What images in Coelho's The Alchemist can be read symbolically, and what images are read metaphorically?
When deciphering between symbols and metaphors, figure out if the object in question represents someone or something else, or if it is being compared with someone or something else. Specifically, the function of a symbol is to represent an idea. On the other hand, a metaphor is a tool used to compare two dissimilar objects or ideas. Both are used to help drive home a message, but each is functioning in a different way. Sometimes it may seem, though, that symbols and metaphors look and act alike. Careful evaluation of how they are functioning in the sentence may also help.
One example of symbol usage in The Alchemist would be the Urim and Thummim. These stones are not compared to anything else in the story. They are simply objects to help Santiago if he loses his way. They will keep him in touch with the Soul of the World if he finds himself in a bind. However, they end up becoming symbols of a fond memory when he spoke with the King of Salem and decided to fulfill his Personal Legend.
There are probably more symbols than metaphors in the book because every character, animal or mineral represents something profound on Santiago's journey. However, if a parallel can be made from one object to another, that is where the metaphor is. For example, when the Alchemist says, "Where your treasure is, there also will be your heart"(159), then a comparison between two things is created as well as the metaphor.