The Alchemist Symbolism Project
by Zach Wright & Rebecca Stockham
In "The Alchemist", the story of Narcissus is very brief, yet very important. It shows up in the prologue when the alchemist is reading stories and stumbles upon it.
-Symbolizes the things that are important to each person and how everyone has different things that are important to them.
An example of this is when robbers take Santiago's treasure at the Pyramids of Egypt. The robber said, "I dreamed that I should travel to the fields of Spain and look for a ruined church where shepherds and their sheep slept. In my dream, there was a sycamore growing out of the ruins of the sacristy, and I was told that, if I dug at the roots of the sycamore, I would find a hidden treasure (pg.163)." This exemplifies the idea that everyone has their own treasure to pursue.
Another example of this is when the Alchemist turns lead into gold and when Santiago him when he can do that himself the alchemist says, "This was my Personal Legend, not yours (pg.155)"
The story of Narcissus representing how things are important to different people enhance the story by creating the reader to think about what they want in their own lives and not what other people tell them they should want.
-The story of Narcissus also symbolizes vanity and how it can prevent people from following out their Personal Legend
One example of this is when Santiago talks about his heart to the Alchemist. "'My heart is a traitor,' said the boy to the alchemist, when they had paused to rest the horses. 'It doesn't want me to go on (pg. 129).'" This shows that people are too vain to try to achieve their Personal Legend even though they may lose what they already have.
The story of Narcissus symbolizing vanity and the good sides of it improves the story by showing that vanity and loving what you have too much already can inhibit your experiences throughout life. Vanity can prevent you from following your dream, and the story of Narcissus emphasizes that theme.
The themes from the story of Narcissus can be seen throughout many other stories as well as in the real world. Vanity is a common theme that has been touched on countless times. From movie and book characters, to songs such as "You're So Vain" by Carly Simone, vanity is a huge part of media and culture.
First off there's the concept of the seven deadly sins. Including sins such as gluttony, envy, and greed, the seven deadly sins have managed to weave their way into almost every single story, because what's a story without a little temptation and sin? And vanity or pride, is one of the most easily recognized of the seven, which is no surprise considering how susceptible the common man is to it. Anyone can become vain in a split second, and stereotypes revolving around a certain type of person being vain have filled our culture. We've connected vanity with celebrities, religious figures, even people we see and interact with on a daily basis. Why? It's very simple. Vanity is an easy thing to contract.
While it dominates part of the real world, vanity also appears through out films and books. Villains or antagonists are almost always vain, and considering themselves the best, which is part of the reason they're the bad guys.
One example of vanity in boo
ks is the Scarlett Ibis. The older brother only helps his younger brother learn to walk in order to improve his image. He is only really thinking of himself and how helping his younger brother will benefit him, which is essentially what vanity is.
Helping someone for your own benefit is seen again in the first book in the Percy Jackson series, as well as the movie, where Luke only helps Percy, Annabeth, and Grover because he's planting the lightening bolt on them and he knows that chaos will ensue upon the discovery of the bolt.
Another example is how vanity and helping others only to benefit yourself is the constant recycling of those ideas throughout the Disney movie franchise. Even the helpers of the protagonist can be vain, as seen in Mulan and Hercules.
In the beginning of Mulan, Mushu only helps Mulan through training camp because he knows returning her home successful will result in a promotion from gong ringer to guardian of the family. He even admits this to Mulan when he says "The truth is we're both frauds. Your ancestors never sent me, they don't even like me. But you risked your life to help people you love. I risked your life to help myself. At least you had good intentions" and from then on he begins to help Mulan mainly on the basis that he is her friend.
Several of Disney's villains portray vanity, which is a trait many villains throughout pop culture seem to have. From Mother Gothel in Tangled, who said "I see a strong, confident, beautiful young lady" when refer
ring to herself, to the Evil Queen from Snow White, who attempted to kill Snow White just because some magic talking mirror said that she was prettier. And let's not forget, Gaston from Beauty and The Beast, who literally has an entire song about how much better he is than everyone else.
Overall, vanity is a large part of our world, and the story of Narcissus only scratches the surface of the amount of vanity in our culture. The story of Narcissus in "The Alchemist" provides several key themes seen throughout the book, and exposes the reader to a subject already reviewed throughout the world.