Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist Essay - Critical Essays

Suggested Essay Topics

Magical Realism
Consider mapping Coelho’s belief in magical realism. One of the basic tenets of magical realism is that the universe wants people to succeed: if a person is following his or her true path, forces will conspire to help. Melchizedek explains that “there is a force that wants you to realize your Personal Legend…[but] in order to find the treasure you will have to follow the omens.” Magical realism calls for people to take active roles in pursuing their dreams by paying attention and acting on lessons learned in life; success will not happen without effort. Trace the ways in which magical realism assists Santiago throughout his journey.

You may want to take a different view and argue against Coelho’s belief in magical realism. If you find it unbelievable, think about how the omens and other signs that Santiago believes in can be differently interpreted or understood. Is the universe really on his side? What evidence could you provide from other philosophies that would counter this argument?

Numerology
Coelho is far from the first to believe in the power of numbers. Almost every religion in the world holds that certain numbers have divine properties. Research the numbers three, four, seven, two, and ten, and then show how these digits have been important in Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, or Asian faiths. How do the numbers important in The Alchemist compare to your findings? What is similar or different about those magical numbers?

You may also want to take a look at the history of mathematics and see how key numbers have unlocked mysteries of the universe.

Historical Perspectives
Depending on the length of your paper, you can explore a single one of these topics or you may wish to combine two or more.

Find out more about the mystical history of the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. Think about why Santiago is drawn to this place in particular and how the history of pyramids influences his journey.

Research the realities of traveling with a caravan: the economic impact of the journey, the role of the caravan leader, the instances of tribal warfare ,and the reality of traversing the harsh Sahara desert. Who traveled by caravan and why? Does Coelho do a good job of depicting life in this manner? Where does he fall short?

Explore the reality of life in the Al-Fayoum Oasis. Study the inhabitants, how they lived and what they imported and exported. Fatima claims that many men who left the oasis failed to ever return. Find out what happened to them and whether Coelho’s claims are valid. Consider also the author’s depiction of women in the oasis. From your research, decide if they are accurately portrayed.

Religiosity
Depending on the length of your paper, you can explore a single one of these topics or you may wish to combine two or more.

Coelho’s novel is rich in religious history. Trace the biblical images and stories that occur throughout the work: Jesus, Melchizedek, and Joseph all contribute their teachings to Santiago’s life lessons.

Transcendentalism is also important to the spiritual themes of the novel. Some of the beliefs of transcendentalism that parallel The Alchemist are that the human soul is part of the Oversoul, or universal spirit, to which it and other souls return at death; that every individual is to be respected because everyone has a portion of that Oversoul (God); that this Oversoul or Life Force or God can be found everywhere; and that God can be found in both nature and human nature. Discover more about the history of Transcendentalist thought and how it appears in Coelho’s novel.

There are also many references to Catholicism, including the reference to Our Lady Fatima, and the Coptic monk whom the alchemist and Santiago meet on their journey. Where else can you find Catholic beliefs infused within this story of spiritual discovery?

Ed. Scott Locklear