The Alchemist Analyzed Through the Moral-Philosophical Approach
Literature is a powerful tool that serves as moral guidance and fosters ethics and virtues. For centuries, philosophers have said that the largest function of literature is to teach morality and to reveal important philosophical issues. Roman poet Horace for instance, says that literature should be “delightful and instructive.” In turn, Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist, explores the purpose of life through several philosophies and moral teachings in the novel. The novel begins when protagonist Santiago, embarks on a spiritual journey towards fulfillment during which the author reveals several teachings. He offers wisdom on the interconnectedness of the world, the importance of living without fear, always maintaining hope, following dreams, and true love. Through the moral-philosophical approach, the reader can better understand and appreciate The Alchemist as well as determine the moral and philosophical lessons present.
Everything in existence is joined in unity by a spiritual force. There is a divine connection between the living and nonliving things, humans, and nature, and together, everything serves a purpose. This interconnectedness is called the Soul of the World and it is the root of everything. The reason that alchemists can turn any metal to gold is that it is the destiny of that metal to become gold. Alchemists help elements realize their destiny much like the Alchemist helps Santiago realize his own Personal Legend. Coelho acknowledges this principle of unity when Santiago becomes one with the wind. To embody the wind, he must be in harmony with the desert, sun, and wind and ask for help from each element. The more connected that they become, the greater the purpose is served. Later, while conversing with the sun, Santiago realizes that interconnectedness is regulated by those and that which are connected, “It is we who nourish the Soul of the World, and the world we live in will be either better or worse, depending on whether we become better or worse” (Coelho 155). This principle of unity teaches the reader that every action has a cause and effect and that “every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world” (Coelho 163). All beings are governed by the Soul of the World, however, all people are a part of this spiritual union and every individual is free to make choices that will in turn affect themselves and others.
Moreover, choices and decisions must be made for action to be taken. Hesitation is a limiting factor that separates those who dream a dream and those realize a dream. An individual must have faith to realize his destiny. For instance, Santiago dreams of traveling, so he leaves his regular life behind and becomes a shepherd boy. He travels vast distances and sees beautiful cities and landscapes. His faith and confidence lead him to where he wants to go. Santiago is comfortable with his life when one day, he meets his Personal Legend who tells him he must go “find the hidden treasure in Egypt” (Coelho 24). Initially, Santiago is hesitant to trust a stranger, but he has faith and Santiago realizes this is his true desire. Santiago eventually finds his treasure and fulfills his destiny. Alternatively, those who always hesitate will never realize their dreams. Santiago works for a crystal merchant for a year while in Morocco and learns that the merchant has never been able to fulfill his dream. The merchant is a devout Muslim who dreams of going to visit the Mecca, the most important place in Islam religion, but his fear restricts him. When asked by Santiago why he does not go to the Mecca, the merchant responds, “it’s the thought of Mecca that keeps me alive. That’s what helps me face all these days that are the same. I’m afraid that if my dream is realized, I’ll have no reason to go on living” (Coelho 57). The moral lesson is that faith and initiative lead to success. If action is not taken, there will be no result or change, however, those who do act can realize their dreams.
Additionally, living in the present is imperative to further grow and evolve as an individual. One must not be afraid of the unknown because the unknown is already known by the Soul of the World. One must not dwell on the past because it is over and cannot be changed. In the novel, the crystal merchant uses the Arabic expression maktub, which means “everything is written”, to explain to Santiago the reason that nobody should live in fear (Coelho 61). Fear and worry about the future or past are senseless as everything is set in stone. Likewise, Ileana Marcoulesco, author of Free Will and Determinism, also concurs that “everything that ensues is bound to happen as it does and in no other possible way, thus, nothing in nature is random or accidental.” The Alchemist explains to Santiago that one must focus solely on the present. He tells Santiago “I don’t live in either my past or my future. I’m interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. Life will be a party for you […] because life is the moment we’re living right now” (Coelho 87). Coelho’s moral teaching is to live in the present and enjoy the journey of life. How people engage in the present moment will directly impact their lives. One must embrace the atmosphere and the Soul of the World and cherish every present moment.
Everyone must live in the pursuit of their individual dreams. People must listen to their hearts as they will always lead them to pure love, happiness, and joy. The Soul of the World assigns every individual a Personal Legend, a true desire, that one must work towards to discover through omens and the language of the universe. Once found, the individual must follow this dream to fulfill their destiny. In the novel, Santiago meets with his Personal Legend who tells him his dream or goal is to find a hidden treasure in the pyramids of Egypt. He also tells Santiago that “to realize one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only real obligation” (Coelho 24). This means that if Santiago follows his Personal Legend, he is guaranteed fulfillment and happiness as it is his ultimate purpose in life. Santiago chooses to pursue his dream and he embarks on his journey. Eventually, after several setbacks, Santiago finds his treasure. Coelho’s concept of following one’s Personal Legend is also paralleled in Indian Philosophy and its religions which supports Coelho’s idea of following one’s destiny. The Soul of the World may be represented by Brahman the Hindu supreme being, the Personal Legend serves as the Dharma or one’s destiny, and once the destiny is fulfilled, Nirvana is reached which is a state of enlightenment (Hinduism Facts). This principle of following one’s Personal Legend teaches the reader to passionately pursue one’s dreams and to follow one’s heart. Through Santiago’s journey, the reader learns that if an individual follows their dreams and their desires, they will live a satisfied and fulfilled life.
Throughout the journey of someone following their dreams, it is inevitable that at some point they will fail, or experience set backs. The individual must stay confident and maintain hope even in the most difficult times so that they can continue following their dreams. Nothing worth having is easily obtained and failure is part of the process. In The Alchemist, Santiago experiences several setbacks that nearly lead him to return home. Along his journey, he is robbed, attacked, and kidnapped but he continues as he knows that the end will be worth the turmoil. While talking to his Personal Legend, Santiago is told, “when we first begin fighting for our dreams, we have no experience and make many mistakes. The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and get up eight times” (Coelho 11). This piece of advice served to be very beneficial for Santiago as he continued his journey after facing numerous hurdles. This moral principle of never giving up teaches the reader that although one may be going through a difficult time while working towards their dreams, things always get better if one remains persistent. Through Santiago’s tenacious attitude, the reader learns that for one to feel fulfilled and satisfied, one must work hard toward their dreams and never give up.
As a result of never giving up and always maintaining hope, true love is achieved. True love is limitless, and it can overcome the hardest complications. When the novel begins, Santiago is looking forward to seeing the beautiful merchant girl once again however what he feels for the girl is merely attraction and not love. For this reason, it is very easy for Santiago to forget the girl and continue with his journey towards the treasure. In contrast, Fatima, the girl Santiago meets while on his journey, is the love of his life and he even considers ending his journey to be with her. However, Fatima does not encourage Santiago to end his journey. Fatima’s love does not prevent Santiago from pursuing his fate because she is a part of his destiny. The fundamental difference between attraction and true love is that true love never stops one from living their life to the fullest. When speaking of Fatima and Santiago’s love, Coelho explains, “this is what we call love. When you are loved, you can do anything in creation. When you are loved, there’s no need at all to understand what’s happening, because everything happens within you” (Coelho 147). The moral lesson of love Coelho teaches the reader is that true love has no bounds and that it does not limit the individual nor their partner. True love can withstand all obstacles and can overcome any hardship.
In Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, the author uses the spiritual journey of shepherd boy Santiago, to teach the reader numerous moral lessons. With each passing hurdle or obstacle that Santiago faces, there is a lesson to be learned. Each lesson teaches the boy as well as the reader that they must always follow their heart, follow their Personal Legend no matter the difficulties, never let fear overcome their decisions, and never lose hope. Through the moral-philosophical approach, the reader can criticize the novel based on the ethical and moral values it teaches and better understands the meaning of the story.
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