The Alchemist presents a simple fable, based on simple truths and places it in a highly unique situation. And though we may sniff a bestselling formula, it is certainly not a new one: even the ancient tribal storytellers knew that this is the most successful method of entertaining an audience while slipping in a lesson or two. Brazilian storyteller Paulo Coelho introduces Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who one night dreams of a distant treasure in the Egyptian pyramids. And so he's off: leaving Spain to literally follow his dream. 

Source for Review: Nature of Spirit

PART ONE

  1. The novel opens with Santiago thinking about his sheep.  What does he observe about their existence?  How might the sheep symbolize the way some people live their lives? How does his observation that they “have forgotten to rely on their own instincts” foreshadow later events in the story?
  2. How does Santiago’s father react when his son tells him that he wants to travel?
  3. To what degree is his father’s observation about travelers (“They come in search of new things, but when they leave they are basically the same people they were when they arrived.”) true about Santiago?
  4. Why does the old fortune teller say that Santiago’s dream is difficult to interpret?.  Why is Santiago suspicious of her?
  5. The old man tells Santiago the story about the miner and the emerald.  How does it connect to Santiago’s situation?  What does he mean when he says that “treasure is uncovered by the force of flowing water, and it is buried by the same currents”?  What does this quote have to do with the miner/emerald story?  
  6. What point does the old man’s story about the boy in the castle and the drops of oil make?  How might this story apply to us in our modern lives?
  7. How does the King assist Santiago in recognizing omens?  When does Santiago use this help?
  8. How do Santiago’s thoughts and perceptions about himself and the world begin to change?  Describe three things that Santiago sees now that he had never noticed before.

PART TWO

  1. What lessons does Santiago learn by working at the crystal shop?  Why do you think Coelho chose crystal?  How does the crystal merchant’s explanation for not taking the pilgrimage to Mecca highlight the difference between Santiago and the merchant?  What effect does the merchant say Santiago has had on him?
  2. The Englishman and his goals are described.  What is he looking for? What does he demonstrate to Santiago that he already knows?  The Englishman says that the progress made at the crystal shop is an example of the principle of the Soul of the World. What does he mean?  How does he define this?  How does he connect the idea to the relationship between the caravan and the desert?
  3. The oasis is described in great detail.  How does its lushness, laughter and color reflect what Santiago finds there?  Where else in the story does Coelho provide details about the physical setting in order to lend more meaning to the events which occur there?  
  4. Explain how Santiago’s union with Fatima represents the Language of the World, according to Santiago.  Why does Fatima accept that her new husband wanders the desert, as she explains?
  5. What is the meaning of the two dead hawks and the falcon in the oasis?  How does this omen change Santiago’s status in society?
  6. During his trek through the desert with the alchemist, Santiago is told of many basic truths.  The alchemist says, “There is only one way to learn.  It’s through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey.”  What are some of the things Santiago has learned through action?
  7. Why do you think the alchemist tells Santiago the story about the man’s dream about the two sons (the poet and the soldier)?
  8. Why did Santiago have to go through the dangers of the tribal wars on the outskirts of the oasis in order to reach the Pyramids? At this point, the boy remembers the old proverb: “The darkest hour of the night came just before the dawn.”  How does this apply to his situation now?  At the end of the journey, why did the alchemist leave Santiago alone to complete it?
  9. Earlier in the story, the alchemist told Santiago, “When you possess great treasures within you, and try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed.”  At the end of the story, how did this simple lesson change Santiago’s life?  How did it lead him back to the treasure he was looking for?
  10. What was one lesson that Santiago learned on his journey that you have personally identified with during the reading?  Find the quotation from the story and include this in your answer.  If you were to adopt this quotation as your life focus, how would you use it to better your daily choices?
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Source for discussion questions: Mrs. Koplik, Literature and Language Arts
Click here: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.