What are some literary techniques used in The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho?
One of the most outstanding literary techniques used by Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist is that of the allegory. This literary device is described in some cases as an extended metaphor. The story serves to show a young man who is searching for treasure: literally. He has had a dream repeatedly over the years and finally goes to find the riches he searches for. The overriding message of this book is that that which is the most valuable in life is not wealth that can be accumulated, but realizing your dreams, working hard to achieve that which you are meant to achieve in life and finding love. In this story, both things happen to Santiago: he finds his personal legend, etc., and also finds great tangible wealth.
There are many biblical allusions in the story as well. The character of Melchizedek (the King of Salem) may well refer to God, as noted in many historical/biblical texts, scripture, etc. More than once, Santiago is required to give away ten percent of his sheep: once to the gypsy and once to Melchizedek. In the biblical tradition, this is called tithing, which is to give ten percent of what one owns to God. And, Santiago can be seen as a Christ-like figure. He is literally a shepherd, while Christ is a figurative shepherd. Additionally, both are on a journey to fulfill the fate that has been placed before them if they will only continue on the path, which both Santiago and Christ do.
Paulo Coelho also uses imagery and symbolism throughout The Alchemist, which adds to the allegory and allusions mentioned above.
For instance, the treasure that Santiago dreams of is described using imagery, or descriptive language that appeals to the senses of touch, taste, sound, scent, and/or sight. The treasure is described as "a chest of Spanish gold coins. There were also precious stones, gold masks adorned with red and white feathers, and stone statues embedded with jewels."
This language helps readers imagine the treasure that Santiago dreams of.
The treasure is also an example of symbolism. Symbolism occurs when a tangible object (like a treasure) represents an abstract idea. At the beginning of The Alchemist, the treasure is literally a chest of valuable objects and represents wealth, success, and desire for Santiago. This symbol changes its meaning by the end of the novel when Santiago discovers the treasure buried beneath the church where his journey began. Santiago now has valuable objects but has gained success from his journey. The treasure then takes on the abstract meaning of wisdom that Santiago was truly in need of. When he reflects that the treasure was right under his nose the whole time, the wind provides the answer: "If I had told you, you wouldn't have seen the Pyramids. They're beautiful, aren't they?"
Coelho creates a mythic universe, and uses simple language and archetypes to convey his universal truth that everyone should find and follow their own Personal Legend.
Though described realistically and set in real places, such as Egypt, Coelho's universe is mythic in that it exists outside of history. We don't know what year the story takes place. It takes place in the pre-industrial past, but not in a specific time that we can pin down. Coelho does this deliberately to underscore that the wisdom he conveys is true for all times and cultures.
Coelho also uses archetypal characters. According to Carl Jung, archetypal characters are types that appear across all cultures. They represent the human collective unconscious. Santiago, for example, fits the archetype of the hero. The hero goes on a quest that tests him and leads to personal transformation as he overcomes obstacles, just as Santiago does.
Finally, Coelho uses simple, almost childlike language, again to underline the universality of his themes. Anyone should be able to grasp the simple truths he wants to express and adopt them as their own.