Throughout the novel, alchemy often functions as a symbol or metaphor for lessons that Santiago learns about life and the world. At the heart of alchemy is the Emerald Tablet, an ancient artifact on which was written the instructions for creating the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life, the two most important creations an alchemist can attempt to produce. The alchemist teaches Santiago that in modern times, the Stone and the Elixir are incredibly difficult to produce, because humans began to mistrust simplicity. Instead, they compiled massive amounts of information and practical knowledge about the Stone and Elixir and how to create them, and all of this information got in the way of a truth simple enough that it could be written on a single stone. Because the lessons of alchemy in the novel are more broadly applicable as life lessons, Santiago learns from the alchemist that sometimes complexity can obscure the truth, which is simple.
The alchemist also highlights the value of simplicity as it connects to purity. He tells Santiago that if he finds something made of pure matter, it never spoils. As the alchemist explains this principle, Santiago realizes that it also applies to the love he shares with Fatima. Because their love is simple, and it does not involve other notions of dependency or ownership, it will not spoil. Fatima herself demonstrates the power of simplicity through her faith in Santiago’s return. She does not complicate their love with other emotions or conditions, and Santiago learns the value of this type of love without ownership.
The concept of the Soul of the World also implies the value of simplicity, because any one object in the world can be used to learn about and access the whole world. This places immense value on simple and small objects. As the alchemist says, a grain of sand can teach someone everything there is to know about the desert. Therefore, it is valuable to study and learn from the small things. Santiago realizes that even before he set off in pursuit of his Personal Legend, he learned some of the most important life lessons from his sheep—simple and humble creatures, which nevertheless demonstrate important qualities. The novel repeatedly presents simplicity, as opposed to complexity, as the means to accessing fundamental truths and life lessons, and often uses alchemical imagery to emphasize this point.
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity ThemeTracker
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Quotes in The Alchemist
“I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful. I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see, in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected.” “What a lovely story,” the alchemist thought.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
The camel driver understood what the boy was saying. He knew that any given thing on the face of the earth could reveal the history of all things. One could open a book to any page, or look at a person’s hand; one could turn a card, or watch the flight of the birds… whatever the thing observed, one could find a connection with his experience of the moment. Actually, it wasn’t that those things, in themselves, revealed anything at all; it was just that people, looking at what was occurring around them, could find a means of penetration to the Soul of the World.
“You must understand that love never keeps a man from pursuing his destiny. If he abandons that pursuit, it’s because it wasn’t true love… the love that speaks the Language of the World.”
“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.