In Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, what is a Personal Legend?
In Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, Santiago first hears about Personal Legends from the King of Salem, Melchizedek, who tells him the following:
"But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince [people] that it will be impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend . . . The Soul of the World is nourished by people's happiness. And also by unhappiness, envy, and jealousy. To realize one's destiny is a person's only real obligation. All things are one" (21-22).
From the above passage, Melchizedek explains that the universe wants people to achieve their destinies. A Personal Legend is not just the result found at the end of one's life, though. It is more than simply reaching a final destination. A Personal Legend is achieved when a person fulfills the complete measure of his or her creation. This achievement is different for each person and can only be discovered by interpreting and following omens that lead one through an educational journey. By going through this journey, people learn what they need to know in order to fulfill their unique Personal Legends. Only after people achieve this end can they experience true joy and satisfaction in life. Those who do not reach this goal are left to wonder what their destinies could have been. They never find out what they could have accomplished in life. Santiago elaborates on Personal Legends when he comes closer to achieving his:
"It's true that everything has its Personal Legend, but one day that Personal Legend will be realized. So each thing has to transform itself into something better, and to acquire a new Personal Legend, until someday, the Soul of the World becomes one thing only" (150).
From the passage above, Santiago comes to the understanding that Personal Legends are realized when a person completely transforms himself or herself into something better than he or she was before. In alchemy, for example, lead is turned into gold. Lead makes a complete transformation from its ordinary self into something better. Therefore, Personal Legends help people to become the best they can be because they achieve their fullest potential. Furthermore, as stated above, the universe wants everyone to discover his or her own Personal Legend because the Soul of the World will achieve its destiny in the process.
A personal legend, as it's referred to in The Alchemist, is one's destiny in life. It's identifying our purpose in life and pursuing it. In the story, the main character, Santiago, goes in search of his personal legend. Along the way, he encounters many other characters who help him either directly or indirectly accomplish his goals. The story is an allegory for those wishing to live an examined life. It's a story which requires the reader to make certain conections between Santiago's experiences and their own lives. A personal legend requires one to be open to interpreting "omens" and acting on them in a way which furthers their pursuit of their dreams/goals.
One of the critical aspects of the story comes through Santiago's slow realization that what one needs to fulfill their personal legends is often times already possessed. Their is no "real" need to acquire any special skills or talents. Rather, one needs to be willing to adapt their abilities to the various excursions that life takes us on.
Santiago, in the end, discovers these realities in addition to realizing that his experiences were all part of his quest to find discover his personal legend. In other words, the discovery comes as part of the quest; it's result comes from the journey and not the destination.