The Protagonist, Literary Techniques and the Ending in Paulo Coelho’s "The Alchemist"


The Alchemist is a novel written by the famous Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho in 1998. Coelho is a talented writer, known for his talent to portray the truth through the creative illustration of real-life experiences. He is a man who lived a complicated life and faced rejection, but he fought to pursue his dream of becoming an author. He writes engaging novels that readers can relate to, and this may be one of the reasons behind his world-wide success. Due to his powerful messages and creative style, his famous novel The Alchemist has been met with praise and popularity, making it a contemporary classic selling over 65 million copies.

It has also been translated into more than 60 languages making it the most translated novel for a living author.
Coelho wrote the novel in two weeks. Although the writing was fast, the success was not. At first, the story did not gain immediate success as the sales were unimpressive. As a result, Coelho’s publisher decided to drop The Alchemist, an action that could have easily devastated Coelho and ended his career.

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Despite the disappointment, Coelho decided to continue pursuing his dream and started knocking doors. He went to a famous publishing house in Brazil with a strong belief that his book is destined to succeed, and they agreed to publish it. Coelho’s confidence is one of the primary reasons behind his success as he always went by the saying: “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” (Coelho 23).

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The Alchemist is an allegorical novel. It is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago. He travels from Spain to the deserts of Egypt, searching for treasure buried near the pyramids. Santiago meets many characters along the way, a gypsy woman, a king, and an alchemist. The Andalusian boy learns from each one of them and develops as a character. He gets inspired by everyone he meets and is eager to listen to what they have to offer. Along the way, he faces many difficulties. Santiago is not sure whether he will find the treasure or not, but he believes that “it’s the possibility of having a dream that makes life interesting” (Coelho 11). Coelho makes it clear that Santiago is filled with determination and is willing to face all the obstacles that stood between him and the treasure. The journey starts with him wanting to find the material wealth and ends with him finding the treasure within. Despite the disappointing ending of Paulo Coelho’s, The Alchemist, it has gained wide popularity due to its relatable protagonist, various literary techniques, and ambiguous ending.

One of the main reasons behind Coelho’s success is that many of his novels are relatable to the reader. Many critics consider The Alchemist as a self-development book. This is because, as they read, they follow the journey of the main character, and they see how he progresses. Moreover, they observe the different situations Santiago goes through and the way he deals with the various obstacles he faces, such as being robbed as soon as he arrived at Tangier. Also, Coelho motivates the reader throughout his novel by showing all the dilemmas Santiago undergoes and how he overcomes them. Motivation is clearly sensed by the readers and is illustrated in many of the character’s dialogue. For example, it is clear in the alchemist’s quote, “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure” (Coelho 149). Here the alchemist is telling Santiago, that being afraid is what makes a dream unattainable, and that he must ignore all that he fears and believe in himself. Only then he will achieve his goal. To sum up, The Alchemist can be considered as a self-help book because it shows the journey of Santiago and how he grows throughout it, and it motivates the reader by the use of motivational speech.

Another reason behind the significant acceptance of Coelho’s novel is that Santiago is a character the reader can relate to. The protagonist of the book is a determined, passionate, and curious person. Moreover, his father is financially stable and has enough to secure a pleasant life for him. Despite that fact, he refuses but to work and earn a living himself as a shepherd. At the beginning of the story, he is portrayed as a person unsatisfied with his condition. Santiago loves his profession and is very attached to it. The reason behind that is mainly because this job allows him to travel all around the world as he is an eager learner. A major twist in the boy’s life is when he has a dream of uncovering hidden treasure near the pyramids of Egypt. As a result, he resists his parent’s desire to become a priest, and instead, he chooses to follow his own will of finding the treasure. This rebellion shows Santiago’s adventurous character as the quote below reveals:

Though living a normal life, Santiago is not content with mere existence, for he tends to believe that the purpose of life is to live a purposeful life. This quest is aroused by a dream that visits him recurrently wherein a child invites him to the pyramids of Egypt in search of a hidden treasure. Santiago decides to undertake the journey, and, in the journey, he encounters several hostile situations and benign forces, experiences love, becomes an alchemist himself, and eventually discovers the hidden treasure and achieves selfhood. (Soni 86)

The quote above shows Santiago’s perseverance and determination to achieve his goal. It also summarizes what he undergoes in his journey and how he ended up finding himself. The reader can sense that Santiago is like any human being on earth: a person who wants to find his purpose in life. He believes that his journey of finding the treasure is one that will add to him on many levels. Therefore, with confidence and determination he takes it. Santiago does not believe that it is acceptable to exist without a purpose. In Muraleedharan’s words: “Santiago’s life unveils the philosophy of Existentialism that the human existence is an investigation of the meaning of being. Santiago’s journey symbolizes his search for the meaning of his own life.” (Muraleedharan 55). As the previous quote reveals, Santiago believes that along with existing, an individual should work hard on trying to find a meaning behind life.

Authors are affected by their surrounding circumstances. In many works, the reader can compare the protagonist to the writer and find a connection. For example, The Pilgrimage (1987) was a work that Coelho wrote which is a recollection of his experiences as he made his way across northern Spain on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The novel consists of two parts, an adventurous story, and a guide to self-discovery. He then wrote The Alchemist that similarly portrays Santiago on a long journey searching not only for the treasure, but for himself and gaining experience along the way. Regarding The Alchemist, there are many similarities between the author and the novel’s protagonist. Firstly, both of them resisted their parent’s desires and became what they wanted to be: Santiago fought to be a shepherd and Coelho fought to be a writer. It is clearly emphasized in Soni’s quote that Santiago’s parents wanted him to become a priest and only then they will proud of him: “His parents had wanted him to become a priest, and thereby a source of pride for a simple farm family” (Soni 85). They thought that writing is a profession that does not offer a person anything in life. They worked hard just to have food and water, just the basic necessities like sheep. Similarly, Santiago rebelled against his parent’s desire to become a priest. Instead, he preferers being a shepherd and traveling the deserts. Moreover, both Santiago and Coelho traveled on journeys in order to discover themselves. Coelho found his passion in life after his pilgrimage. Santiago also discovers himself throughout his pursuit of the hidden treasure. To conclude, both the author and the main character share many things in common.

Successful writers make use of literary techniques to give depth to their work. Coelho has made use of various literary techniques in The Alchemist. He has used figurative language, which Harya defined as “language that uses words or expressions with a meaning that is different from the literal interpretation” (Harya 45). Authors use these techniques to appeal to the reader’s senses and evoke their thinking. Coelho has used similes, personification, metaphors, and hyperboles. Firstly, Coelho used similes the most. For example, “That’s a lot better than dying like millions of other people, who never even knew what their destinies were” (Coelho 135). Using the previous simile, Coelho endorses the fact that living without knowing your purpose in life means you are actually dying. Moreover, he has used personification, which is apparent in one of the most famous lines in his novel “all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” (Coelho 21). He has also used metaphors such as “The desert is a capricious lady, and sometimes she drives men crazy” (Coelho 68). Finally, the author has also used hyperboles as in “Because a grain of sand is a moment of creation, and the universe has taken millions of years to create it” (Coelho 125). In conclusion, Coelho is an intelligent writer who made the most of various literary techniques.

In a novel, a short story, or other work, a literary theme is the main idea or underlying sense that a reader explores. The writer can portray the theme using the combination of characters, background, and dialogue. In The Alchemist, Coelho has presented themes such as the pursuit of one’s dreams, “Maktub” and what is meant to be, alchemy, and the value of simplicity. Dreams are one of the most dominant themes throughout the novel. As a result of a dream that occurred twice to Santiago, his quest for the treasure started. If he had ignored it, he would not have learned anything, met anyone, or fallen in love. To sum up, the fuel of the plot is Santiago’s determination to follow his dream. “Maktub” is an Arabic term used initially by the crystal merchant who hired Santiago. The word means “it is written” and it is used by the characters to express that something is “meant to be.” Coelho employed the idea of maktub to show the fears of many characters regarding decision making and taking risks. For instance, the camel driver points out to Santiago that he trusts the ways of the world, and this helps clarify to Santiago why death should not be feared. Also, the theme of alchemy is essential. It functions as a figure for the lessons Santiago learns concerning life and the world. The story also stresses the theme of simplicity as it interacts with pureness. For example, it is present in Fatima’s love for Santiago. She does not complicate things and has complete faith in his return. To sum up, Coelho has delivered many themes through The Alchemist.

Symbolism, one of the literary devices, always takes different forms in the hands of literary artists. It is defined as the use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal sense (Lakshmi et al. 307). Firstly, one of the most important symbols is the desert. It is one of the main settings as Santiago travels through it in search of the treasure. It symbolizes the hardships and the obstacles that stand between people and their dreams. Another symbol is Urim and Thummin. They are two fortune-telling stones the Melchizedek gives to Santiago. They are black and white and represent the answers yes and no. The stones symbolize the importance of responding to omens that are fundamental motivational factors. One of the most interesting symbols Coelho has uses in the novel are thieves. They represent the result of trying to find shortcuts to dreams. In The Alchemist going through the journey is crucial. Also, camels are of significance in the story. Coelho uses many symbols in the novel, and they represent different concepts.

“The camel plays a crucial role in the journey made by Santiago. He learns so many things through the camels and the camel driver. At first, Santiago understands things through reading books. When he starts understanding the camels, he throws away the books and believes in the language of the desert and camel. Santiago sets his behavior by observing the camels in the desert” (Lakshmi et al. 307).

Many critics and readers agree that The Alchemist is a novel with a disappointing ending. The ending of the story is when Santiago arrives at the Egyptian pyramids and starts to dig. Unfortunately, he finds nothing buried. He then faces thieves who steal his money. Santiago talks to them and tells them his dream. To his surprise, one of the thieves reveals to Santiago that he too had a dream about a treasure buried in the sacristy of an abandoned church. Making his way back to Andalusia, the starting point, Santiago goes back to the church where he first dreamed of the treasure. He then digs under a sycamore tree and finds a chest full of diamonds, gold, and jewels. It is of major significance to point out that sycamore trees, known for their giant size, represent the strength and protection Santiago needed to complete his journey.

Opinions around the ending of the fable vary. some would agree that the ending is disappointing for an author like Coelho. They argue that he leaves the readers on the edge of a cliff, confused about the possible meanings that could lay behind the ending Coelho has chosen for his best-selling novel. Andrews argues that “after a promising beginning, the book is full of contradictions and confusing references, leaving much to be desired” (Andrews). In the past quote, Andrews claims that the novel is confusing to some readers and leaves them thirsty for explanation and clarification regarding the ending. On the other hand, some readers claim that the beauty of The Alchemist is in the fact that it does not have a clear ending. Kumar, an Indian critic, thinks that this was a wonderful way to conclude the story. He states: “I think the real message is hidden and waits for readers interpretation” (Kumar). In the quote previously mentioned, Kumar affirms that the ending of the novel is open, and it is the reader who decides how to understand it. Despite, the contradicting points of view regarding the ending, the beauty of literature is that everyone has their own way of understanding it. People look at things from a different perspective. As a result, everyone has their own interpretation of what an ending may mean. If the novel had ended on a clear note, then this sense of beauty would be missed. The audience would not think hard about the messages the writer is trying to convey through his novel. Therefore, they would not have the advantage of gaining the most out of their reading experience. The fact that the novel has an ambiguous ending, leaves the audience puzzled as they dig for an explanation.

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The Protagonist, Literary Techniques and the Ending in Paulo Coelho’s "The Alchemist". (2020, Sep 09). Retrieved from

The Protagonist, Literary Techniques and the Ending in Paulo Coelho’s "The Alchemist"

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