A shepherd boy teaches us to follow our hearts

Hardcover copy of The Alchemist – photo by Carson De Marco ’20

A short story with symbolic messages. Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist uses a narrative to take the reader on a physical and mental journey to find the meaning of life. 

The Alchemist follows Andalusian shepherd boy Santiago who seeks to uncover a treasure near the Egyptian Pyramids. Throughout his journey, Santiago encounters a gypsy, a king, and an alchemist, who all direct and impart Santiago with meaningful messages that resonate deeply.

Santiago’s most influential interaction occurs early in the novel.

Santiago meets an old man named Melchizedek, who calls himself the king of his hometown, Salem. Santiago had no intention to delve into conversation with the old man but grows more attentive after he introduced to Santiago the idea of the Personal Legend—one’s purpose in life.  

“…The most important is that you have succeeded in discovering your Personal Legend,” said the king. “It’s what you have always wanted to accomplish” (Coelho 23).

Initially, Santiago stood bewildered at the term, snapping back at the king with questions. He spends the remainder of the novel contemplating the idea, seeking to understand his purpose.

Coelho integrates additional side messages that give insight into life for Santiago and how the world revolves around him.

The king plants the seed of another idea inside Santiago’s mind: the notion the universe works in tandem with your goals by the guidance of your heart. 

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it” (Coelho 43). 

When Santiago seeks to achieve something, like unraveling his purpose, the universe seeks to help Santiago achieve it. 

Coelho implements two stones into the narrative, which embody deeper symbolism to support Santiago’s physical and mental journey.

Chris Tsetsekos ’20 reading The Alchemist, February 25, 2020 – photo by Carson De Marco ’20

Shortly after Santiago leaves the king, he meets a man working a ticket window who gives him a black stone called Urim and a white stone called Thummim. 

“‘They are called Urim and Thummim. The black signifies ‘yes,’ and the white ‘no’” (Coelho 32).

Santiago uses these stones often but learns the need to distinguish good and bad omens independently, guiding himself without assistance.

Coelho’s messages grow throughout the novel, as several side characters allude to these ideas and aspire for Santiago to follow the direction of his heart and uncover his Personal Legend.

Coelho’s ideas speak to the contemporary audience. Coelho may not want you to travel to the Egyptian Pyramids, but he wants you to undergo a journey.

At the end of the novel, Santiago reaches the Egyptian Pyramids, and plunges into the sand, searching for the treasure. Two men approach and attack Santiago, calling him a fool for believing in hidden treasure. 

Santiago realizes no tangible treasure exists, but instead realizes the treasure is within himself to follow his heart and uncover his Personal Legend. 

“They seemed to laugh at him, and he laughed back, his heart bursting with joy. Because now he knew where his treasure was” (Coelho 168). 

Coelho successfully portrays his messages of the novel through his enriching narrative. The physical and mental challenges Santiago underwent to connect the puzzle pieces of the ideas presented to him demonstrate his growth and understanding of himself. 

Coelho’s ideas speak to the contemporary audience. Coelho may not want you to travel to the Egyptian Pyramids, but he wants you to undergo a journey.

A journey to discover your Personal Legend

A journey to discover your purpose in life. 

A journey to discover where your heart will take you. 

Coelho’s creative and admirable narrative speaks to greater importance about our lives and uncovering who we are in the world. 

“Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure” (Coelho 132).

Author: Carson De Marco '20

Carson De Marco '20 is a member of the journalism seminar. Recently, he won a Silver Key from the Philadelphia-area Scholastic Art & Writing Competition for his piece, "Wrongful Convictions; A Country’s Stain." Carson is a member of the soccer and lacrosse teams and a member of the Signet Society.