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The Alchemist (SparkNotes Literature Guide)

The Alchemist (SparkNotes Literature Guide)

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The Alchemist (SparkNotes Literature Guide)

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Feb 4, 2014


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SparkNotes Literature Guides help you to make your literary studying smarter, better, and faster all around. In The Alchemist (SparkNotes Literature Guide), covering the novel The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, you can learn everything you need about the book with this quick read.

Rather than stress out over papers or exams, go into them with confidence with the critical thinking literary tools you need to help you succeed.

Enjoy quickly sifting through a glossary of literary terms, a sample of an A+ student essay, step-by-step analysis in plain English, a series of study questions, and review quizzes all put together in one place thanks to SparkNotes.

The Alchemist (SparkNotes Literature Guide) is the perfect answer for late-night studying and paper writing needs. With 16 pages explicitly devoted to writing an A+ literary essay of your own, SparkNotes is thorough enough even to provide a guide on avoiding plagiarism in your writing.

Feb 4, 2014

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The Alchemist (SparkNotes Literature Guide) - SparkNotes

© 2014 by Spark Publishing

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (including electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without prior written permission from the publisher.

Sparknotes is a registered trademark of SparkNotes LLC

Spark Publishing

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ISBN-13: 978-1-4114-7107-8

Please submit changes or report errors to

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1



Plot Overview

Character List

Analysis of Major Characters


The Alchemist

The Crystal Merchant


The Englishman


Themes, Motifs & Symbols

The Centrality of Personal Legends

The Unity of Nature

The Danger of Fear




Santiago’s Sheep


The Desert

Summary & Analysis

Part One, Section 1

Section 2

Section 3

Section 4

Part Two, Section 5

Section 6

Section 7

Section 8

Section 9

Section 10

Section 11

Section 12

Section 13

Important Quotations Explained

Key Facts

Study Questions & Essay Topics

How to Write Literary Analysis

The Literary Essay: A Step-by-Step Guide

A+ Student Essay

Glossary of Literary Terms

A Note on Plagiarism

Review & Resources


Suggestions for Further Reading


Before The Alchemist launched him to worldwide fame, Brazilian author Paulo Coelho experienced a bumpy writing career. As a teen, Coelho, who admits he was hostile and isolated at the time, told his parents he wanted to be a writer. The untraditional career path, coupled with his behavior, led his parents to commit Coelho to a mental hospital three separate times. After this period, he relented to his parents’ wishes and enrolled in law school, but dropped out after one year and became a globetrotting hippie through the 60s and 70s. During this time, Coelho published the unsuccessful Hell Archives (1982) and contributed to the Practical Manual of Vampirism (1985), but he mostly immersed himself in the drug culture and penned song lyrics for Brazilian pop stars such as Elis Regina, Rita Lee, and Raul Seixas. Despite his lack of success writing books, Coelho made good money as a lyricist. He could have easily made this his career, but a trip to Spain pointed him down a different path.

This turning point in Coelho’s writing career came in 1982, when he walked Spain’s road of Santiago de Compostela, or the Way of Saint James, an important medieval Christian pilgrimage route. During the walk, Coelho had a spiritual awakening that he chronicled in his second novel, The Pilgrimage (1987). The book had little impact, but Coelho became determined to make a career as a writer. Coelho found the concept for his next book, The Alchemist (1988) in a 1935 short story by Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges called Tale of Two Dreamers. Like The Alchemist, Borges’s short story revolves around two dreamers in search of treasure. Coelho sold his book to a tiny Brazilian publishing house, which printed a minuscule first edition of 900 copies and decided not to reprint afterward.

The Alchemist achieved commercial success only after Coelho found a bigger publisher, Rocco, to publish his next book, Brida (1990). Brida received good press coverage in Brazil, and Coelho’s newfound popularity launched The Alchemist to the top of the Brazilian bestseller list. In 1993, U.S. publisher HarperCollins decided to print The Alchemist, starting with a print run of 50,000 copies. Though that number was significant at the time, it did not compare with the astounding success the book would eventually have. Since its U.S. publication, The Alchemist has won the Guinness World Record for the most translated book by a living author. It has been translated into 67 languages, has sold over 65 million copies throughout the world, and has won several international awards, including France’s Grand Prix Litteraire Elle in 1995, Germany’s 2002 Corine International Award for fiction, and the United Kingdom’s 2004 Nielsen Gold Book Award.

The unprecedented success of The Alchemist launched Coelho to international literary fame and, in some circles, notoriety. He has won celebrity fans from Bill Clinton to Will Smith to Madonna, and has written more than twenty commercially successful books since The Alchemist, many of which have been inspired by his own life experiences. Despite Coelho’s success, he has his fair share of detractors. Several writers and critics, including the Brazilian critic Mario Maestri, accuse him of producing mass-market self-help fables disguised as literature. Coelho has also distinguished himself by his willingness to share his books over the Internet for free. His American publisher caught him pirating his own books over several popular torrent sites and forced him to stop the practice. In return, the publisher allowed each of his new books to be available on its website for free for one month after being released in stores.

Clear connections exist between the story of The Alchemist and Coelho’s own life story. Just like Santiago, a comfortable shepherd who decided to abandon everything to pursue a dream, Coelho was living comfortably as a songwriter when he decided to give up everything to pursue his dream of writing. Just as Santiago suffered many setbacks and temptations during his journey to Egypt’s pyramids, Coelho suffered a number of setbacks, including the disappointing reception of The Pilgrimage and the initial failure of The Alchemist, and experienced material temptations arising from his financial success as a songwriter. Yet, just like Santiago, Coelho remained focused on his dream, eventually achieving literary success beyond his expectations. Interestingly, Coelho didn’t gain fame and financial success as an author until well after writing The Alchemist. Although Coelho’s subsequent success more than validates the lesson he communicates through the story of Santiago’s journey, success such as Santiago finds in The Alchemist was something Coelho had yet to attain at the time he wrote the book.


A recurring dream troubles Santiago, a young and adventurous Andalusian shepherd. He has the dream every time he sleeps under a sycamore tree that grows out of the ruins of a church. During the dream, a child tells him to seek treasure at the foot of the Egyptian pyramids. Santiago consults a gypsy woman to interpret the dream, and to his surprise she tells him to go to Egypt. A strange, magical old man named Melchizedek, who claims to be the King of Salem, echoes the gypsy’s advice and tells Santiago that it is his Personal Legend to journey to the pyramids. Melchizedek convinces Santiago to sell his flock and set off to Tangier. When Santiago arrives in Tangier, a thief robs him, forcing him to find work with a local crystal merchant. The conservative and kindly merchant teaches Santiago several lessons, and Santiago encourages the merchant to take risks with his business. The risks pay off and Santiago becomes a rich man in just a year.

Santiago decides to cash in his earnings and continue pursuing his Personal Legend: to find treasure at the pyramids. He joins a caravan crossing the Sahara Desert toward Egypt and meets an Englishman who is studying to become an alchemist. He learns a lot from the Englishman during the journey. For one thing, he learns that the secret of alchemy is written on a stone called the Emerald Tablet. The ultimate creation of alchemy is the Master Work, which consists of a solid called the Philosopher’s Stone that can turn lead to gold, and a liquid called the Elixir of Life that can cure all ills. Santiago learns the Englishman is traveling with the caravan to the Saharan oasis of Al-Fayoum, where a powerful, 200-year-old alchemist resides. The Englishman plans to ask the alchemist the secret of his trade. Santiago joins the caravan.

As it turns out, the caravan must make an extended stop in Al-Fayoum in order to avoid increasingly violent tribal wars taking place in the desert. There, Santiago falls in love with Fatima, who lives at the oasis. During a walk in the desert, Santiago witnesses an omen that portends an attack on the historically neutral oasis. He warns the tribal chieftains of the attack, and as a result, Al-Fayoum successfully defends itself against the assault. The alchemist gets word of Santiago’s vision and invites Santiago on a trip into the desert, during which he teaches Santiago about the importance of listening to his heart and pursuing his Personal Legend. He convinces Santiago to leave Fatima and the caravan for a time to finish his journey to the

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  • (4/5)
    It reads like a fairy tale, with a hero who travels seeking a treasure and learns about himself and about listening to the spirit of the world.
  • (5/5)
    This is described on the cover as a fable, and it's a good description. The book has a beautiful, mystical, magical soul, something you don't often see outside of classic works. It is a genuine story, one of fiction, but it has a soul of solid truth. Read it, let it inspire you to chase your dreams and give you added courage to actually go out and do it.
  • (3/5)
    I start the year with a book on many of the must read lists. I'd not really paid attention to them before, but figured this would be a good book to start with for the year.It offered an Interesting start and not at all what I expected when I saw the title. I like the thought that everyone has their own personal legend within themI admit the book is unique, but it feels very preachy to me. Like they wanted to do a morality book and a fable or fairytale and it feels like it's clashing within the text. The talk of finding one's legend and dealing with the heart of the world, plus God and the other parts of life all just seemed to clash when considering the different religions and concepts they represented.I Hadn't realized how short this book was. 4 hours by audio. But it packed in a lot of details and concepts in that short period of time. I'd be willing to give it more stars, if the internal of the story didn't feel so much of a clash. Still a good moral tale, overall.
  • (4/5)
    I really liked this book but was a little disappointed when I realised it was an expansion of a parable from Arabian Nights. Even though it's not completely original Coelho has achieved a lot in writing the story, and has nice sentences.

    On the subject of originality, I haven't read Manuscript in Accra because it takes (steals?) heavily from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.
  • (5/5)
    TBC 11/09; listened to a version read by Jeremy Irons; little book packed with lots of points to ponder. Shepherd boy from Spain goes in search of his treasure, which he believes he will find in the pyramids, when actually it's really what's within him.
  • (4/5)
    It is unlike any book I have ever read. Every page had a message drilled into it so deeply. It doesn't matter your religion. This book provides a universal spiritual value, that not even the Bible holds. I loved this book in a way that i could love no other.
  • (3/5)
    I want to give this book 3.5 stars, but Goodreads doesn't allow that.I thought The Alchemist was a fantasy novel. I was wrong! The book is one of those books that tells a story and the reader learns life-long lessons. It's more of a self-help book in story format; if that makes sense.I enjoyed the story, at first. I even enjoyed the lesson it was teaching, to begin with. It made me think about my own life and ponder the "what if" questions. The book also made me see times in my life where "omens" could have been clear to me too. However, although I did get the meaning of the book, the longer I read, the more I pulled away from it. Is that an omen in itself? No. I got the message, I didn't need to keep reading. However, I did and I finished the book, and I am glad I know what happened to the boy. Now I can move on.
  • (4/5)
    What a beautiful and apt story. The point of the story is to know what your dream is, to try to achieve it, and not get derailed by obstacles and/or temptations in your path. A short book with a powerful impact.
  • (3/5)
    Classic tale of a hero's journey through heroism
  • (5/5)
    Una novela sobre los sueños y el destino. Cuando una persona desea realmente algo, el Universo entero conspira para que pueda realizar su sueño. Basta con aprender a escuchar los dictados del corazón y a descifrar un lenguaje que está más allá de las palabras, el que muestra aquello que los ojos no pueden ver.
  • (1/5)

    One out of ten.

    A boy has some dreams and goes off in search of treasure completing a spiritual journey along the way. Unfortunately, the book is a load of mumbo-jumbo - it's like reading one long cheap inspirational, Hallmark card.

  • (1/5)
    This book was given to me by a dear friend. So, I read it. I was left truly, deeply and utterly irritated.
  • (4/5)
    Young sheppard's travel to discover the meaing of life.
  • (4/5)
    This is my favorite YA coing-of-age novel (a good read for adults too). I would much rather have read this in High School than The Catcher in the Rye. I'll admit it was simplistic (most fables are, that's kind of the point), but it was beautiful and the plot was woven nicely.
  • (3/5)
    Had I read this at an earlier time in my life, I would have liked it a lot more. It reminded me a lot of The Little Prince, with its traveling main character and desert setting and Big Symbolic Images and Philosophical Themes. I don't know why, but I never connected with the characters or the story.
  • (3/5)
    Just too much dubious philosophy for me, I was philosophied out by the end.
  • (2/5)
    Meh, I don't see the hype. It wasn't bad, it wasn't great. It just wasn't my thing. The Alchemist tells the story of a young shepherd boy whose simple life is turned upside down when a traveling king, tells him where to find treasure. From there the boy goes on a long journey, falling omens and good sense to try and find the treasure that lay near the pyramids. It's a little deep for me and I didn't much care for it. I don't like these kind of fables. The only good part was having Jeremy Irons narrate the audiobook version.
  • (3/5)
    I was told a long time ago by someone that once meant a lot to me that I absolutely had to read this book because it would speak to me and change my life. Four years later, I finally picked it up. My life was not changed and it didn't really have much to say that I hadn't already heard. While the tale was decent, and the message was pleasing, nothing about this book jumped out at me as anything incredible. Sometimes I find that deeper meaning piled upon deeper meaning just becomes a little too contrived for my taste.
  • (3/5)
    I would recommend the book, though I don't think I would read it a second time.
  • (4/5)
    The Alchemist is a simple fable that alludes to the fact that all of us have a purpose and a dream in life. It is a simple book, but nonetheless inspiring. It is a story about a young boy named Santiago who has reoccurring dreams about a treasure, when he goes to see a gypsy about the meaning of his dream she tells him to follow his dream and not to pay her now for her services but to pay her one tenth of his treasure once he finds it. Santiago left home to become a shepherd to follow his dreams of travel. He is hesitant to leave his flock, but begins to follow omens. Through his travels he overcomes many obstacles and meets many people who guide him in his journey. He meets to love of his life Fatima. Santiago tells her that he will need to continue on his journey but rest assured that he will come back to her. Through the story Santiago is led by many spiritual guides, and leaves the readers inspired. All of us have a purpose in life, and we need to listen to the omens around us. Our heart will lead us, where it will need to go. I did enjoy the novel. However, near the end I did want it to end. This book was given to me from a coworker and I’m glad I read it. I do recommend the novel, especially for someone who is struggling to make life decisions. It’s a spiritual and inspiring book that I’m happy to add to my “read in 2009 list.”
  • (4/5)
    This is like The Little Prince for adults, a lesson of life and about seeking what's really important. Religious people would appreciate this more, and I suspect they are the audience that have raised this to the status of a classic. The text is very "biblical": it's full of metaphores and the dialogue is all deep thoughts on the meaning of life and such. God is all, and the whole Universe follows God's plan. It just made me wonder, why Coelho emphasizes the role of individual human fates in this context...First I thought that alchemy would be a great metaphore of a futile, endless quest, so I was a bit disappointed when it turned out that it actually works in this book.It's a good book, very coherent and easy to read. There is a sense of grandeur, somewhat similar to the old testament. But, for me personally, it wasn't a life changer. It's perhaps too easy to take as "bullshit".
  • (3/5)
    Very much a fable, a very straightforward one about the importance of following one's dreams. I am against preachiness as a rule, but I do like fables, and this was so nicely told I couldn't dislike it.It seems a very popular book at the library. It is a bit odd to think of all those armchair travellers I see at the reserves desk identifying with and cheering on the Andalusian boy as he crosses the dessert. Like me. How many of us would leave our home and life for a dream?
  • (5/5)
    This book's premise was simple, yet so much fun and an instant picker upper. Yeah, it a was a little "new age," but it's defiantly worth having in your collection and also worth passing it around to friends and family who are book lovers.
  • (4/5)
    So I finally finished this, For some strange reason I flew through his other books but paused a lot on this one, I really did like the message of have a dream and what kind of faith you need to follow it, I loved the whole journey with the main character, I think this is a keeper and A read again book and I don't say that very often, I would recommend this and most of his other books I have never been disappointed that i have read them.
  • (4/5)
    More a spiritual journey than a story, "The Alchemist" is an engaging tale of a young shepherd's search for his "personal legend". Parts of the narrative get a bit teachy-preachy, but all-in-all, this is a book worth reading, and even re-reading. It's thoughtful, insightful and interesting.
  • (2/5)
    I've read several of his books, but I have to say I just don't get them. Maybe it's because the author's a philosopher of some sort, but whatever meaning or message he attempts to convey is just lost on me. Actually, this is exactly what happens to me during my legal philosophy classes, so I'm pretty sure that's why. In any case, based on my poor knowledge of philosophy (I'm just assuming that this is a philosophy book btw), I didn't like this book, and I just think it's overhyped: people read them because the language of the book is one of those 'simple and yet complicated' types, and it takes half a day to go through one, and who wouldn't love to say I finished a book in half a day? Sorry for the deeply cynical review, here's a dash of optimism though: if he can change one person's mind into being a more open-minded and thoughtful person, then I approve (slightly) of all the hype.
  • (2/5)
    A fable about a young shepherd boy in Andalusia who is encouraged to sell his sheep and travel far away to the Pyramids to find his "treasure". On the way, he encounters disappointment, danger and enlightenment. The "Alchemist" of the title is the person who helps him understand what his journey has taught him and finally what his "treasure" is.I haven't read any other books by Coelho and didnt' know what this book was about when I picked it was recommended by a friend. I struggled throughout to decipher exactly what the author was trying to say and I'm still not sure I got it. It would probably be a great book discussion because it is so open to interpretation.
  • (3/5)
    A little too spiritual for me, as I am not very religious. Not religious at all, just spiritual. It is very inspirational however. A good read if you need an inspiration for a spiritual journey or need to be pushed towards a goal. Although a few parts were a little hard for me to swallow, overall I was satisfied with the book and had fun discussing it with some of my friends. It has a good moral story to it, which is what I enjoyed the most about it.
  • (5/5)
    I love this book. One of my favorite quotes is from this book.This is assigned text for Humanities. I purchased it, began reading ahead of class commencement. At line 20 in my copy I noticed something familiar; by page six I had stopped, hauled out a notepad with the intention of diagramming the reader's "I notice . . . I wonder."At page seven I abandoned noticing and wondering, hauled out an old, trusty reference text and started annotating threads and themes. I finished the book in one day; however I would have finished sooner if I had not stopped to annotate and cross-reference.Paulo Coelho tells a simple but profound tale of a young man's coming of age journey. Like a Master Weaver, Paulo Coelho lays out his weft threads composed of characters and their circumstances. He weaves warp threads of ancient wisdom, subtle morality and ethical challenge through out. The finished creation is as lovely, complex and richly detailed as a tapestry. This tale speaks an universal human language. It is understood by adolescent and grandparent alike. The rich symbolism will paint different pictures in the minds of each individual who reads it. Well Done.
  • (4/5)
    I had to read this book in Grade 10 English and I found it a really easy read. I loved it because it's different than anything I have read before. It's a nice feel-good book that goes along real smoothly, there isn't a lot of thinking involved for the reader though. In the end you are left with a nice story that may inspire you a little :) .