Freshmen explore their purpose through reading The Alchemist


Lindsay Taylor '24

Mr. Paulo Coelho explores the meaning of destiny and perseverance in his acclaimed novel.

This summer, rising freshmen read Mr. Paulo Coelho’s international bestseller The Alchemist (1988).  In his most renowned novel, Mr. Coelho explores spirituality, self-reliance, and purpose, crafting an informative tale about identity and destiny.  Freshman Clare Junius found the novel to be a critical text that instructed her on the value of perseverance during the transition into Upper School.

The plot centers around Santiago, a young Andalusian shepherd.  He travels the world in an attempt to achieve his destiny, which Mr. Coelho dubs his “Personal Legend.”  In his quest to find the Pyramids of Egypt, Santiago meets well-intentioned but discouraging mentors, including a crystal merchant who helps him earn enough money to go on his pilgrimage.  Santiago’s father also dissuades him from his dream of becoming a shepherd, instead wanting him to work in the clergy.  

Despite his mentors’ attempted dissuasion of his quest to explore the world, Santiago can tell that they regret not fulfilling their own Personal Legends.  Ultimately, Santiago’s father permits him to wander the world as a shepherd because he mourns the loss of his own dreams.  Similarly, the crystal merchant always desired to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, but over time, he realizes that he will never go. 

Mr. Coelho juxtaposes Santiago’s spiritual awakening on his pilgrimage to the Pyramids with the crystal merchant’s failure to fulfill one of the tenets of Islam to highlight the importance of discovering one’s personal spirituality independent of external forces.  Although Santiago’s father and the crystal merchant follow society’s prescribed religious and economic paths, neither of them achieves their Personal Legend.  However, by following the divine manifestation that calls to him, Santiago discovers his true spirituality, which guides him to reach his treasure at the end of the novel.  Santiago’s ability to achieve his dream despite the obstacles he faces demonstrates that people can always achieve their Personal Legend.

Mr. Coelho sits for an interview with Ms. Winfrey about his iconic novel.  Courtesy of Mr. George Burns

This message has inspired celebrities including Mr. Pharrell Williams, Ms. Madonna Ciccone, and Ms. Oprah Winfrey, who praised the novel for exemplifying everyone’s journey to their destiny and acting as a universal spiritual guide, according to www.oprah.comLater, when Ms. Winfrey interviewed Mr. Coelho, he discussed his own Personal Legend: becoming a writer.

“I quit everything to write full-time.  I had been worried about hurting my wife and my parents.  But I realized that they wanted to see me happy,” Mr. Coelho said, according to  “It’s very difficult to accept that you know what you’re supposed to do when you are not doing it.  Because from the moment that you know, you have to either leave a lot of things behind or live aware that you are not fully treasuring the miracle of being alive.”

Freshmen, as the youngest members of the Upper School, prepare to embark on their personal high school journeys.  The Alchemist’s universal message of the inherent magic and possibility of life makes it a critical summer novel for the freshman class, who are still forming their own identities. 

The Alchemist offers a refreshing perspective that one’s true purpose comes from within and not from external opinions on what one should accomplish.  This reframing through literature can act as a guiding light for students who are discovering their passions and identities, according to

Clare recognizes both the blessing and the curse of gaining freedom in the transition from Middle School to Upper School.  She identified how this same responsibility was similar to the difficult decisions Santiago made on his quest.

“One of the things that was stressful about making the transition from Middle School to Upper School is that, even though they try to prepare you, it is still a very different experience from Middle School,” Clare said.   “You have to figure it out and work things out on your own.  Something that spoke to me about Santiago’s journey was his decision to leave the oasis and to leave Fatima, who was in love with him and who could make him happy, to continue on his Personal Legend.  He had a lot of faith in himself that he was going to achieve his goal and return to her.”

Mr. Coelho himself emphasized the blessing of becoming a writer despite the uncertainty of pursuing one’s dreams.  When he found out that he could die soon, Mr. Coelho realized that even if the next day were his last, he would have no regrets because he achieved his Personal Legend.

Freshman Clare Junius and Mr. Coelho both value independence in pursuing their passions.  Lindsay Taylor ’24

“About three years ago, I had heart surgery.  I had gone in for a simple stress test and my doctors told me suddenly that I would die in 30 days without intervention,” Mr. Coelho said, according to  “But I went home and was very relaxed.  I thought, ‘I’m going in for heart surgery.  I may die tomorrow.’  But then I realized that if I die tomorrow, I’ve spent more than half my life with the woman I love.  I did everything.  I was crazy.  I went to extremes.  So I have nothing to regret because I did everything.”

Santiago’s pursuit of his Personal Legend inspired Clare to reframe what is possible in her own life.  She highlighted how Santiago’s perseverance is universally inspirational.

“When Santiago arrived in Africa, he didn’t speak Arabic, but he didn’t let that get in his way,” Clare said.  “Every time Santiago has a struggle thrown at him he keeps pushing through, which I think is a good way to view life.  It can help people persevere and actually reach their dreams and not get caught up in all the struggles.  Santiago is only referred to by his name once, and then he’s just referred to as the boy.  It is not a specific character’s journey; it could represent anyone.”

Featured Image by Lindsay Taylor ’24