The Alchemist

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Themes and Colors
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Alchemist, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon

“Maktub” is a phrase first used by the crystal merchant who employs Santiago, and later it is adopted by other characters, including Santiago, the camel driver, and Fatima. The phrase means, “It is written,” and it is used by these characters to express their conviction that some things are “meant to be.” Rather than having faith in a God with a changeable will, these characters believe in a steadfast, universal plan behind all things. And yet within the novel, the idea of “Maktub” is never presented as contradictory to the free will of the individual in choosing to seek his or her Personal Legend.

The concept of “Maktub” relieves several of the characters of the anxiety of decision-making and risk-taking. For example, the camel driver’s trust in the ways of world, which he believes are “written,” helps him to show Santiago why death need not be feared. The camel driver explains that death is simply a fact, something that is written, and its horror and dread vanishes when one lives in the moment without anxiety over what cannot be changed. Fatima also employs the term “Maktub” to explain her trust in Santiago and their love for each other. She believes that if she and Santiago are intended to be together, he will return to her. This relieves her of the anxiety of his departure, because she trusts that what is “written” will come to pass. If he does not return, it is because their love was not intended to be eternal and true.

Maktub can also be a confusing concept, however, as it includes both change and permanence. Santiago foresees the future—an invasion of the oasis—and he is able to intervene and prevent this outcome. This implies that the future is not completely settled or “written” in a way that is unchangeable—but once Santiago understands that all things are “written,” he is able to speak the Language of the World. This is because everything, including the future, is indeed pre-written. This knowledge helps Santiago to learn how to turn himself into the wind when he needs to impress and escape from the desert tribesmen who take him and the alchemist captive. While this ability to have complete knowledge may seem contradictory to the ability to change the future, the book argues that the world (in which all things are interconnected) is certain, as is one’s destiny, and yet any individual can choose to pursue that destiny or not. The novel also suggests that when one is on that course of pursuing destiny, all knowledge is available. When one is not on that course, however, one’s life is not fulfilled. One’s destiny exists (in the sense that it is written and meant to be), but it is not always realized.

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Maktub and What is Meant to Be ThemeTracker

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Maktub and What is Meant to Be Quotes in The Alchemist

Below you will find the important quotes in The Alchemist related to the theme of Maktub and What is Meant to Be.
Part One Quotes

“You came so that you could learn about your dreams,” said the old woman.

“And dreams are the language of God. When he speaks in 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.”

Related Characters: The Fortune-teller (speaker), Santiago
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Santiago has a recurring dream of a child guiding him to a treasure near the Egyptian Pyramids, and he decides to seek the help of a fortune-teller in interpreting the dream. The fortune-teller offers these cautionary words when Santiago requests her interpretative skills. This quote introduces several ideas that will be important throughout the novel. First, there is the active role that God and spirituality play in this book. Santiago does not operate without divine guidance. He is continually presented with omens that appear either through the physical world or in the words of other people. The fortune-teller believes Santiago’s dreams, which a reader might suppose to be naturally occurring, to be direct information from God. This places the reader into a context in which information from God is real and important to the plot of the novel. Furthermore, this information from God can come in one of two forms: human language or the language of the soul. The fortune-teller does not explain the language of the soul, but it reappears in the novel.

Later in the novel, Santiago learns, through his study of the philosophy of alchemy, how to connect with the world and other beings. He describes this connection at first in terms of a "universal language of the soul." This language of the soul transcends regular language boundaries, as well as the boundaries of species and elements. Through this universal language, Santiago is able to understand the wind and the desert, hawks and the horse he rides. Because this universal language is linked to God in this early passage, the connection between all things is seen as a spiritual connection throughout the novel.


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“It's a book that says the same thing almost all the other books in the world say,” continued the old man. “It describes people’s inability to choose their own destinies. And it ends up saying that everyone believes the world's greatest lie.” “What's the world's greatest lie?” the boy asked, completely surprised. “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.”

Related Characters: Santiago (speaker), Melchizedek (the Old Man) (speaker)
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

Santiago meets an old man in the village square who questions him about the book he is reading. The old man complains about the book because he feels that it propagates the “world’s greatest lie.” This is not a unique problem, as this passage explains. According to this old man, many books rely on and express this same lie: that humans do not choose what happens to them in their lives. This analysis of books inside a book helps show the reader the main goal of Coelho’s novel. Unlike many other books, Coelho is claiming that his book The Alchemist will not continue to spread the world’s greatest lie. The main idea of this novel is the opposite: that we can choose what happens to us in our lives.

Throughout the book, multiple characters discuss the separate ideas of free will and fate. Although this is a fictional novel, these ideas as discussed by characters are intended to be relevant to the reader’s life. This is clear because of the universal language used in this passage and other passages like this. The old man uses “us” and “our” to refer to all humans collectively. He says that “everyone” believes the world’s greatest lie, partially because of books they’ve read. This moment helps all readers stop and reflect on the fact that they are reading a book and that they have probably been influenced by other books they’ve read. Coelho hopes to encourage his readers, just as the old man hopes to encourage Santiago, to examine whether they believe this great lie. (And, of course, whether or not they believe it is a lie at all, or just an oversimplification.)

“In order to find the treasure, you will have to follow the omens. God has prepared a path for everyone to follow. You just have to read the omens that he left for you.”

Related Characters: Melchizedek (the Old Man) (speaker), Santiago
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

Melchizedek gives Santiago several pieces of advice that will serve him well throughout the novel. The character of Melchizedek fills an archetypal role in literature: that of the elder giving helpful information to the protagonist who is setting out on a quest or facing a set of challenges. One of these pieces of advice is described in this passage: Santiago should pay attention to omens that he will receive from God. This idea again speaks to the role that God and spirituality play in this novel. God, who in the novel seems to be one and the same as the Soul of the World (and not associated with any particular world religion), actively guides Santiago. This shows that God is benevolent and engaged in human lives. One example of God guiding humans is through dreams, which the fortune-teller tells Santiago are from God. Another example is the omens. The pursuit of one’s Personal Legend may be easy to forget about and ignore, but once the quest begins one will receive help along the way.

This idea of God helping humans is not specific to Santiago's quest. Melchizedek could have said “God has prepared a path for you to follow,” but instead he says “God has prepared a path for everyone to follow.” This may seem like a subtle distinction, but it continues a larger idea of the novel that the themes and ideas presented here are relevant to the reader’s life, as well as all human lives. The topics of fulfilling one’s dreams and relying on God’s guidance are broadly applicable.

He didn’t consider mending the hole—the stones could fall through any time they wanted. He had learned that there were certain things one shouldn't ask about, so as not to flee from one's own destiny. “I promised that I would make my own decisions,” he said to himself.

Related Characters: Santiago (speaker)
Related Symbols: Urim and Thummim
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

Santiago is alone in Tangier after a man, whom he thought was going to help him, robs him. Some of Santiago’s remaining possessions include Urim and Thummin, the fortune-telling stones. He decides to ask the stones for advice about what to do next. As he begins using the stones, however, one of them falls through a hole in his pocket. This seemingly chance event cause Santiago to pause and reflect on his actions. He remembers promising Melchizedek that he would make his own decisions. Because of this promise, he decides in this passage that he is okay with losing the stones, and that he won't use them to tell him what to do. In addition to keeping his promise, Santiago is here motivated by a new realization: that sometimes too much information isn’t a good thing.

The idea that knowing too much can be a bad thing is further developed with the character of the camel driver, who tells Santiago about seeking information about the future from many fortune-tellers. From these experiences and from his hardships, the camel driver learned to live in the present without fear about the future. Some things are meant to be, and fear won’t change the future. Santiago's choice to not use Urim and Thummin shows a similar type of thinking. Santiago doesn't want to shy away from his future if he learns that it will be difficult. He sees the value of ignorance here. If Santiago doesn’t ask too much about the future, it is because he trusts God to guide him and values making his own decisions.

Part Two Quotes

“Hunches,” his mother used to call them. The boy was beginning to understand that intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it's all written there. “Maktub,” the boy said, remembering the crystal merchant.

Related Characters: Santiago (speaker), The Crystal Merchant
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

Santiago meets a camel driver as he is traveling with a group of tribespeople across the desert. This man is another figure in Santiago’s life that provides him with guidance and life lessons. The camel driver tells Santiago to observe the desert and learn from it. Santiago feels a strong connection with the desert, despite not having grown up in it like many of the travelers. He feels this sense of connection is because he is able to tap into the unity among all things, which is the Soul of the World and the source of a universal language. These different terms are used throughout the novel to get at the same idea.

This passage explains the Soul of the World as a “current of life” that contains everything in the universe, past, present, and future. Accessing this “current of life” clearly enables one to access everything and know everything. This overwhelming power normally appears in human lives as intuition, or “hunches.” It is not quantifiable or explainable, but it is a key truth in the world of this novel.

The Soul of the World is also connected in this passage to another key idea of the book—the idea that some things are “written.” Here, Santiago reflects that this connection is possible because everything about the world is “written,” meaning that everything in the world is generated from one source, God. This involves an idea of predestination and free will--that God knows what will happen, but that humans still have to choose whether to follow what is "written" or not.

“We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it’s our life or our possessions and property. But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand.”

Related Characters: The Camel Driver (speaker), Santiago
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

The camel driver teaches Santiago several important ideas as they travel together. Although he is different from Melchizedek and the Alchemist, his ideas are connected to the teachings of these other two men. The main focus on the camel driver’s character is the role of fear in human lives. His hardships from his past taught him to overcome fear over losing life, possessions, and property. In this quote, the camel driver explains why no person should fear loss. Fear stems from a misunderstanding of the world as a place in which humans can lose or gain things through our own failures or successes. Instead, the camel driver advocates for a worldview in which everything that happens is written by God. This idea reappears in the novel with the Crystal Merchant, who liked to say “maktub,” meaning “it is written,” and later with Fatima, who has faith that Santiago will return to her if their relationship is “meant to be.”

The idea of "maktub" is not placed at odds with free will or the need to actively pursue one’s Personal Legend. Instead, it is used as a way of thinking that provides comfort, reassurance, and peace. If one holds the worldview that all things are “written,” as the camel driver explains here, one can accept the future rather than feeling fear and anxiety about it. Good and bad possibilities are put into perspective by this worldview because they are both the work of the same creator.

“I learned that the world has a soul, and that whoever understands that soul can also understand the language of things. I learned that many alchemists realized their destinies, and wound up discovering the Soul of the World, the Philosopher's Stone, and the Elixir of Life. But, above all, I learned that these things are all so simple that they could be written on the surface of an emerald.”

Related Characters: The Englishman (speaker), Santiago
Related Symbols: Alchemy, The Emerald Tablet
Page Number: 85-86
Explanation and Analysis:

The Englishman asks Santiago to describe what he has learned from the alchemy books he loans the younger man during their journey. In this passage, Santiago explains what he has learned with an answer that surprises the Englishman. While the two have read the same texts, they have learned very different things. The Englishman values the complexity of alchemy and the hard work it requires. Santiago, on the other hand, values its simplicity and universality. The examples he provides in this quote all focus on universal ideas that make connections across places, cultures, and activities. Santiago speaks of the “Soul of the World” which is accessible to anyone, the success of alchemists in achieving their Personal Legends, and the simplicity of these ideas, which could be contained on the Emerald Tablet. The Englishman values the exclusivity of alchemy, believing it only yields its secrets to those who put in hard work. Santiago sees alchemy as broadly applicable and inclusive. His interpretation of alchemy ties into the idea used throughout the novel that the practices of alchemy can be applied in many areas of life. 

The Emerald Tablet contains universal ideas that require little explanation, as evidenced by the small amount of writing needed to communicate them. This shows that the more universal and applicable an idea, the simpler it often is.

At that moment, it seemed to him that time stood still, and the Soul of the World surged within him. When he looked into her dark eyes, and saw that her lips were poised between a laugh and silence, he learned the most important part of the language that all the world spoke—the language that everyone on earth was capable of understanding in their heart. It was love. Something older than humanity, more ancient than the desert. Something that exerted the same force whenever two pairs of eyes met, as had theirs here at the well. She smiled, and that was certainly an omen—the omen he had been awaiting, without even knowing he was, for all his life. The omen he had sought to find with his sheep and in his books, in the crystals and in the silence of the desert.

Related Characters: Santiago, Fatima
Page Number: 95-96
Explanation and Analysis:

Santiago meets a young woman at the well in the oasis while he and the Englishman are searching for the Alchemist. Santiago’s reaction to meeting this young woman, whose name is Fatima, is immediate and overwhelming. Without even speaking to her, he understands that he loves her, and he sees their lives as intertwined. He's suddenly sure that she is what he was “awaiting, without even knowing he was, for all his life.” This passage uses some of the familiar clichés of “love at first sight,” including that for Santiago “time stands still,” and that he understands love for the first time in his life when he looks on Fatima. Furthermore, Coelho doesn't ever show us this moment from Fatima's point of view--it's just assumed that she too falls in love with Santiago, because it is "destiny."

There are also elements of this “love at first sight” passage that play off the unique themes of this novel. Santiago seems to access the Soul of the World and the universal language in this moment, and sees connections among all things because the source of these connections is love. Humanity and the world are united and connected by love, which Santiago is able to understand in the moment he falls in love. Fatima’s smile is described as an “omen,” and Santiago has been on the lookout for omens from God to guide him on his journey. Because Fatima’s smile is an omen, this connects the fateful meeting between these characters to the idea that God is preparing a path for Santiago. Their meeting is “written,” just as all of Santiago's other experiences and lessons have been.

“And I am a part of your dream, a part of your destiny, as you call it. That’s why I want you to continue toward your goal. If you have to wait until the war is over, then wait. But if you have to go before then, go on in pursuit of your dream. The dunes are changed by the wind, but the desert never changes. That’s the way it will be with our love for each other…Maktub,” she said. “If I am really a part of your dream, you'll come back one day.”

Related Characters: Fatima (speaker), Santiago
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

Fatima’s reaction to Santiago’s declaration of love relies on her understanding of the world as a place in which events, meetings, and actions are “written” by the hand of God. Her faith allows her to tell Santiago to go on his quest. Like the camel driver, she is not afraid of the future because she trusts in the idea of “maktub,” or “it is written.” She uses this exact same language, despite not having interacted with the other characters in the novel, such as the Crystal Merchant, who hold this worldview of God writing all that happens. Because Fatima repeats this same lesson, it is made abundantly clear that this is one of the central themes of the novel.

Fatima’s expression of her faith that Santiago will return if “it is written” uses descriptive language of nature. She says that “the dunes are changed by the wind, but the desert never changes.” This metaphor shows that while the surface of something might change, the identity of a thing cannot be changed. By comparing her and Santiago’s love to the desert, she shows that their love is deeper than the surface level, which can change in appearance. This nature metaphor also reinforces the idea that important life lessons can be learned from observing the natural world. Fatima models her behavior on a truth she learned while observing the desert.

Of course, it's also worth noting that Santiago and Fatima's love is supposed to be "deep and unchanging" because of destiny, not because they have actually gotten to know each other. Furthermore, Fatima only really exists as a part of Santiago's destiny--she has no real agency or "dream" of her own in the novel.

“If what one finds is made of pure matter, it will never spoil. And one can always come back. If what you had found was only a moment of light, like the explosion of a star, you would find nothing on your return.” The man was speaking the language of alchemy. But the boy knew that he was referring to Fatima.

Related Characters: The Alchemist (speaker), Santiago, Fatima
Related Symbols: Alchemy
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

As Santiago and the Alchemist set off across the desert on the final leg of Santiago’s quest, the Alchemist can tell that Santiago is sad to be leaving Fatima behind. He offers these words of reassurance, which encourage Santiago to trust in the power of his connection with Fatima, which will outlast time and distance if it is a “pure” and lasting love, not just "a moment of light.” This is one of the most explicit examples in the novel of alchemy as a metaphor for life's events. The Alchemist is speaking about a principle of alchemy—that pure matter cannot be contaminated—but Santiago understands this concept to be a metaphor for an idea about love—that pure love cannot be contaminated by time and separation. Throughout the novel, the study and practice of alchemy is used as a model for living an examined life of self-improvement and learning.

The language of the Alchemist’s metaphor uses not only the elements of alchemy, but observations about the world. He describes a more fleeting love as “a moment of light, like the explosion of a star.” The explosion of a star is very bright, but its brightness and energy means that it also expires quickly. By applying this observation to love, the Alchemist is arguing that a bright love is temporary, but the pure love between Santiago and Fatima will be long-lasting.

“You’re not going to die. You’ll live, and you’ll learn that a man shouldn’t be so stupid. Two years ago, right here on this spot, I had a recurrent dream, too. I dreamed that I should travel to the fields of Spain and look for a ruined church where shepherds and their sheep slept. In my dream, there was a sycamore growing out of the ruins of the sacristy, and I was told that, if I dug at the roots of the sycamore, I would find a hidden treasure. But I’m not so stupid as to cross an entire desert just because of a recurrent dream.”

Related Characters: The Leader of the Refugees (speaker), Santiago
Related Symbols: The Abandoned Church
Page Number: 167-168
Explanation and Analysis:

Santiago does not find his treasure buried at the pyramids, but as he is digging he is attacked by refugees of the tribal wars who think he is looking for something. When the leader of the refugees finally understands why Santiago was digging in the sand, he openly mocks Santiago and explains in this quote that he had a parallel dream to Santiago's recurring dream of treasure. The leader of the refugee's dream uses specific details from Santiago's past, information he could not otherwise know--such as the tree growing through the abandoned church. Unlike Santiago, he dismisses the importance of this dream and calls Santiago "stupid" for following a dream. The difference between this man and Santiago is that one can see and understand omens and the other cannot acknowledge the possibility that an omen might be presented to him--or, in broader terms, that one man was willing to throw everything away to pursue his Personal Legend, and one was not.

Santiago's faith in God and in the idea of "maktub" is what keeps him following his recurring dream even in the face of great trials. The leader of the refugees is a clear foil character for Santiago--an example of what he would have become had he not pursued his treasure. In the face of this man's derision and doubt, Santiago's persistence and faith are all the more clear. Santiago recognizes the scene from the man's story and understands that his treasure is not at the pyramids--it was back at home all along.

Epilogue Quotes

He thought of the many roads he had traveled, and of the strange way God had chosen to show him his treasure. If he hadn’t believed in the significance of recurrent dreams, he would not have met the Gypsy woman, the king, the thief, or…“Well, it’s a long list. But the path was written in the omens, and there was no way I could go wrong,” he said to himself.

Related Characters: Santiago (speaker), Melchizedek (the Old Man), The Fortune-teller, The Thief (the Young Man)
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

Santiago finds his treasure at the abandoned church where his story began. Therefore, his treasure was physically near him when he first set off in search of his Personal Legend, and yet, as this quote shows, his treasure was emotionally and experientially distant from him. Although he need not have traveled great distances to find his treasure, it's clear that he needed to travel through experiences and grow as a person to receive his treasure. Santiago thinks of the places he has visited, the people he has met, and the experiences he has had along the way. These would not be part of his life without the roundabout pathway by which he arrived at his treasure. 

Santiago points out that he took the path he did because of the omens from God, who clearly intended him to travel and have the experiences that he had. As Coelho makes clear, it's not only the end result of achieving one's Personal Legend that matters, but the process of following omens and learning along the way. This is a key passage because it shows that Santiago's Personal Legend is not simply to find treasure, which is something that can be measured by material standards--his Personal Legend was to go on a quest toward his treasure through which he grew, learned, and changed. 

The wind began to blow again. It was the levanter, the wind that came from Africa. It didn’t bring with it the smell of the desert, nor the threat of Moorish invasion. Instead, it brought the scent of a perfume he knew well, and the touch of a kiss—a kiss that came from far away, slowly, slowly, until it rested on his lips. The boy smiled. It was the first time she had done that. “I’m coming, Fatima,” he said.

Related Characters: Santiago (speaker), Fatima
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel ends with Santiago's quest complete, his treasure claimed, and his promise to return to Fatima in the oasis. This quote highlights the connection between Santiago and Fatima across continents. Their connection is embodied in the wind that blows from Africa to Spain. This language reinforces the idea that Santiago and Fatima are connected through the Soul of the World, which connects all things. The wind is a medium that passes Fatima's scent and kiss to Santiago, because the wind is likewise part of the Soul of the World. 

Santiago ends the novel with a smile and a whispered promise because the Soul of the World has maintained his connection to Fatima. The Soul of the World, one and the same as the Soul of God, is a force of goodness and love in the universe. Just as this good force helped Santiago to achieve his Personal Legend, so too does it wish for the lovers to be reunited. The message of this novel overall, then, is one of positive empowerment. Despite the trials he faced, Santiago was never alone. He succeeded, even though the location of his treasure was different than he expected. He didn't have access to the full picture as God could see it, but he persisted in following the omens, which led to his success. This ending of this novel promises this possibility of fulfillment for everyone, by reminding the reader of the force of good at work in the world.