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.
The Unimportance of Death and Fear ThemeTracker
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Quotes in The Alchemist
“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.”
“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.”
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”