There are many important themes in The Alchemist that must be acknowledged. The author wrote a complex book in which he provided plenty of food for thought, putting significant and complicated characters into the book’s ecosystem. With this in mind, one of the most important themes in the book is reading. Books play a prominent role both in the lives of characters in the character development. Ultimately the story is not about reading, but rather, it becomes about the things that reading can provide, including wonder and mystery. Reading plays a major role because books of different kinds are present throughout the work, with some of them being read and others being ignored. Reading is the thing that shows Santiago that he wants more mystery while later allowing him to understand the mysteries of the world outcome of himself.
In the beginning of the book, reading plays a major role. The reader is introduced to a character named Santiago who is reading a book. He discusses how he does not like that all of the main characters are introduced right in the beginning. This can be taken in a way as symbolism. Santiago is not interested in a book where things are just laid out in a predictable way right in front of him. Instead, he is interested in a book where he has to discover new things and wait for some things to be revealed to him. This becomes something of an overarching theme for Santiago’s life. During that early part, he thinks he is going to be a priest. His life is laid out in front of him, with his parents seeing him as a priest and him largely accepting this as what he is going to do in his own life. However, he realizes that this is not what he is meant to do. He realizes that just as reading is boring whenever the characters and their stories are known too early, life can be boring when the subject matter is known far too early. It would be better, he thinks, if the story could have some mysticism so that wonder could be explored down the line.
Likewise, the concept of “reading” is seen in how he seeks out advice on interpreting his dreams. Santiago has already encountered difficulty with his own life plan, and he has sought out more. In addition to reading books, he is also having to read the language of his dreams, which he believes comes from God. His big problem is that he has a difficult time interpreting the things going on in his head. It is as if he is reading a different language. When he goes to the gypsy woman to get some help in reading these dreams for their truth, she provides him with advice on the ways in which God communicates and what it means for human beings. She says, “And 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” (Coelho). This communicates one of the core parts of the book—reading and interpreting is a highly personal process. The symbolism of reading dreams and reading books is all about finding meaning in life. Just as one has to read according to one’s own experience, one cannot interpret dreams with the language of God without doing so from a position of personal experience. Reading becomes a metaphor for the way people are supposed to view the bigger forces in life.
Later in the novel, reading becomes important as the thing that allows Santiago to explore the contours of new knowledge. He knows that he was right to leave a potential life in the priesthood in order to pursue shepherding because it allowed him to see a new side of the world that he would have missed otherwise. However, when he meets the alchemist and he wants to know more about that part of life, he begins to read. He has books that explain to him the things about the world that have been kept from him. Reading, then, becomes an element of liberation. It becomes a tool through which Santiago can gain that which was kept from him for very long. The key element of this is that he lived in a restricted atmosphere, but no one could restrict him when he found books. He discovered through reading not only that there was an entire world of knowledge out there to be digested and consumed, but also the critical fact that there were many people around him who could guide him in learning. He found a world of mentors in the ways of alchemy and other mysticisms where the natural world had denied him that benefit.
Reading in this book is presented as an important theme. It is at the beginning the thing that serves as a metaphor for the way life should be. Santiago wants unpredictable and not boring. His ideas on life and books are much the same. Later, reading becomes a metaphor for interpreting life and seeing meaning through one’s own eyes. Finally, at the end, reading becomes a sign of what it means to break free from some of the chains that may be thrown on people by families and other community forces that seek to keep them from knowing about the true nature of the world around them.
- Coelho, Paulo. “The Alchemist (English Version translated by Alan R. Clark).” (2002).