Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist can be considered a bildungsroman for his protagonist, Santiago. A bildungsroman is a novel in which a relatively innocent young person achieves spiritual, emotional, and psychological maturity.
In the beginning of the story, Santiago is a shepherd. The parallels to a young biblical Joseph and to Christ are evident. Christ calls “each sheep by name” and tenderly cares for their needs. However, like Joseph, Santiago strongly believes he is called for bigger and better things. He has chosen this life rather than the path his father would have preferred for him (that of a priest), but Santiago has reached a point where he is no longer satisfied with what the sheep can teach him. He aims for more, though unsure of what, and this desire propels him to discover his Personal Legend.
Like for all people who decide to follow their dreams, however, the choice is not easy. He must leave his life of familiarity and security to pursue the unknown: “I am between my flock and my treasure,” Santiago realizes. He opts for the hope of a more fulfilling life. His rejection of the norm is the first step on his journey to maturity and to true happiness.
Obstacles will be frequent on his journey from Spain to the Egyptian pyramids, where he is told in a vision that his treasure lies. In the introduction to the novel, Coelho outlines four major stumbling blocks that often dissuade people from achieving their dreams. The first obstacle is people who tell others from “childhood onward” that dreams are impossible to achieve. Santiago’s father claims that no one who pursues dreams is ever satisfied. Later, Santiago is urged by the crystal merchant to stay working for him in his shop. The man scoffs, “I don’t know anyone around here who would want to cross the desert just to see the Pyramids. They’re just a pile of stone. You could build one in your backyard.” Later, when the journey is successful and the treasure his, Santiago understands the words of Melchizedek, who cautioned him against believing “the world’s greatest lie”: that people have no control over what happens to them. Santiago chooses to control his own fate by rejecting first the priesthood, then shepherding, then a comfortable but uneventful life in the crystal merchant’s shop as he furthers his spiritual and intellectual...
(The entire section is 2296 words.)
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