Following fate Paul Coelho's book the Alchemist is a classic book that focuses on a human beings ability to merge what providence, fate, love and nature have in store for him in order to realize the supreme reason as to why he was created. This book focuses on three dominant themes that are going to be discussed in this literary criticism. It is a story about Santiago, an Andalucían shepherd who goes to Egypt to follow his dream. In this essay, am going to explore the conflict between the following themes; free will and fate, love (natural and human, human and human) and omen versus dreams. Santiago had dreamt of a hidden treasure beneath a pyramid in Egypt.
In the hunt for the hidden treasure, he meets various obstacles that end up giving him life time lessons that later turn out to be valuable to his life. When he meets Melchizedek, an ancient King who had a contradicting dream to that of his, he gains the motivation to search even harder for the hidden treasure. At the end of the story, it turns out that the hidden treasure was the experiences that he went through that ended up giving him wisdom. Wisdom is the major teaching as it is philosophically created and developed in a very simplistic manner as indicated by Sean (2007). The plot of this book took the shape of a fable. Naturally, most people tend to give up and deviate from the course of finding their personal legend. Equally, those who hang on to the pursuit of their personal legend become successful and end up finding the real reason as to why they were created.
This is demonstrated when Santiago finds out that he is one with nature and that nature is him. The ultimate point of his discovery comes up when he turns into wind. This criticism uses the formalist approach where it gives more emphasis on the subject matter and not the author's point of view. In exploring the conflict between free will and fate Santiago, the shepherd, dreams of a treasure that is far beyond his means and abilities, he sets off to Egypt and learns that in life one has to earnestly listen to what his heart tells him and to realize that his own self and fate can control his life. He also realizes that fate has a way of helping us as individuals to realize our dreams and aspirations.
In his personal life, Santiago was a humble shepherd whose needs were limited to acquiring freedom of movement with his animals. He is someone who despised boundaries as they would prevent him from accessing pastures far and beyond. He needed his wineskin to be full always and a book in his bag. With these few 'wants' he was contented and could do anything to be happy. This background allowed him to suspend what fate had for him and used his free will to search for the treasure in his dreams. This is the ultimate point at which the conflict between fate and free will comes into play. What if he succeeded in getting the treasure and became a rich man? What if he died in the course of finding the treasure? He threw all caution to the wind, disregarded his fate/destiny and used his free will to go for the treasure hunt. This is the conflict that Santiago had to compel with in order to set out for the journey.
The dream of the treasure hidden several miles away under the Egyptian pyramids is a revelation that oft happens to all human beings. Fate subjects almost every individual to big dreams and very few people dare to pursue what they dream of. It is this perspective where the human being hangs in the balance of personal choice versus fate. Verily, the text says that "At a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what's happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate."(Coelho, 1988 pg 19) from a common mans point of view, the departure of Santiago to Egypt was heroic and somewhat a hefty gamble. This is so because very few people dare to brave the winds. This is why the wise Melchizedek poses these words to suggest that at times its better if we lose ourselves and let nature control our lives on our behalf because natures call works for the benefit of man, only if man listens to it. Perhaps it is at this point that we have to understand that fate works in tandem with our desires to fulfill our needs, dreams and aspirations. Indeed Melchizedek suggests that "at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what's happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate." (Coelho, 1988 pg 19).
What is most amazing is the fact that we have to submit to the forces of nature and let them control us despite our ability to shape our destinies. He further says that "all events are fated in some way. That could be a short term fate relating to decisions recently made or through some higher power and unseen force. I don't have control over the events." By telling Santiago to discover his personal legend or what he always wanted to achieve the tale develops a central philosophy that is strongly explained in the book. Melchizedek says that 'when you want something, the entire universe conspires in helping you to achieve it' (Coelho 1988, pg 22) this is similar to the philosophy of free will that through some higher unseen force, all events are fated. This could also be easily compared to the theory of attraction or the secret of life, that the more you want something, the more you become attracted to it and therefore the easier you achieve or get it. All these theories have been developed around the philosophy of Melchizedek.
In examining the conflict between natural and human love and human and human love we realize that love has is a true illustration of our day to day lives. Natural love or the love between man and nature is surely stronger than the love between two human beings. This generally is demonstrated by the way one can decide to pursue his own personal legend or natural purpose for which he/she was created. Man and the environment are one and the same. The book cites that "You must understand that love never keeps a man from pursuing his Personal Legend. If he abandons that pursuit, it's because it wasn't true love…the love that speaks the Language of the World" (Coelho, 1988, pg 122).
Man takes real good care of his environment than the way he takes care of his fellow human being. For instance Santiago realizes that the desert is so kind to the Alchemists falcon because it gives it game or wild animals. The falcon then directs the human beings to where these animals are and he uses them as food. The human being shows love to the desert when he dies because he gets reintegrated with the desert sands. Man takes less care of his fellow human being because he can leave the human being in order to pursue the purpose for which he was created. For instance, despite Santiago's love for Fatima's beauty, he is forced to choose between Fatima and his mission of looking for the treasure beneath the pyramids. The alchemist advices that true love won't stop Santiago from pursuing his dreams. It will be patient and it will wait till he finds what he is looking for.
The contrast is what he calls the language of the world. The language of the world will say 'I love you', just for the sake of it. Under normal life circumstances the conflict between dreams and omens has often been real. Omens are the signs that help someone to achieve his dreams. The author says that "God has prepared a path for everyone to follow. You just have to read the omens that he left for you."(Coelho, 1988, pg 29), dreams have often been symbolically followed by signs that have offered leads to their realization. Instinct has often provided the best leads towards the discovery of the paths that should be followed. These are philosophical words that encourage Santiago in his search for his personal legend. The word omens refer to the symbols and challenges that abound people in their search for their destinies.
This is to say that in everything that man sets his foot to do, there is a pre planned schedule or time plan that God has put in place so as to guide man on how he is going to achieve that dream. In fact the author says that"And dreams are the language of God When he speaks in our language, I can interpret what he has said. But if he speaks in the language of the soul, it is only you who can understand. But, whichever it is, I'm going to charge you for the consultation" (13) When we talk about the word dream, it has the meaning of a vision. This is what God has set into someone's plan of life. In other words, it is someone's mission on earth. It's whatever man was created to do in this brief period of time he is on earth. It is for this reason that the Gypsy of Tarifa and Melchizedek urge Santiago to pursue the dream in which a child was showing him a treasure at the base of the pyramids.
Later in the novel, the man who engages in fight with Santiago does not tend to believe his own dream. But when he describes his own dream to Santiago, Santiago recognizes it as an omen that directs him to where the treasure is. This is a symbolic dream that the author describes as the omen. Whereas it breeds a conflict between Santiago and the man, Santiago realizes its benefit. No wonder the author says that "all omens, whether they are major or minor ones, are connected to prophetic dreams."
By saying that Paul Coelho may have recreated this fable form an ancient fable, some critics miss the point. If he alluded to the ancient fable to drive home his point then there is absolutely no problem with that. After all what is the intention of literature? When assessing the belief systems of the Andalucían's whom Santiago shares a common origin in the book, the cultural beliefs and behavioral systems allowed the author to make several allusions that showed the world what goes on in that part of the world, literature is a mirror of the society and that what Paul Coelho demonstrated with this wonderful artistic creation.