Read the assigned selections and answer the following questions for each section. Answer each question thoroughly, using complete sentences and details from the novel.
As you read and reflect on these questions, it is important to remember that The Alchemist is a fable. In fact, The Alchemist is subtitled "A Fable about Following Your Dreams." Like most fables, The Alchemist has a theme/moral that reflects a universal truth concerning life and human existence. The universal point this story makes is that everyone has a special destiny, and yet not everyone tries to achieve it because it takes hard work. Reaching one's destiny requires leaving behind familiar surroundings. It also demands courage, persistence, the ability to change when appropriate and the willingness to respond to omens that point the way.
Also, like many fables, the story told in The Alchemist does not make its universal point directly, or in so many words, by the author telling the reader in plain language what the moral of the story is. Instead, the story of the main character in The Alchemist is what we call an allegory. An allegory is a narrative that has two levels of meaning: a literal one and a figurative or symbolic one. As a reader, your challenges with this fable are to watch for and try to interpret symbols (symbolism=something that is itself but also represents something else or something deeper). Remember, most anything in a story can have symbolic meaning, including objects, characters, places, names, events, etc. We will apply what we have learned from Joseph Campbell’s model of the Hero’s Journey in order to delve beneath the surface of The Alchemist and examine its symbolic meaning.
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1. What is the name of the shepherd boy? How long has he been a shepherd? What is the name of the region in Spain where he grazes his flock?
2. What is the significance of Santiago becoming a shepherd rather than a priest, as his parents had hoped? Why did he make the choice to leave the seminary at the age of sixteen after learning to read and write? What does being a shepherd allow him to do?
3. As Santiago considers why he needs to keep his jacket, even though he spends most of the day carrying it around in the heat, a central theme of his hero’s journey is introduced. The jacket, therefore, is a symbol, or something that is itself but also represents something else or something deeper, in this case, a theme. What is that theme or lesson, and how does the jacket embody, or symbolize that theme?
4. The boy spends a lot of time reflecting on his flock; he notices that the sheep care only for food and water, and are content to make no decisions of their own, trusting him to care for them. What might the habits of these sheep symbolize? Is there any similarity between their life and the lives of the boy’s parents? How is the boy different from others?
5. The novel begins with the boy deciding to spend the night with his flock in an abandoned church. The church has no roof and an enormous sycamore tree has grown up where the sacristy once stood. Here he has a recurring dream for the second time. He travels to Tarifa in the hope that a gypsy woman will be able to interpret his dream and tell him what it means. Describe the dream that the boy tells the woman about and explain what she tells him it means.
6. “Dreams are the language of God,” says the gypsy woman. What might she mean by this?
7. In Tarifa, Santiago meets an old man while sitting on a bench in the marketplace. At first, the old man annoys him. Then the old man reveals that he knows the names of everyone in Santiago's life, which catches Santiago's attention. The old man says he is a king, and his mysterious knowledge supports his claim. The old man tells Santiago the book he is reading, like almost all other books, contains the world’s greatest lie. What is this lie?...
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