Literary Devices in “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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In the opening of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Coelho uses numerous stylistic techniques to not only inspire his readers but also to instill his message through thematic elements. Through the character interactions, symbols, and allusions presented in the first few pages of this novel, Coelho is able to present various lessons to the reader. To explain, a significant technique of Coelho is his use of style and language. The novel is told in past tense, which provides him with a storyteller presentation, establishing a knowledgeability and trust in Coelho, that make readers pay attention to his blunt and straightforward sentences. His sentence structure in itself is a method of captivating his audience, as their simple structure is easy for readers to understand, and therefore making it easier to comprehend the intricate metaphors and rhetorical devices.

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In other words, the simple sentences make the literary devices stand out, such as the use of personification, irony, metaphors, allusions, and themes Coelho sprinkles throughout the novel. Furthermore, the literary devices presented within these sentences have a distinguished purpose: form a relatable story to develop a moral lesson. The Alchemist is a parable, as it uses a relatable story to develop a moral lesson. In this section, Santiago is introduced, whose journey is to realize and fulfill his Personal Legend. The story of his travels and challenges equate to an overall extended metaphor for the reader to follow and reflect upon.

Literary Techniques In The Alchemist

Additionally, this plot is told through a series of character interactions, rather than events, as seen in the encounter with the merchant’s daughter, the fortune teller, and Melchizedek to be more relatable. Coelho develops such characters and includes their interactions with Santiago as a method of discretely conveying his themes and lessons to the reader. For example, as Santiago is a traveling shepherd, he encounters the daughter of a merchant he is bartering with. He is fascinated and baffled by her but mostly is interested in her because she was impressed that he could read and listened to his stories. As a lonely shepherd that is constantly traveling, he is plagued with the desire to settle down with her, but Coelho includes this pain as a valuable lesson to readers. His superficial attraction is much like the Greek story of Narcissus Coelho includes in the prologue: a warning of the destructive nature and effects of self-love and vanity. Coelho is alluding to the potential vain found in love, and to be wary of the cause of one’s emotions. Additionally, it should be noted that the story of Narcissus and his reflection of the water represents that the reader should “”reflect”” on him/herself.

Moreover, the complicated nature of Santiago’s relationship with the merchant’s daughter is seen in his decision of whether to stay with her or follow his Personal Legend. His choice to follow his quest and leave her behind is a lesson Coelho is demonstrating? despite one’s situation, there is always the option of pursuing one’s dream. As a result, readers are able to universally reflect on whatever challenges or tough decisions they are facing, and have the inspiration for Santiago to go for it. Another critical interaction is between Santiago and the Gypsy fortune teller. As Santiago is consulting with her, he becomes frustrated that she does not analyze his dreams, but rather tells him what he already knows. However, her argument is an example of Coelho’s lesson in simplicity. She argues that “”it’s the simplest things in life that are the most extraordinary; only wise men are able to understand them”” (17). Coelho is advising the reader through the Gypsy to not overlook the simple, such as Santiago’s dreams, as it might just be the calling of a Personal Legend. She further explains through a metaphor: “”Dreams are the language of God. When he speaks 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”” (15).

The fortune-teller is distinguishing here between “our language” and the “language of the soul,” referencing a transcendentalist concept, where everything is connected to an entity called the Soul of the World. With this idea, God is synonymous with everything, which creates a feeling of hope for readers as it supports ideas like fate, destiny, and Personal Legends. Furthermore, in this metaphor, the fortune teller is simultaneously persuading Santiago to follow his dream as fate supports him, while also bestowing the power into his hands since only he can understand it fully. As a reader, this language and message is appealing to both supporters of fate and free will and achieves Coelo’s purpose to inspire a large audience. By use of a metaphor, he is establishing that readers should trust their dreams and follow their passions. Santiago’s final critical interaction in this section is shared with an old man by the name of Melchizedek, who claims to be the King of Salem. This rather spiritual character acts as a guide for Santiago. However, some of his advice can be contradictory. When guiding Santiago, he advises him to be independent and self-reliant, while he himself is involving himself in other’s paths.

The Irony in The Alchemist

Coelho uses irony as another literary device to motivate his readers. By the method of irony, Coelho is able to appeal to mass amounts of people, as he is advocating for both perspectives. Some readers may believe in independence, while some might respond to guidance. With the character Melchizedek, Coelho can help readers find their personal legends or goals by not only giving advice but expressing it through different forms: active and passive. For example, this irony is seen when Santiago asks “‘What’s the world’s greatest lie'” (), and the old man responds with the following: “‘It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie'” (). Here, Melchizedek is asserting that anyone is able to achieve their goals, despite his/her situation. However, he later says that our path is already decided, and that “‘whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on earth.'” (). Here, Melchizedek is arguing that individuals have control over their own actions, while also having the security that there is a plan. By using this irony, Coelho empowers readers to take action as it is his/their responsibility, while also having the reassurance that no matter what they are doing, fate supports him/them. The encounter with Melchizedek is also crucial as he introduces the idea of Personal Legends.

When reviewing Santiago’s book, he asserts that many sacrifices pursuing one’s dream and rather settle for a comfortable lifestyle. He puts the power into the reader’s hands to take control of his/her life as if his/her dream is unfulfilled, it is his/her fault, while also reassuring the rewards of taking risks. Through Melchizedek’s words, Coelho is able to take the reader from his/her comfortable life and inspire him/her to pursue what they have been scared of. He also reminds readers to not let others opinions persuade us from pursuing our dreams, and not to be concerned with the way they will be viewed by society. This is crucial, as Coelho is connecting to his theme of self-love and Narcissus, as readers should believe in themselves, rather than be concerned with other people, as it will hold us back. Furthermore, his story of the miner demonstrates that one must be persistent to fulfill a Personal Legend. Also, while sharing with Santiago that the baker has settled and has wandered off the path of his personal legend, he teaches Santiago that he should not reveal the truth to those unaware. He does not have the all-knowing, spiritual wisdom of Melchizedek, but has jurisdiction over his own actions. This yet again inspires readers to branch aware of the standard and listen to him/herself.

Melchizedek relates to the reader’s possible experiences with beginner’s luck, by explaining that is a force encouraging the reader to follow his/her Personal Legend. The reader is then able to take the next steps toward his/her goal, assured that there is hope. Finally, the encounter with Melchizedek bears wisdom not only to Santiago but also to the reader through is the story of the boy and the oil drops. This is a parable as the boy is also learning from a wise man like Santiago is from Melchizedek, and the reader is learning from Coelho. Through this story, Coelho is able to demonstrate that achievement and contentment must be balanced. In other words, one must enjoy life while also following one’s Personal Legend. This moral is different from the rest, as Coelho’s goal has been to inspire the reader to pursue his or her dream, however, Coelho is warning readers to not become too distracted in his or her pursuit that they forgot happiness. Melchizedek, as well as the fortune teller and the merchant’s daughter, are episodes in this section of Santiago’s quest that act as Coelho’s instruments to teach morals and life lessons applicable to the reader.

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Literary Devices in "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho. (2019, Dec 24). Retrieved from