What indications are there that Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist could be considered an existentialist piece of literature?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A philosophy is defined as a pursuit of wisdom. Early philosophical theory maintains that existentialism is the concept...

...that the individual is solely responsible for giving his or her own life meaning and for living that life passionately and sincerely in spite of many existential obstacles and distractions including despair, angst, absurdity, alienation, and boredom.

This responsibility of the individual, according to the early 19thcentury philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, remains even in face of the obstacles life places in one's path. Later existentialists still saw the importance of the individual, but observed that there were factors that influenced a person's choices: among these were the belief in the existence or non-existence of God.

With these things in mind, it is safe to assume that there areexistential aspects in Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist. Demonstrations of the value of an individual's choices are seen with what Santiago does. For example, instead of becoming a priest as his parents would have preferred, he decides to be a shepherd instead so that he can travel. He chooses to pursue the clues presented in his recurring dream to visit the pyramids in Egypt. He also decides to follow Melchizedek's advice to find his Personal Legend. When he is robbed, Santiago considers giving up his quest, but the experiences of the crystal merchant convince the boy to move forward.

There are also many references to faith and God in the book. In fact, the author wrote this after going on a religious pilgrimage in Spain. First of all, Santiago is presented as a Christ-like figure: he is a "good shepherd." There is a reference in the book (when Santiago tells the oasis chieftains about the vision he sees) to the Old Testament story of Joseph who was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt, but became a powerful man when he deciphered Pharaoh's dreams. Melchizedek is also a biblical figure, often associated withGod. There is also the allusion to the Roman centurion who seeks out "the Son of God" to cure his servant. Finally, when Santiago becomes the wind, he...

...reached through to the Soul of the World, and saw that it was a part of the Soul of God. And he saw that the Soul of God was his own soul.

It seems apparent that for Coelho, the aspects of existentialism maybe valid (though it's hard to know that existentialism was what motivated his plot development—in other words, that Coelho chose to specifically include the precepts of existentialism in the first place). It is safe to say that Coelho lays great responsibility at the feet of the individual to bring about his or her own success by his choices, but that the world—God himself—leads the individual who opens his heart to the universe. In Coelho's view, God is certainly central to the idea that a person must live a life that takes him to his Personal Legend, but only with the help of God.