The Alchemist (Novel): An Introduction
Lauren Johnson & Linh Tran

"The Alchemist", by Paulo Coelho, is undoubtedly a complex and multifaceted body of work. While it has been described by some as "deceptively simple", it is in fact the opposite. Like the secret of alchemy fitting on a single emerald, a story recounting the nature of mankind and our desire to be more than ordinary is able to fit within the confines of a 170 page book. Layered and riddled with allegories and metaphors, there are many symbols in the novel worth exploring. One of the major symbols is the titular character, the alchemist himself.


The Alchemist (Character): Symbol Analysis

One of the various characters that the boy meets throughout is the titular alchemist, an enigmatic and mysterious figure who acts as a mentor to Santiago and also as a symbol that has a deeper meaning within the context of the novel. The alchemist as a character fits the "wise old man" archetype, as outlined by Carl Jung. We see a lot of evidence supporting this throughout the course of the novel, as he leads both the Englishman and especially Santiago to enlightenment.

“There is only one way to learn. It’s through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey.”

As a teacher, the alchemist does not reveal anything new to the boy, instead forcing him to realize things that he had already learned. We can equate the alchemist to any mentor or father figure in our lives, or in other pieces of work. It would seem that the alchemist is simply another example of a stereotype, but he represents more. He represents the stereotype itself and can be seen as an amalgamation of various wise men and mentors throughout the world of literature and other forms of art.

“Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.”

Like the entire novel representing and also being an example of the Hero's Journey, the alchemist is an archetype. He has to be an archetype in order to be universal. And that universality is what in the end, makes The Alchemist more than just a novel.


Real World Connections: Text-to-Text

Gandalf the Grey

Like the alchemist, Gandalf the Grey is a guiding force throughout the course of his story, which is The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. They are both wise old men and provide support for the hero throughout the course of the story.


Real World Connections: Text-to-Film

Yoda, like Gandalf and the alchemist, is another example of the old and wise adviser that guides the hero through the course of his journey. Yoda trains Luke Skywalker to become a real Jedi, as the alchemist trains Santiago to become a truly spiritual person.


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