Both the Englishman and the alchemist describe the practices of alchemy to Santiago, and in both cases, the specifics of alchemy symbolize larger life lessons. The Englishman explains that the pursuit of the Master Work, in which alchemists spend years carefully studying and purifying metals, actually purifies the alchemists themselves. Self-development goes hand-in-hand with development of the Master Work. From this, Santiago realizes that one may pursue “an alchemy of life,” in which self-development results from study of the world and from application of the other principles of alchemy to everyday practices. Later the alchemist describes many aspects of alchemy—like the origins of the Emerald Tablet—which are also applicable to human life. The alchemist explains Santiago’s connection with Fatima in terms of alchemy, saying that a pure material cannot be tarnished or changed. This is a concept from alchemy, but Coelho uses it as a metaphor for life, and in this context it claims that the love between Fatima and Santiago will not spoil with time—if that love is pure.
Alchemy Quotes in The Alchemist
“The alchemists spent years in their laboratories, observing the fire that purified the metals. They spent so much time close to the fire that gradually they gave up the vanities of the world. They discovered that the purification of the metals had led to a purification of themselves.”
“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.”
“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.