The Alchemist was written by Paulo Coelho and it was first published in 1988. It was originally written in Portuguese and has since been translated in 67 different languages. It has sold over 65 million copies worldwide and was awarded “Best Fiction Corine International Award” in 2002. It follows a story of a boy named Santiago who is following his personal legend. The Alchemist has many archetypal themes and symbols including wise old men, women, and the nature around him. Throughout this novel, Coelho uses archetypal men. The men he uses are the Alchemist, his father, and the King of Salem.
Wise old men symbolize the ‘savior’, ‘redeemer’, and the ‘guru’. The first of the three wise men that Santiago encounters is his father. His father had wanted Santiago to become a priest, but despite those wishes he had; he still gave Santiago his blessing when he told him he wanted to travel and become a shepherd. The second wise man Santiago encountered on his journey was the King of Salem. This man motivates Santiago to follow his personal legend. He tells him that his recurrent dream is true and he should follow the dream to the pyramids of Egypt.
The final and most important wise man Santiago came upon in his journey was the Alchemist. The Alchemist was the one to “push him” to stay on the right path of following his personal legend, rather than staying with Fatima in the oasis. He guided him through the desert and taught him many things along the way, including about the Soul of the World and how everything is connected. “You must understand that love never keeps a man from pursuing his Personal Legend. If he abandons that pursuit, it’s because it wasn’t true love . . . the love that speaks the Language of the World” (Coelho 120).
These three wise old men were very important because if Santiago had never came across them he would have just given up on his Personal Legend and just remained a shepherd for the rest of his life. In addition, Paulo Coelho uses archetypal women. Archetypal women represent the mysteries of life, death, and transformation. The women he uses are the gypsy woman, his mother, and his soul mate, Fatima. The first woman he comes across is his own mother. His mother is much like his father, who wants him to just to grow up and become a priest.
Regardless of that however, she is very supportive and wishes him the best when Santiago tells his parents he wants to be a shepherd. The next woman he encounters is the gypsy woman. Santiago went to visit a gypsy to see if she had could figure out anything about the dream he kept on having. She tells him that he should follow these dreams to the pyramids, but once he finds this treasure, he must give her one tenth of it. ‘“And this is my interpretation: you must go to the Pyramids in Egypt. I have never heard of them, but, if it was a child who showed them to you, they exist.
There you will find a treasure that will make you a rich man’” (Coelho 14). The final woman he meets is his soul mate, Fatima. When he first meets Fatima he falls straight in love with her. He had wanted to stay behind and leave his Personal Legend, but it was Fatima and the Alchemist who had told him not to abandon it. Fatima told him to come back for her once he had found his Personal Legend and that she would wait for him no matter how long it would take him. These three women helped guide Santiago and kept him on the right path to finding his Personal Legend.
A final example of archetypal symbols used in The Alchemist is nature. The tree, which symbolizes its growth, proliferation, generative and regenerative processes, was used a lot. Near the beginning of the story, Santiago rests in churchyard with a giant sycamore tree growing out of it, where he had his dream of his treasure. Santiago also encounters the palm trees which symbolize life in the desert. “The roof had fallen in long ago, and an enormous sycamore had grown on the spot where the sacristy had once stood” (Coelho 3).
Santiago then encounters the same sycamore tree when he goes full circle on his journey. Another symbol is the desert. The desert represents death, and desolation. As Santiago travels across it, he learns a lot about himself and everything around him and how they are all connected to each other. One of the many others Coelho uses is water. Water symbolizes the mystery of creation; birth-death-resurrection; purification and redemption; fertility and growth. The water shows up first when he crosses the ocean.
It shows him leaving his old shepherd self behind and moving forward toward his Personal Legend. It shows up again at the oasis when he first sees Fatima which represents the fertility and growth because immediately after that he falls in love with her. The three archetypal details in nature I listed are just a few of many that were used throughout The Alchemist. Three archetypal topics were used throughout The Alchemist which was the use of wise old men, women, and nature. These archetypal details made the book what it is and were among the most important details throughout the book.
Archetypal details have been used in every story, from The Iliad, to The Natural; they have been used all throughout time. All of the archetypes helped Santiago to find his Personal Legend. The wise old men were there to help him realize and be supportive and keep him on the right path to finding his Personal Legend. The women were supportive much like how the men were and helped to keep him on the right path. Nature was used mainly to symbolize the changes that Santiago himself was undergoing. These three archetypal symbols and themes; wise old men, women, and nature, were used throughout the novel, The Alchemist.