How do you explain how a book can be viewed? First, look for central themes or repeated motifs (that is, ideas that the writer thoroughly investigates). Second, support your explanation using textual evidence and analysis. This is only possible if you spend time with the book.
Here you must provide evidence and analysis that supports the idea that The Alchemist is a story of self-education and soul-searching. So, begin by finding passages that explore those themes. Since this book is concise, examples abound in every chapter.
In fact, Coelho wastes no time in delving into these themes. On page 1, he begins hinting at Santiago’s obsession with self-education:
He [Santiago] swept the floor with his jacket and lay down, using the book he had just finished reading as a pillow. He told himself that he would have to start reading thicker books: they lasted longer, and made more comfortable pillows. (p. 1)
When you analyze the text, look not only at what is said, but what is implied. The fact that Santiago often uses books as pillows implies that he has a book at his side at all times.
Only a few pages later, on page 9, Coelho explores the theme of soul-searching:
If I [Santiago] became a monster today, and decided to kill them [his sheep], one by one, they would become aware only after most of the flock had been slaughtered, thought the boy. They trust me, and they’ve forgotten how to rely on their own instincts, because I lead them to nourishment. (p. 9)
Obviously, he is reflecting upon his own soul when he considers the idea that he could become a monster. But analysis requires you to look deeper. What do his conclusions about the sheep imply about his own inner workings?
Like the explanation, your conclusions about the lessons must be supported by textual evidence and analysis. However, take time to note how the themes of self-education and soul-searching tie into the idea that Santiago’s life is filled with lessons. How? If you are intent on learning to understand yourself and the world better, you are going to tend to look upon all the experiences in your life as lessons.
As with the themes, the lessons abound, and Coelho begins the lessons in the first few pages. In fact, he ties those lessons into soul-searching. On pages 8 and 9, can you find evidence for the assertion that Santiago is tempted to stay in one place? Who is the “teacher” in this lesson? What does Santiago learn? Notice that the lesson deals with temptation and, therefore, ties into the theme of soul-searching.
To identify the lessons that are crucial to the pursuit of Santiago’s Personal Legend, you have to identify where that quest begins. Who tells Santiago that he has identified his Personal Legend? What sentence in the text proves that the boy never recognized his Personal Legend before? To help you find it, locate the quote below where this same person proves to Santiago that his vision of the boy’s life can be trusted:
There, in the sand of the plaza of that small city, the boy reads the names of his father and his mother and the name of the seminary he had attended. He read the name of the merchant’s daughter, which he hadn’t even known, and he read things that he had never told anyone. (p. 23)
Through Santiago's experience in Tangier, the power of self-education and soul searching becomes essential to the narrative. One example of this would be the hardship that Santiago experiences in Tangier. He is cut adrift when he arrives in Tangier. He doesn't speak the language and finds himself robbed of the only money he has. It is at this point that he contemplates going back home and surrendering his hope to find his Personal Legend. However, he embraces the idea of self-education, learning from the most elemental rungs of society in order to advance. His own soul searching is evident in how he works for mere subsistence and does not surrender the dream for his Personal Legend. On basic needs levels and psychological ones (in terms of hearing how the crystal merchant gave up on his dreams for material wealth), Santiago recognizes that part of the journey towards his Personal Legend involves self-education and soul-searching. When he has overcome the difficulties in Tangier, it becomes clear that Santiago understands the educational role of struggle and soul-searching in the pursuit of his Personal Legend: "Tangier was no longer a strange city, and he felt that, just as he had conquered this place, he could conquer the world.” This commitment forged through difficulty and hardship is a crucial lesson towards the pursuit of Santiago's Personal Legend.
At the same time, education looks different for Santiago. He is a "boy" of the world, capable of learning different lessons from different sources. There is not one direct way of gaining knowledge. Santiago understands that his entire narrative is predicated upon the idea of gaining what he can from different sources. In encountering the Englishman, it is clear that "the boy" learns much from divergent paths: "His way isn’t the same as mine, nor mine as his." Despite the differences in approach, Santiago recognizes that he can learn. This becomes one of the critical lessons that Santiago learns in pursuit of his Personal Legend. In being a lifelong learner and one who is receptive to the idea of education, Santiago understands that education is not formal and is not scripted. It is ongoing and to be in tune with the path towards his Personal Legend, it is evident that Santiago has to be connected to the idea that education is everywhere for him. There are lessons to be learned in all aspects of being in the world. This receptiveness towards the lifelong pursuit of knowledge and understanding in all of its forms is a crucial lesson that he learns on his voyage towards his Personal Legend.