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AP English Literature » Coehlo's The Alchemist
Coehlo's The Alchemist
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Essential Question: What stands in the way of our personal legend?
Context: Finding purpose and fulfillment, Narcissus, Islam and Christianity, fable, cultural contributions to literature, magical realism
Concepts: Close reading, theme development, Character types and development, Plot mapping, relationship between style and authorial intention, leitmotif
By the end of this unit, the student should be able to:
1. identify and give examples of the use of figurative language in this novel.
2. discuss how Coehlo’s stylistic choices contribute to meaning
3. discuss the role of fable in this novel.
4. comment on the balance between use of a narrator and of an interior monologue in showing Santiago’s growth in the novel.
5. identify static and dramatic characters in the story.
6. understand the use of character development as a means of expressing cultural information.
7. analyze the characters of the crystal merchant and the Englishman, pointing out their shortcomings in achieving their Personal Legends.
8. analyze the characters of the alchemist and Santiago and discuss what traits equipped them to achieve their Personal Legends.
9. comment on the role of women.
10. identify a leitmotif and show how this technique is used to strengthen the structure of this novel.
11. summarize the major plot points of the novel.
12. construct possible themes.
Questions for Class Discussion
1. What is the significance of Santiago becoming a shepherd rather than a priest, as his parents had hoped? Why has he made this choice? What does being a shepherd allow him to do?
2. 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. Why is it important that Santiago dreams of a child who tells him of his treasure in this particular setting?
3. King Mechizedek tells the boy that when we are children, "everything is clear and everything is possible," but as time passes mysterious forces convince us to abandon our dreams (p. 23). Do you think this is true? What are the "mysterious forces" that threaten to hold us back as we grow older?
4. The King also tells the boy that when you really desire something "all the universe conspires to help you find it" (p. 24). And he explains the principle of "favorability," or beginner’s luck. From whom does Santiago receive help on his journey? Have you ever benefited from beginner’s luck?
5. What tests and setbacks does the boy experience on his journey? Why is it important that he faces and overcomes these challenges? How would the novel be different if his quest was easier?
6. After he has been robbed of all his money in Tangier, how does Santiago choose to regard his situation? Did this surprise you? What allows him to understand his loss in this way?
7. What chain of events leads the boy to work at the crystal shop? What does he learn there? Why is he able to change and improve the shop, which has remained the same for many years? How is he different from the shop’s owner?
8. When Santiago begins his trek across the desert, he meets an Englishman who is a student of alchemy. In many ways they are alike: both are pursuing their "Personal Legends," both have encountered the ideas of alchemy. How is their approach to life and learning different? Why does the alchemist choose the boy as his pupil over the Englishman?
9. The Englishman tells Santiago that he would like to write "a huge encyclopedia just about the words luck and coincidence. It’s with those words that the universal language is written" (p. 72). The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung coined the term "synchronicity" to describe such moments of meaningful coincidence. When does Santiago experience this kind of synchronicity? What do these experiences reveal?
10. The alchemist says that "people become fascinated by pictures and words, and wind up forgetting the language of the world" (p. 89). What is this language of the world, or "universal language" as it is called elsewhere in the novel? How is it different than ordinary language? Is it spoken or expressed in some other way? Why would a fascination with words and pictures make people forget it?
11. The boy is repeatedly encouraged to read the signs and omens to learn what he should do. What is an omen? How are omens related to "the universal language" and to finding one’s "Personal Legend"? What are some of the omens that appear to the boy in the novel? Have you ever experienced something that seemed like an omen?
12. How does Santiago feel when he meets Fatima? How does he know this is love? What does she teach him about love?
13. Early in the novel, the King tells the boy that his book says what most other books say: "It describes people’s inability to choose their own Personal Legends. And it ends up saying that everyone believes the world’s greatest lie…that at a certain point, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives?
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