The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Often in works of literature, characters gain wisdom through experience. The novel The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is about a shepherd named Santiago. Santiago is not an ordinary shepherd, he reads regularly, which surprises the merchant’s daughter.

Santiago enjoys his life as a shepherd not only because it allows him to travel, but also because he loves his sheep. Santiago notices his flock’s ability to find contentment through food and water alone, and he almost envies the fact that they never have to make any decisions.

Santiago’s experience gives him wisdom. Santiago feels frustrated by the fact that his sheep can’t share his appreciation of travel. He imagines that he could kill his sheep one by one and the flock would not even notice. The unexpectedly violent image shows us that the sheep live blind to important truths, and that they are not to be emulated.

Santiago wonders if all humans are like his sheep: looking only for physical contentment and living without ever appreciating life. Later, this tension becomes very important to Santiago: even though he has travelled throughout Spain, he still feels limited. He wonders if his relatively local travels, comforting stacks of books, and obedient flock play the same role in his life that food and water play in the lives of his sheep. Santiago’s thoughts imply that he must seek out a higher purpose if he wants to be truly happy.

When he was a boy, Santiago feared being captured by gypsies, and he worries the fear will return. He takes solace in an image of Jesus in the room, but his hands still tremble. When Santiago realizes that the dream interpreter detects his nervousness, he pulls his hands away and says he doesn’t want a palm reading. The dream interpreter replies that she can help him, and that she will still charge him if he leaves early. Santiago decides to go ahead and explain his dream. In his dream, Santiago is in a field with his sheep when a child starts to play with them. The child grabs Santiago’s hands, transports him to the pyramids in Egypt, and tells him that he will find a treasure near them. As the child begins to say the exact location of treasure, Santiago wakes up.

After listening to the dream, the dream interpreter says she will not charge him for her service, but that she wants ten percent of the treasure when he finds it. Santiago laughs in disbelief, and agrees to swear that he will share his treasure. Then the dream interpreter goes on to insist that Santiago travel to the Pyramids and find the treasure. She says that she knows the treasure really exists because it was a child who pointed it out in the dream. Skeptical, Santiago leaves disappointed but relieved he didn’t have to pay anything.

Overall in works of literature, characters gain wisdom through experience. The final twist, that the treasure lies under the sycamore tree in Spain the whole time, brings Santiago back home, just as his father predicted when Santiago first set out on his travels as a shepherd. Most notably, however, this detail also reiterates the alchemist’s lesson about the alchemists who have lost the ability to turn lead to gold.

These men, the alchemist says, wanted just the treasure from their Personal Legends without actually living out their Personal Legends. For Santiago, the value of his journey does not lie in the treasure at the end, but in the knowledge and experience he gains from the journey itself. The fact that the treasure contains actual gold and jewels seems almost incidental, though it does emphasize the point made earlier in the novel that pursuing one’s Personal Legend can also lead to material wealth.