture out to find it.