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What is an alchemist in Coelho's The Alchemist?

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Alchemy is a metaphor for self-actualization.

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Alchemy within the context of this book is a metaphor for one's transformation as a human being, a kind of transcendence from a "base" metal, the ordinary human person, to an elevated form, in alchemy, gold, but metaphorically, for self-actualization, which is the state of being one's own best self, using one's passion, talents, and experiences to their maximum.  Self-actualization is what the alchemist is trying to help the young boy achieve.  As a metaphor this works on another level as well, since there is a certain amount of serendipity involved in science (which alchemy was considered once upon a time), and there is a certain amount of serendipity involved in self-actualization, too. 

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Hello,

Some thoughts:

An alchemist was a person who tried to turn something worth very little (lead, etc.) into something precious (like gold). During the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, many serious scientists dabbled in this pursuit. Looking back now, alchemy is not viewed as a 'serious' scientific pursuit (as it's acknowledged now as being impossible), and there's a connotation to the word alchemy that it means a certain kind of dreamer, someone who is stubbornly trying to change nothing into something precious, via a magical process. Paulo Coehlo's books are very symbolic, and your question hints at the understanding that alchemy (a mysterious/miraculous/magical process where the worthless gains worth) has been symbolically applied in the main character's transformation. And, it was---against expectations---successful.

Hope this helps.

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An alchemist is someone who practices "alchemy" which is the

speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold

One of my favorite works of literature is Paul Coehlo's The Alchemist, a magical tale of a boy who must place his trust in this spiritual and mysterious man, the alchemist, who will help him with his personal journey and search. 

Not knowing your specific quotation, I'm unable to analyze the use of the word in context.  However, think of it as an alchemist has a special power to change something ordinary into something unique and special.

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What does "the alchemist" mean in Coelho's The Alchemist?

An alchemist was a person who sought, among other things, to turn base metal into gold. Santiago meets an alchemist, a veiled stranger on a white horse, at the oasis in the desert. Santiago travels with the alchemist for a time and witnesses him actually turning lead into gold. Santiago understands that you cannot become a successful alchemist without first purifying your soul.

Santiago learns to trust the alchemist, but the alchemist tells him he can't tell him the secret of turning metal into gold, because it "was my Personal Legend, not yours." He tells Santiago he should go back to the oasis, and Santiago does. He has gleaned from the alchemist that he has to faithfully pursue his own Personal Legend with a pure heart. In this sense, Santiago also becomes a metaphorical alchemist. He takes all he has learned on his journeys and is able to turn it into "gold" by returning home again to find his treasure.

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What does "the alchemist" mean in Coelho's The Alchemist?

An alchemist is a person who studies alchemy. Alchemy is a combination chemistry science and a philosophy both. The study seeks to change base metals into gold as well as find a cure for all diseases. In addition, it seeks to extend the life span of humans. In a way, it is an ideal, a goal toward which many strive, but no one achieves. The goal itself is unattainable because one would have to be the Creator to reach these goals. In literature, it can refer to anyone who seeks to attain the unobtainable much like Don Quixote who dreamed the impossible dream. 

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