What is the theme or lesson of Coelho's The Alchemist, and how does the jacket symbolize that theme?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Depending upon whom you talk to or the sites you visit, there are many themes that come to mind for Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist. Part of the appeal of the story is that it speaks in so many ways to so many people. However, the one theme that seems to strike a chore more than any other is "follow your dreams." The story starts with Santiago's dream of treasure, and while he anticipates that it is financial treasure, it ends up being that and so much more. Ironically, the robber at the end has a dream as well, but he dismisses it. In doing so, his dream fulfills Santiago's original dream of wealth—but Santiago has already amassed more wealth than he ever thought possible in finding knowledge, in learning of the world and finding his place in it, and discovering love. The robber's "discarded" dream sends Santiago home to the realization of his own.

Whoever you are, or whatever is it that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

This quote encourages us to hold on to our dreams. They may not always appear when we expect them, or in the form we anticipate, but if we are persistent, and if we search for true meaning rather than for things of worldly value, we may find that we can have both figurative wealth as well as literal wealth.

In terms of the cover of the novel, there are several covers on various editions: it may depend upon where in the world the book has been published. The cover on my book shows a church or perhaps a monastery almost floating in the mists and clouds surrounding it. The apex of one roof is topped with a cross, while a tower nearby shows what may be a second cross. With the novel's religious allusions to Christianity, this is not a surprise. However, the significance of the picture may come from Coelho's personal pilgrimage (on which his novel The Pilgrimage is based). For this part of the author's life, he was charged to make a pilgrimage—a trip to a holy shrine, etc., for the good of the soul. Sometimes the trip served to "shorten the time one's soul spent in purgatory" (it is believed by some); other times, it was a form of penance. In Coelho's case, it was his penance to make the trip—he traveled along a route that had been almost forgotten by time. In the 1980s, he reconstructed the route that takes the traveler to the shrine of St. James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

The Way of Saint James (el Camino de Santiago) is a medieval pilgrims route that had fallen into disuse and was little known, until two decades ago Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho was obliged to walk the route as a penance...

The pilgrimage (el Camino de Santiago) leads to the the shrine (generally accepted) of St. James, the first of Christ's Aspostles to be executed in 44 A.D.

It is also said that when one completes a pilgrimage, one must create or achieve something. For Coelho, it was The Alchemist. With this history in mind and knowledge of Coelho's own pilgrimage, I can only imagine that the cover of the book represents in this story Santiago's "pilgrimage" to discover who he is, and to do this, he must pursue his dream to realize all that God has planned for him: which is his happiness.