Summary of Paulo Chehlo's The Alchemist

Paulo Chelho’s The Alchemist, presents readers with a philosophy, The philosophy is that everyone has a “personal legend” they must find that will lead them to happiness and joy. However, we have the choice to follow our “personal legend”. Ironically, the characters in this book seem to contradict this philosophy. They do not make choices for themselves, only doing what they are told to do by others, or what they can read into certain omens and signs.

Thus, we have an anomaly of choice: do you follow your “personal legend” and give up your freewill and become happy, or do we choose not to follow our “personal legend” and live freely, but unhappily? Santiago, the protagonist, is a shepherd. At the start of the novel, he is planning on asking a young lady’s hand in marriage. He is happy with his lot in life until he meets Melchizedek, a mysterious man of “great wisdom,” who reveals to Santiago the concept of the “personal legend”. This “personal legend” is something that drives every man, women, and child to be happy, or else they wind up feeling empty and useless. Apparently, the earth “conspires” to help everyone find their “personal legend” by giving forthcoming omens, everything from some random bird flying overhead to someone stealing all your money. Developing this philosophy plays out throughout The Alchemist.

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When Melchizedek tells Santiago to go on a journey to Egypt, Santiago drops everything, from the sheep that he cares dearly about to the girl he was going to marry. There is some consideration involved, but not a lot. He does what Melchizedek says, mainly because he is a mysterious man who seems kind of biblically cool. Thus, fifty pages into The Alchemist we have the first of many obvious violations of the philosophy of a “personal legend”. Santiago, on his journey to Egypt, learns many lessons and much wisdom. Actually, I lied.

Santiago just learns that some people wind up not following their “personal legends”, but they are still happy. One such person is the Crystal Merchant he meets and works for. For many years, the idea of following his “personal legend” of traveling to the holy city of Mecca was enough for the Crystal Merchant. Eventually the Crystal Merchant gives up on his “personal legend”, but still seems content, if bored, running his marginally profitable business. After the Crystal Merchant meets Santiago, he decides to continue pursuing to his “personal legend”, because he believes it will be good for him, even if it just relieves the boredom.

This is the first major contradiction to the idea of the “personal legend”. Some people will never succeed in their “personal legend”, but they can still be happy. Destiny is the idea that everything is already preordained in the stars and that any choice you make has already been chosen for you by “fate” or some higher power. You wind up thinking you are making your own choices, when in reality everything has already been decided, including how you “decide”. The idea of the “personal legend” is that you have some choice to go after your “personal legend”, but at the same time, Melchizedek says that everyone is “destined” to go after their “personal legend” and that the “world conspires to help you find it”.

Wait, what? The “personal legend” is something you are destined to go after, right? Yet, you have a choice to go after it? These are two diametrically apposed ideas. How can you have a choice when destiny is involved? Melchizedek says that you both have a choice and that it is destiny. Both of these statements can not be true at the same time. So really, this whole idea of a “personal legend” just got a bit fuzzier to define. Paulo Chelho’s The Alchemist is a novel full of grand ideas about life. You have a destiny to find something that will make you happy, whether it be treasure, a trip, a girl, a top score on a video game.

This is your “personal legend”. But there are contradictions all throughout the book, from the axiom of whether you can choose to look for your “personal legend” or not, to whether you even need a “personal legend” to be happy. The Alchemist tries to present a way of living that will improve readers lives. Instead of completing that goal, it just makes readers confused wondering if they should pursue their goals or to wait for “fate” to intervene on their behalf.