Maulo Coelho's The Alchemist has become one of the most translated stories ever to be published. It tells an inspirational tale about following one's dreams, and challenges students to consider the significance of omens, prophecies, and the idea of attributing human feelings to inanimate objects. The Alchemist also explores the power of the universe and its ability to help or hurt a person as he pursues his "Personal Legend." With overarching themes of nature, spirituality, and the pursuit of dreams, this narrative is sure to provide students with a uniquely uplifting perspective on life.

In the classroom, students are encouraged to discuss ideas of religion and faith as they relate to life and death. They may also be interested in the idea of one's own "Personal Legend" and having the determination to see dreams develop into reality.

1. Summarize The Alchemist

The Alchemist details the life of Santiago, a shepherd boy who is curious about a recurring dream in which he is told that a treasure awaits him at the Egyptian pyramids. Both a Gypsy woman and a magical man named Melchizedek confirm that his dream is a prophecy, and they implore him to go to Egypt. As Santiago embarks on this exciting journey, he encounters an alchemist who not only helps him pursue his quest for the mysterious treasure, but also teaches him to listen to his heart and to never disregard omens. Thus, the journey takes on a much deeper meaning than the pursuit of physical goods; Santiago learns to trust in the power of the universe and to always follow his dreams, or what the characters call his "Personal Legend."

2. Identify Objectives for Teaching The Alchemist:

  • Identify and give examples of literary devices used in the novel, including metaphor, simile, and symbolism.
  • Discuss the role of fable in the novel.
  • Comment on the balance between the use of a narrator and of an interior monologue in showing Santiago's growth as a character.
  • Identify Muslim and Christian elements in the novel and discuss reasons for including these two religions in the story.
  • Discuss the theme of spirituality in the book.

3. Pinpoint Key Facts and Literary Elements

Key Facts

  • Length: 163 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 910
  • Publication Date: 1998
  • Recommended Grade Band: 8 – 10
  • New York Times Bestseller
  • Nielsen Gold Book Award (2004)
  • Corine International Award (2002)

Literary Elements

  • Fable
  • Foreshadowing
  • Interior monologue
  • Metaphor
  • Pathetic fallacy
  • Simile
  • Symbolism

4. Understand Themes and Motifs

  • Nature — The novel supports the notion that humans are one with nature; the Soul of the World binds all living things together to create unity. According to the book, a truly successful life requires both a communication with and understanding of nature.
  • Spirituality — Spirituality is viewed, in some ways, as an alternative to traditional religion in the novel. This theme emphasizes the importance of connecting with something bigger than one's self, whether that entails a relationship with the universe, or any other higher power that a person may believe in.
  • The Pursuit of Dreams — The main action in the novel revolves around Santiago's quest to follow a recurring dream he has. Yet, he also learns that dreams are not just about acquiring worldly physical objects. To pursue one's dream means to pursue one's "Personal Legend."

5. Explore Related Works

Theme of Nature

Theme of The Spirituality

Theme of the Pursuit of Dreams

6. Employ Films and Other External Resources

7. Consider What Your Students Will Love

  • The uplifting, inspirational nature of the plot
  • The universal theme of journeying for one's dreams

8. Anticipate What Your Students May Struggle With

  • Understanding the text's connection to earlier fables
  • Being open-minded to spirituality as an alternative to traditional religion

9. Order The Alchemist Resources from Prestwick House:

Resource Format
The Alchemist Paperback Student Edition
The Alchemist Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Alchemist AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Alchemist Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

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See all our Teacher's Guides to Literature here.