Literary Yard

Search for meaning

Unearthing the true treasure in Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’

By Onkar Sharma

Santiago, a shepherd and the protagonist of Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’, goes after a treasure but finds many as far as I understood the tale. I suddenly drew out the book from my library after many years and relooked at it. Overjoyed at the story of the key character’s search for treasure, I thought I should share my thoughts about this. The novel or the self-help book, as the New York Times categorizes it, is a true delight, a timeless story that has come out to leave readers with a secret message. The message of understanding the Soul of the Universe without man-made biases.

Hunting within

Just like Santiago roams around places tirelessly to find the treasure, readers do also flow with him. However, there is a key message that rises very clearly. That is, the boy’s stoic perception towards the treasure. He hasn’t been depicted as hungry for wealth. Unlike several treasure-hunt tales, he often seems satisfied and contented with what he achieves at different stages of the story. The boy’s stance leaves us to introspect about our lives and forces us to rethink the way we pursue wealth and materials.

Further, in the narrative, Coelho has woven several motifs, myths, symbols and cultural/social milieu like a supreme master. He seems to unleash and control the characters dexterously, maybe, to leave readers additional food for thought. Most of the characters mean something– literally and allegorically.

Rediscovering the treasure

Having met an old man, he embarks upon a life-changing journey that takes him away from his land, across the sea, among strange people and into the desert. At the end of the story, the boy is able to find the treasure he was running after. The treasure which he unearthed under the Sycamore tree in the abandoned church, from where the story begins. But the readers should not be led into believing that the true treasure, which he found at the end of the story and for which he chased the distance to the Pyramids of Giza, was the box of gold and silver coins. Instead, the true treasure was the entire journey of being an alchemist for which he faced difficult, life-threatening situations and discovered the soul of the world by learning a common language that transcends the barriers of letters and scripts. It is the language of the heart, which helps the boy find the true spirit of the world. The true treasure, which the boy discovers and which the readers rejoice, does not lie in the box but in living the journey and achieving the state of being an alchemist.  

Unlocking symbols

At the same time, critical is also to unlock the true meaning of symbols that appear at every step in the story in the form of stones, trees, an old man, a crystal man, a desert, a fortune teller, an Englishman, an oasis, the hawks, thieves, storms, desert and tribesmen. Every symbol embeds a surface as well as a hidden meaning. These symbols try to speak for themselves out loud.

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