Brazilian author Paulo Coelho’s modern fable The Alchemist is a story about following one’s life dreams. As such, dream-traveler Santiago prepares for his journey through life by learning from the wisdom he gathers from his teachers. Much of the acquired knowledge he gains from the animal, divine, human, and natural mentors comes to him in his dreams, which foreshadow the events in the story.
At the outset of the tale, protagonist Santiago is troubled by a recurring dream, but he always awakens before the dream finishes:
I wanted to sleep a little longer, he thought. He had had the same dream that night as a week ago, and once again he had awakened before it ended.
Santiago believes “his purpose in life was to travel.” He feels there is much more to learn about life if he can gain some experiences through travel. However, his father discourages him by indicating that many people travel thinking their lives will change, but they return the same. Nevertheless, Santiago longs to seek adventure away from the shepherd’s life he lives among the sheep. He is beginning to identify with the sheep and reasons that “It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”
Finally, his recurring dream foreshadows his eventual quest. Santiago seeks help in interpreting his dreams from an old woman. Suddenly, a child appears to him and advises him to journey to Africa to seek his treasure beneath the Egyptian pyramids:
The child went on playing with my sheep for quite a while, continued the boy, a bit upset. And suddenly, the child took me by both hands and transported me to the Egyptian pyramids.
He paused for a moment to see if the woman knew what the Egyptian pyramids were. But she said nothing.
Then, at the Egyptian pyramids, — he said the last three words slowly, so that the old woman would understand — "the child said to me, If you come here, you will find a hidden treasure." And, just as she was about to show me the exact location, I woke up. Both times.
Santiago’s journey is foreshadowed for the reader.
Again, Coelho foreshadows the protagonist’s adventure when the boy asks the old gypsy woman to interpret his dream. What she predicts verifies Santiago’s quest:
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.
Thereafter, Santiago meets an old man, Melchizedek, who claims to be the King of Salem. He possesses magical powers and, confirming the gypsy woman’s foretelling of the adventure, encourages the boy to travel to Egypt.
After deciding to embark on the journey, Santiago encounters a series of difficulties, but manages to overcome them and becomes a “rich man” as foretold.
Further evidence of foreshadowing in The Alchemist occurs when Santiago identifies several omens foretelling dangerous events. He remembers a prior lesson: “Learn to recognize omens, and follow them, the old king had said.” The protagonist acts accordingly. He encounters two hawks fighting in the desert. They symbolize the threat of an oncoming attack. Santiago heeds the portent, seeks help from the wind and other forces of nature, and safely continues on his journey.
In The Alchemist, the journey itself is foreshadowed. The incidents and encounters along the way are foretold through the protagonist’s dreams.