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How to Read Literature like a Professor and the Alchemist

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English Honors p.2

Mr. Baird

The Alchemist Essay

Intro: background

Conclusion: echo

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How to Read Literature like a Professor, by Thomas C. Foster is a book that brings a different meaning to reading and draws attention to the author’s intentions to the plot lines and characters. Applying Fosters teaching's to Paulo Coelho's story, The Alchemist, the main character, Santiago, goes on a journey to find his personal legend.  A Personal Legend is finding the place where you belong or, “To realize one's destiny is a person's only real obligation” (Coelho 22). Foster brings light to the meaning of the plot by describing Santiago’s quest, how the plot relates to Shakespeare, relation towards the bible, and the irony used to tell the story.

Santiago has this reoccurring dream of him going to a field and being brought to the Egyptian pyramids. When he meets the King of Salem, Melchizedek, Santiago explains his dream and the King tells him about Personal Legends. He tells him that going to the pyramids is his Personal Legend. Foster says, “The real reason for a quest never involves the stated reason” (3). This refers to Santiago in the beginning of the story where the confusion of the meaning of going to Egypt and that in fact, this journey is a quest is not visible to Santiago.  The King comes to help Santiago realize where he is to go; you must understand that love never keeps a man from pursuing his Personal Legend. If he abandons that pursuit, its because it wasn’t true love… the love that speaks the Language of the World”(Coelho 120).

 According to Foster, in a quest, the character will first have a place to go, a stated reason why to go there, have challenges, and last to find self-knowledge or test your limits. Santiago’s journey exemplifies these key elements. He goes to find his Personal Legend and travels to Egypt. There, he is robbed and has to find work to keep traveling. Many times Santiago forgets that he is truly looking for and again, gets put down due to other characters and occurrences that take his clues away.  No only did Santiago’s start off by setting up the quest but he is able to complete his quest by finding his Personal Legend.

        Foster also explains the echoing in author’s books to Shakespeare. Shakespeare wrote plays, which can be seen through patterns throughout The Alchemist. For example, Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s heroic story’s that exemplifies the characters with a storyline of revenge. In Henry IV, a young man who must grow up to become king and take on his responsibilities; a coming to age story. Othello has to do with jealousy and the Merchant of Venice involves the conflict between justice and mercy.  These characters and plot lines can take a strong hold in Santiago’s journey. Santiago sees the greed and jealousy or the world as he speaks of his treasure and travels around. He also takes that transition being boy to man with the discovery of his Personal Legend.


Echoing not only in Shakespeare, but Foster also explains how we can see bible stories wrapped in the plots line. Before the mid 20th century, writers could use Biblical stories because they knew the majority of people were familiar with the stories. People could understand the use of parables, like Jesus’ teachings. A parable is a short, simple story intended to illustrate a moral or religious lesson. The entire book is written like a parable of story to teach a lesson. Bible also has stories that have symbolic implications. Foster gives the example of the Garden of Eden referring to women tempting men. For Santiago, not necessarily is it a woman distracting him from his Personal Legend, but more the distraction of focusing on the different tasks mixing with the greed of the treasure and not the journey. In the Garden of Eden, the apple signifies the temptation. The treasure could be seen as truly a temptation for Santiago’s greed if the reader believes that his Personal Legend is deeper than simply finding the treasure.



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