Like any great novel, The Alchemist is a tale that entwines truth and reality into its words and story alongside the fictitious machinations of the story itself. Paulo Coelho does a particularly exceptional task of fabricating obstacles for the characters in The Alchemist that are realistic and faithful to plights that everyday people experience. One such obstacle is that the fear of defeat often dissuades individuals from accomplishing their ambitions. This concept is woven throughout Coelho’s work, appearing time and again to fight against the protagonist, yet it is also apparent in an individual’s personal experience and is able to exhibit the truth of fear’s influence over one’s willingness to accomplish their goals.
One of the most significant instances where Paulo Coelho embodies the idea of fear acting as an obstacle against an individual’s ability to accomplish their goal occurs when the Alchemist assigns Santiago the task of becoming the wind. The consequences of Santiago’s failure particularly fuel his doubt, seeing as the risk of death is something that would be inevitable. The Alchemist raises the stakes even more by stating ‘ “…you’ll [Santiago] die in the midst of trying to realize your Personal Legend” ‘(Coelho 142), which adds a particularly cruel twist to his death. Additionally, his fear is further fueled by the fact that turning into the wind appears to be an impossible task. This apprehension makes it difficult for an individual to fully immerse themselves into the task seeing as should their best efforts not be enough, failure would be particularly grave. However, once Santiago moved passed his fear of defeat, he was able to accomplish his goal and transform into the wind, consequently ensuring that he and the Alchemist would remain unharmed and be able to proceed with their overarching ambitions.
The fear of defeat is also present in the instance where Santiago attempts to convince himself, as well as the crystal merchant, that he plans to return to being a sheep herder with the money he earned while working in the crystal shop. Santiago’s fear of failure, in this particular instance the fear of losing all his money, causes him to attempt to pursue something that he deems to be safer rather than taking the fortune he has and following through with his dream of going to the pyramids. ‘ I’m going to go back to doing just what I did before, thought the boy’(Coelho 62). He insists on returning to his career as a shepherd primarily because he has previous experience with it and was thus safe- it would be unlikely for Santiago to fail at a job he at one time had.
The fact that Santiago did in fact previously have his money stolen gives his dread some form of root in reality and only further justifies Santiago’s fear of failure, particularly since he has previously experienced it. Because of this, he feels that it is preferable to return to his profession as a sheep herder rather than continuing on with his travels, despite the fact that he is in a more advantageous position that would more likely culminate success in his ambitions. It is only with the outside opinion of the merchant and Santiago’s own deeper self-reflection that he comes to realize his resolve to continue with his journey to find the treasure.
This fear of failure is something everyone also encounter in their own personal experiences. In fact, this aversion is cultivated in the human population from the very beginning. From a very young age, failure is seen as a danger to an individual’s survival, at the most basic understanding.
Although in the modern day and age, failure doesn’t directly endanger one’s ability to live, the consequences are often unpleasant, if not painful. This can most easily be seen in ourselves as children when playing games and learning to navigate the world. For example, if a child were to fall off the monkey bars and hurt themselves, they likely wouldn’t attempt to try it again to avoid injury. Such experiences ingrains in us as humans the fear of failure, in any form that it may present. Thus, it becomes an arduous obstacles for individuals to face in life. Because of this, Coelho’s desire to portray one of Santiago’s hurdles in the novel as the instinctive aversion to failure rather than a more concrete complication allows for the reader to sympathize with the tale on a more personal level and showcases the truth of the statement.
The Alchemist utilizes the plot’s various minor and major obstacle to introduce a variety of, often times internal, conflicts. Furthermore, these conflicts are often times more abstract, yet are applicable to both the story and reality all the same. The fear of failure as a hindrance against success is one such concept that has occurred in Coelho’s writing. Yet the truth of this statement has been proven frequently through Santiago’s journey. Moreover, the importance of this idea is reinforced by the fact that this fear presents itself in one’s personal lives. This applicability fortifies the honesty in which Paulo Coelho describes the obstacle of fear in life.
- Coelho, Paulo. Translated by Alan R. Clarke, HarperCollins, 1998.