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The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho - Santiago Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3947 words Published: 20th Jul 2017

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Paulo Coelho’s magical novel follows the adventure of Santiago, a young Sheppard from an Andalusian town who disobeyed his father’s will for him to become a priest. For this reason Santiago can be described as a determined, curious as well as adventurous child as he leads his sheep through the unknown deserts. At the beginning of the novel, we see Santiago at an abandoned church, where he has been having reoccurring dreams of a hidden treasure found at the Pyramids of Egypt. Having no knowledge of omens or Personal Legends at that point, he shrugged off this dream until he decided to visit a fortune-teller. Both she and an old man (whom he meets shortly afterward) tell him that he has a quest in life that he must realize, and that is a part of his existence. While pursuing his journey, he learns a fair bit about the world around him. Although he has been grateful to have trusted individuals such as Melchizedek, there were many negative lessons learned such as depression (the Crystal Merchant), distant love (the baker’s daughter) as well as deceit (the thief that stole his money). All of these obstacles held Santiago back on his quest to finding his Personal Legend. However, as the reoccurring quote “When you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it” (Coelho, 62) remains engraved in his head, his levels of motivation are once again replenished. There are a number of occasions when Santiago is forced to make choices that could alter the outcome of his journey. For example, he had to give up being a Sheppard and sell his sheep in order to have enough money to be able to finance his voyage to Egypt, in hopes of finding his treasure. I find Santiago to be a dynamic character as he matures and finds true love near the end of the book. He has come to learn about the different languages of the world, of the soul and unite himself with his environment. The Soul of the World is one of the biggest spiritual advancements that Santiago discovers throughout his journey for his Personal Legend. This term is almost directly associated with “collective worship”. All of these worshippers from different religions worship a certain mystery. But in the end, all of the religions point towards the same mystery that is the true Soul of the World. Santiago’s dynamic qualities are more apparent near the end of the book, where he almost gives up completely on pursuing his Personal Legend. Like the Crystal Merchant, he starts to show more materialistic qualities and deems that his current possessions are satisfactory for him and that the journey towards a supplementary but greater treasure is not necessary. Evidence of this is found when Santiago tells the Alchemist “I have already found my treasure. I have a camel, I have my money from the crystal shop, and I have fifty gold pieces” (Coelho, 115).

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By the end of the novel, Santiago has acquired a lot of experienced, mostly gained by the knowledge of the Alchemist. Santiago learned to relinquish fear by listening to his heart, which guided him in the right direction and ultimately guided him to his treasure, which was found at the sycamore tree in the abandoned church at the beginning of the novel. Santiago’s understanding of the “Soul of the World” is at its highest point during the event where Santiago was forced to turn himself into the wind by a bunch of warriors from the desert. At that point, Coelho uses figurative techniques in order to bring life to the sun, the desert, the wind as well as the heavens. The use of personification attributed to these elements demonstrates how much Santiago has learned and deepened his understanding of the world. Santiago’s experience has brought him to understand the universal language of the world and is thus able to communicate with these inanimate elements.

If there was one thing I discovered by the end of this novel, it is that the character of Santiago can be symbolic to the way we live our own personal lives. Like each and every one of us, we have character flaws that can often keep us from achieving our goals in life. Although most of us do not rely on omens in order to know if we are on the right track, we often rely on others invaluable sources such as our family members and friends who provide moral support to help achieve our “Personal Legend”. Obstacles will surely be met (we have seen many throughout Santiago’s journey) however thanks to the help of characters such as the Englishman and the Alchemist, Santiago was finally be able to fulfill his destiny and finally reunite himself with Fatima, the girl of his dreams.

ISU Journals: Personal Legend

In Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist the author puts a lot of emphasis on Personal Legends. Upon Santiago’s quest, he meets a stranger who later reveals himself as Melchizedek, the king of Salem. He reveals to Santiago an important moral rule, in which consists the foundation of Coelho’s whole novel: Following one’s own Personal Legend. The king describes this legend as “A point in someone’s life where everything is clear, everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives” (Coelho, 21). Furthermore, the king explains how there will be difficult obstacles to overcome in the path to realising the personal Legend. One of the obstacles presented in Part 1 of the book is a young boy who agreed to help lead him towards the Egyptian Pyramids for a cost. Little did the innocent boy know that the boy was in fact a thief and that dishonesty runs rampant in the city of Tangier. A second instance is when Santiago meets an Arabic Crystal merchant, a man who has maintained his shop for over thirty years at the top of a hilly street. Through the crystal merchant’s character in Part One of the novel, we can see that he was unable to fulfill his own Personal Legend (which was to travel to the Mecca). While reading this particular instance of the novel, I felt that the merchants’ character greatly contrasts the protagonist’s quest into pursuing his own destiny. Phrases such as “he had been in the same place for thirty years” “there was a time” and “it was too late to do anything else” really show how much faith the merchant lost in his personal dreams. I found that this really affected Santiago’s morality and hence, I listed this figure as an obstacle to the fulfillment of Santiago’s Personal Legend. Nonetheless the boy’s depression was soon relieved once the old merchant offered to help the young boy to fulfill what he once dreamed of doing.

ISU Journals: Sheep

At the beginning of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist we are brought upon the idea of the symbolism of the young Santiago’s flock of sheep. Santiago’s flock of sheep are first presented at the beginning of the novel. The Sheppard and his flock had ventured through the countryside of Andalusia for the past two years in search of food and water. Both the animals and their master have certainly formed a solid bond of friendship and it is explicitly shown in the text when Santiago explains “They are so used to me that they know my schedule” (Coelho, 4). He would read to them regularly, commentate on the views that they passed by while pursuing their journey and comfort them when they would begin to stir. Santiago also comments that the amount of knowledge and understanding that he received from his sheep is quite superior to that of a book.

Although Santiago’s gratitude and expressed love for his sheep are inevitable, the greater symbolism lies in the feelings of disgust that he has towards them. While reading the novel, I have noticed instances where Santiago says that the only things that sheep care about are food and water. The simplicity of happiness for animals is greatly contrasted with that of humans. Santiago is amazed by how careless the sheep are of their surroundings so long as they are provided with nourishment. This brought me to recognize that the limited perspectives on life of these sheep could in fact be paralleled with that of the Crystal Merchant as well as the baker. Evidence of this is shown when Santiago says “If I became a monster today and decided to kill them, one by one, they would become aware only after most of the flock had been slaughtered”.(Coelho, 7) Similarly to the Crystal Merchant and the baker, the sheep care nothing else but their material desires (being the food and water). In the case of the Crystal Merchant, he is too preoccupied with his boring daily life (for more than thirty years) and the desire that everything remains the same. According to the king of Salem, individuals who present similar characteristics to the merchant are unable to fully neither understand nor appreciate their purpose in life, nor the creations of God. This is one of the reasons that have kept them from pursuing their destiny.

Setting/ Epoch

Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist has numerous settings which progress along with the novel. For instance, the beginning of the story is taken place in the lands of Spain. Evidence of this is shown primarily by the name of the protagonist: Santiago and by the fact that the boy first sets off his journey in the region of Andalusia. Also, there is a passage in the story making relevance to the Moorish invasion over Spain “The girl was typical of the region of Andalusia, with flowing black hair, and eyes that vaguely recalled the Moorish conquerors.” (Coelho, 5) By this quote alone, we can already assume that the story’s epoch is set in a pre-modern context (several centuries ago) during the time in which most technologies such as computers, cellphones were absent. Also, caravans as means of transportation are not used as much in the modern era as opposed to in the story. Additionally, the following quote provides proof of the setting by revealing the type of currency “The next day, he gave his son a pouch that held three ancient Spanish gold coins” (Coelho, 9). In addition to the epoch, Alchemy was a practice that had been abandoned years ago as it had been confirmed that you could not turn any stone into another by simply melting it and waiting several years.

The setting shifts to another Spanish town located in Andalusia called Tarifa. It is at this landmark that Santiago meets with the king of Salem and is given instructions on pursuing his Personal Legend. Evidence of this is shown when the author describes the scenery and mentions that “At the highest point in Tarifa, there is an old fort. Built by the Moors.” (Coelho, 33)The plot line shifts continents and is currently found in a city called Tangier, which is found in Morocco (North Africa). We can confirm this setting because we find that the main language is Arabic, which Santiago isn’t accustomed to. Clues such as “the gigantic pipe” (Coelho, 34) which can also be referred to as a shisha; “women with their faces covered” (34) and “priests that climbed to the tops of towers and chanted” (34) all suggest an Arabic (Muslim) community.

The final setting is in the Sahara desert, in which Santiago crosses in order to get to Egypt. Once again, clues such as the Al Fayoum oasis which is located near the Nile River as well as the Arabic people confirm the final major setting of the novel.

Plot summary

Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist follows the story of a young Andalusian boy named Santiago whose adventure begins after having a reoccurring dream about him and a mysterious treasure found in the Pyramids of Egypt. Piqued by curiosity, the young encounters numerous individuals, who influence his journey (both positively and negatively) to his treasure. Some of these individuals include: the Gypsy, the king of Salem, the thief at Tangier port, the Crystal Merchant, the baker, the Englishman, Fatima as well as the Alchemist himself.

The main event in the story is set when Santiago is forced to make a series of sacrifices in order to obtain his Personal Legend. For example, the first instance is when he follows the king of Salem’s advice to sell his sheep and to travel to Tangier. The King teaches Santiago about omens which aid Santiago in making the right decisions. However, the young boy got robbed and therefore got a job at a Crystal merchant’s shop. There, he was able to teach the merchant on the meanings of life and how he shouldn’t have given up on pursuing his own Personal Legend to one day travel to the Mecca. By making enough money, Santiago is able to pay his way across the Sahara desert towards the sands of Egypt by means of a caravan. He then encounters an Englishman, who has also set himself on a journey in order to find his Personal Legend (to become an Alchemist). Through this man, Santiago learns about alchemy and the amount of difficulty associated with it. Arriving at an oasis, Santiago envisions a horde of men attacking the desert and warns the chieftains. They were successfully able to defend against these men and Santiago finds the opportunity to meet the Alchemist in person. The Alchemist teaches the boy an innumerable amount of valuable lessons such as “listening to one’s heart, never giving up, understanding the Soul of the World” etc. Santiago is put to the ultimate test when he has been captured by a group of Arabic soldiers and ordered him to turn himself into the wind as a display of his magical powers. By linking his heart to the Soul of the World, Santiago communicates with the sun, the wind and The Hand that Wrote All which invoked a powerful storm that brought Santiago to the other side of the hostile camp. Santiago and the Alchemist were free and Santiago finally makes it to the Pyramids of Egypt. However, Santiago is severely beaten and robbed at his final destination. One of the men describes his own dream as having seen a treasure buried at an abandoned church beside a Sycamore tree in Spain. Alarmed, Santiago finally understood this meaning and found his own treasure which has been at the starting point of his whole journey.

Author relevance/ Writing Style

Paulo Coelho is the author of one of the most compelling books that I and many others have ever read. I believe that the character of Santiago is easily portrayed by the author himself as both undergo a quest of self-freedom and to find their own happiness. Similar to Santiago’s job as a Sheppard, Paulo’s dream of becoming a writer was heavily frowned upon by the members of his family. His mother told him that his father was a very bright engineer and that becoming a writer wasn’t a job that got a lot of praise. As a matter of fact, Santiago’s parents were equally perplexed about his dream of becoming a Sheppard. Unlike Coelho’s family however, the young boy’s parents accepted his dream quicker than the author.

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The turning of point of Paulo’s life was when he walked the 500 plus mile Road of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. During this pilgrimage, Paulo had a spiritual awakening and therefore had a different view on life. This part of his life had a great impact on his award winning novel. It is without a doubt that the protagonists name had been inspired by the city of Santiago de Compostela. Similar to the sheep in the novel, Coelho lived his life solely on “food and water” and wasn’t living his life in order to pursue his Personal Legend, which was to become a full-time writer. The obstacles that Coelho have faced in order to become a writer, and therefore fulfilling his own Personal Legend, are paralleled to Santiago’s own obstacles in the novel. Depression, thievery as well as physical assault are things that both the author and Santiago have undergone before realising their dream. Unlike Coelho however, Santiago had moral guidance as well as charms (Urim and Thummim) in order to guide him to realise his quest with better ease.

After having read the author’s biography, I find that Santiago’s journey was not necessarily an adventure to find a material treasure, but also a pilgrimage for a spiritual awakening (similar to Coelho’s path). Important messages such as “listening to one’s heart, following ones dream, understanding the Soul of the World etc.” are things that Coelho himself has also endured. During his pilgrimage, he has ultimately formed a bond with nature and it is very apparent in his writing style when he brings inanimate elements such as the sun and wind to life. Coelho has a very interesting style of writing that appeals a lot to me personally. Many books nowadays are several hundreds of pages long and focusing too much on scenery/setting that often detract readers from understanding any type of moral or life-changing message. Similar to my literary compositions, I strive to only include key points and keep most “text-fillers” out. Although The Alchemist is a very short novel, Coelho avoids many unnecessary descriptions such as the scenery, characters and his use of imagery is very limited. Even having completed the novel, we do not know of many of the character’s age nor their physical appearance. The reason being is that Coelho neglected most of these useless elements to develop the story’s main message: to follow one’s Personal Legend. Using a linear progression of writing, the author keeps the story rolling with plot-relevant details such as what the character is doing.


I believe one of the most important messages in this whole novel is to simply “follow one’s dream”. Although this cheesy theme has been recycled many times and can be found in various films and literary works alike, Coelho’s writing style is what sets his book apart from the others. For example, the author’s use of Alchemy greatly enforces the books central theme. As the practice of Alchemy is to transform an ordinary stone (particularly lead, in this book) to gold, we can metaphorically associate Santiago to a block of lead. The process of alchemy does take several years and this is also associated with the time that Santiago spent in the Spanish pastures, Tarifa, Tangier and the desert in order to better understand his Personal Legend. Once Santiago met the Alchemist (the final piece to the puzzle) he got a crash course on spiritual awakening, listening to his heart/soul and communicating with nature. That was the final process in which Santiago needed to undergo in order for him to be fully transformed from a piece of lead to gold, hence fulfilling his Personal Legend and finding his treasure under the sycamore tree at the abandoned church.

I’m sure that most of us can relate to this particular theme as we all have had our personal aspirations or goals during our lifetime. When looking at most successful people in the world such as Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Bill Gates or even Steve Jobbs, they didn’t lives solely off “food and water” as the Crystal Merchant, Baker and Santiago’s sheep did. They did have material possessions at the time but the difference is that they made risks in their lives in order to achieve their dreams (whatever they may be). The same applies to Santiago, when he made a huge sacrifice of giving up his sheep to get money in order to travel to Egypt. Many novels illustrate some form of sacrifice in order to fulfill their own dreams. Using the books theory, Mother Theresa was also an ordinary woman, who was ordained a Saint several years ago after devoting herself to help the poor.

Although I have not figured out my Personal Legend yet, I believe that the book points out important problems with the world around us. I see the Crystal Merchant as a metaphor to the Average Joe of the modern era. A person that is solely content with his material possessions and the ways things are. Even Newton’s first law of physics (inertia) shows us that our body loves to be found at a same position and attempts to resist to changes. Consequently, a lot of us don’t travel far enough from our comfort zone because we are either scared of the unknown or scared that we will falter.

Literary Devices/Predictions

In Coelho’s novel, the most prominent and important literary device is foreshadowing. My predictions set for my novel are heavily based on the clues I encounter from the reoccurring elements of foreshadowing. However, other literary devices such as irony, metaphors, personifications, symbols, motifs, themes are also included in the novel. The first prediction that I made within the first couple of pages of the novel was his dream about having sought out his Personal Legend in the Pyramids of Egypt along with the help of a boy. Before having completed the book, I assumed that this boy was to be later revealed as an alchemist; however the identity of this boy remains concealed. This element of foreshadowing plays a big role in the overall progression of the book as it is this incident that sparks the whole story line as it initiates him to talk to the Gypsy, in which he later encounters the king of Salem etc.

After all of Santiago’s influences, I’ve came to the conclusion that he would nonetheless have a change in his personality one way or another. Since Santiago’s journey relies heavily on the use of omens, it is easy to predict future events and the decisions that he will make in order to accomplish a task. For example, I’ve predicted that the Crystal Merchant would surely travel to the Mecca to realise his Personal Legend after having encountered Santiago and deemed him as a “good omen”. I’ve also predicted Santiago’s loss of hope and that he would ultimately give up his journey after he packed up his bags to return to Spain. However, I later discovered that the omens of Urim and Thummim have signalled to Santiago that he must not give up and must in fact continue his journey to find his Personal Legend. Further on in the story, I noticed that Santiago and the Alchemist have encountered hostile Arabic soldiers on their way to the Pyramids. I then noted that travelling in such an area would lead to their eventual capture.

On the note of literary devices, personification played a grand role in the development of the climax (human traits were given to the sun, wind as well as the Hand that Wrote All). The story alludes to many characters throughout history as well as mythology. For example, Biblical allusion is made towards the king of Jerusalem “Melchizedek” who brought bread and wine and offered a blessing (Urim and Thummim in The Alchemist) to Abraham after he won a harsh battle. Also, in the novel’s prologue, there is allusion to the Greek mythology’s Narcissus. This character brings to our attention that everyone is a part of the Soul of the World. Evidence of this is shown when the lake mentions “I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful. I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see, in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected” (Coelho, X).


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