Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist has become one of the most translated stories ever to be published. Written originally in Portuguese, this award-winning book follows a young Andalusian shepherd boy searching for a distant treasure that he has seen only in his dreams.

The Alchemist 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.

Summary of The Alchemist

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 1988 (Portuguese edition); 1993 (English edition)
  • Length: 163 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 910
  • Recommended Grade Band: 8-10

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."

What Your Students Will Love About The Alchemist

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

Potential Student Struggles With The Alchemist

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

Learning Objectives for 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 potential reasons for including these two religions in the story.
  • Discuss the theme of spirituality in the book.

Literary Elements in The Alchemist

  • Allegory
  • Allusion
  • Fable
  • Foreshadowing
  • Interior monologue
  • Metaphor
  • Narrator
  • Pathetic fallacy
  • Simile
  • Symbolism
  • And more!

Major Themes in The Alchemist

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 communication with and an understanding of nature.

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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.

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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."

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Other Resources for The Alchemist

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 Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Alchemist Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

This free guide was originally posted in December 2017. It has been updated as of January 2020.