The Alchemist

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The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Analysis

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.
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon

The novel presents the fear of death, and fear in general, as obstacles that prevent people from living meaningful lives and achieving their Personal Legends. The crystal merchant is a perfect example of this. The crystal merchant is unwilling to pursue his Personal Legend (and the requirement of his religious faith) by traveling to Mecca, because he is afraid of what his life will be like after completing this goal. He tells himself that he is staying alive and working hard because he’s holding onto the goal of Mecca—and yet he always pushes this goal into the future, keeping it as a distant dream and not something he is actively pursuing. He does this to protect himself from his fear of an uncertain future.

In contrast, one of the lessons Santiago learns from the stoic and wise camel driver is to live in the present moment, rather than the future or the past. The camel driver teaches that dying one day is no different than dying on any other day, and in explaining this, he emphasizes that the only thing of importance is the present. He does not fear death because he does not look to the future, and his reward is the quality of his life in each given moment. Because Santiago comes to believe that death is not a threat, he is able follow the omens God lays out before him, and to do so without fear. He also learns how to appreciate life as it is lived, and to find and experience the happiness and joy of being alive in the present.

The novel also shows how the pursuit of one’s Personal Legend emphasizes the insignificance of death and fear. As Santiago ventures into the desert in pursuit of his treasure and finds himself amidst the desert wars, he realizes that if he dies, at least he will have died while in pursuit of his Personal Legend. Because the pursuit of his Personal Legend is the fullest expression of himself, Santiago recognizes that following his Legend is worth any risk, even the risk of death. The critical importance of a Personal Legend deemphasizes the horror of death—and living without a Personal Legend is a kind of death anyway, as it involves living without truly being oneself. As the alchemist puts it, fear will prevent Santiago from listening to his heart, and it will prevent him from accessing his own self, which in turn is his key to accessing the Soul of the World. And so the novel is, in a sense, an argument against all those who allow fear to dictate the direction of their lives.

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The Unimportance of Death and Fear ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Unimportance of Death and Fear appears in each chapter of The Alchemist. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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The Unimportance of Death and Fear Quotes in The Alchemist

Below you will find the important quotes in The Alchemist related to the theme of The Unimportance of Death and Fear.
Part One Quotes

“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.)


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“Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend.”

Related Characters: Melchizedek (the Old Man) (speaker), Santiago
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

During the old man’s conversation with Santiago in the village square, the old man introduces the idea of a Personal Legend into the novel. In the world of the book, a Personal Legend is a dream or wish that a person chooses to fulfill. This often fails, as the old man explains in this quote, because people lose faith in their ability to fulfill their Personal Legends as they grow up. The old man speaks in universal terms in this passage, explaining a transformation that is relevant to “everyone.” Everyone understands his or her Personal Legend at a young age, which is a key idea because following one’s Personal Legend requires the ability to dream and believe in one’s dreams, an ability common in children. However, this passage explains that most adults lose this ability with time because they no longer believe their dreams can become reality. This is a familiar concept, in literature and life beyond Coelho’s novel. Children are often understood to be idealistic and adults realistic. Children think anything is possible and adults focus on smaller, more achievable goals. Many would say this is part of growing up.

The old man in this passage criticizes this aspect of growing up because he sees that a child becoming a “realistic” adult also means giving up on his or her dreams, and, therefore, the chance to fulfill his or her Personal Legend. Growing up and becoming worldly is the “mysterious force” that changes a person and stops them from dreaming.

Here I am, between my flock and my treasure, the boy thought. He had to choose between something he had become accustomed to and something he wanted to have.

Related Characters: Santiago (speaker)
Related Symbols: Santiago’s sheep
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Santiago learns about Personal Legends from Melchizedek, who encourages him to seek his by going on a quest to find the treasure from his dreams. In order to do so, Santiago must abandon his flock of sheep and the country in which he has lived his whole life. In this passage, Santiago sees the choice that is before him. He is split between staying with his flock, which represents familiarity and safety, and pursuing his treasure, which represents the unknown, but also the possibility of even greater happiness and fulfillment. This choice shows that the road toward one’s Personal Legend is not always easy. Risks must be taken and difficult choices must be made.

In order to make this choice and pursue his Personal Legend, Santiago cannot be afraid of the unknown. This fear could prevent him from taking a risk that would result in his happiness. Santiago later sees other characters, such as the Crystal Merchant, who are prevented from pursuing their Personal Legends because they are afraid of taking this very same risk. The distillation of Santiago’s specific choice (between his sheep and his treasure) into one between the familiar and the unknown shows that this is a universal choice that humans face. At some point in our lives, we will each need to choose to take a risk in order to open up new possibilities for happiness.

Part Two Quotes

“Well, why don’t you go to Mecca now?” asked the boy. “Because it’s the thought of Mecca that keeps me alive. That’s what helps me face these days that are all the same, these mute crystals on the shelves, and lunch and dinner at that same horrible café. I’m afraid that if my dream is realized, I’ll have no reason to go on living.”

Related Characters: Santiago (speaker), The Crystal Merchant (speaker)
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

The Crystal Merchant takes Santiago under his wing when the boy is penniless in Tangier. By working for the Crystal Merchant, Santiago is able to replenish his money and eventually continue his quest. At the same time, Santiago learns about the difficulties that arise when one is trying to realize his Personal Legend. The Crystal Merchant exemplifies one common problem: he knows what he wants, but he is too afraid to go after it. In his case, he has grown so dependent on having a dream that it has become part of his character. He cannot imagine a life in which he has made his dream a reality. The Crystal Merchant’s tragic situation is articulated in this quote through the language he uses to describe his life. From “mute crystals” to the “horrible café,” it is clear that the Crystal Merchant is unhappy with his situation in life. The dream of fulfilling his Personal Legend sustains him, so he cannot imagine fulfilling it.

Throughout this novel, fear is repeatedly discussed. Fear of the unknown, fear of death, fear of taking a risk—all of these fears are presented as obstacles to be overcome. It seems that fear is the primary obstacle to fulfilling one’s Personal Legend, and in a novel that is part fictional story and part non-fictional analysis of the topic of dream fulfillment, discussion of the obstacle of fear that Santiago faces and that all humans face when trying to fulfill their dreams is key.

“You have been a real blessing to me. Today, I understand something I didn’t see before: every blessing ignored becomes a curse. I don’t want anything else in life. But you are forcing me to look at wealth and at horizons I have never known. Now that I have seen them, and now that I see how immense my possibilities are, I’m going to feel worse than I did before you arrived. Because I know the things I should be able to accomplish, and I don’t want to do so.”

Related Characters: The Crystal Merchant (speaker), Santiago
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

Santiago has several ideas for how the Crystal Merchant can improve his business, including installing an outdoor display case for his products and serving tea at his shop. The Crystal Merchant is resistant to these ideas because his character is guided by fear of the unknown and of change. The Crystal Merchant explains his emotional reaction to Santiago in this passage. Before Santiago appeared in his life, the merchant was satisfied with the way things were. This satisfaction was because he could not see the possibilities for change in his life. The merchant does not explain this, but it seems connected to the novel’s earlier idea of the world’s greatest lie. Many people end up believing that they cannot change their lives or control their fate.

Santiago appears, however, and shows the Crystal Merchant that he can change his life. Santiago is guided by God, and he has chosen to follow his Personal Legend. Perhaps because of his faith in people’s abilities to change their lives and follow their Personal Legends, he automatically shows this possibility to others. The Crystal Merchant is still afraid of making changes, but he no longer believes the world’s greatest lie. Therefore, he is stuck between his fear of change and the change he now believes possible. As a result, he is more unhappy than he was before. Awareness of one’s Personal Legend isn’t easy. It is easier to just live in ignorant bliss.

“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.

“People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel that they don’t deserve them, or that they’ll be unable to achieve them. We, their hearts, become fearful just thinking of loved ones who go away forever, or of moments that could have been good but weren’t, or of treasures that might have been found but were forever hidden in the sands. Because, when these things happen, we suffer terribly.”

“My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer,” the boy told the alchemist one

night as they looked up at the moonless sky.

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.”

Related Characters: Santiago (speaker), The Alchemist (speaker), Santiago’s Heart (speaker)
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

As Santiago travels, he begins to learn in a new way: by listening to his own heart. Santiago has already learned from observing his sheep and the desert. He has seen that observation of one thing can yield universal truths, because it allows the observer to access the Soul of the World, in which all things are connected. Therefore, it has already been established that Santiago will be able to learn large life lessons through the simple practice of observing his own heart. The heart is personified and given a voice, and in this passage it speaks to Santiago and explains its motivations and feelings.

Santiago learns by listening to his heart that it is afraid. This fear, like other examples of fear in the novel, gets in the way of achieving one’s Personal Legend. Ironically, the heart's fear is of precisely that: of not achieving its Personal Legend, of failure. Thus the heart prevents its owner from taking risks that might lead to suffering. When Santiago shares this information with the Alchemist, the Alchemist interprets it into a broader life lesson: that fear of suffering is worse than suffering itself. This is an idea that is familiar beyond the pages of The Alchemist. Often anxiety about the future is worse than actually experiencing that future. This life lesson teaches that humans need to control their fear, so that it doesn’t control them.

“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.