30 October 2018
In The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Santiago is met with obstacles while on a search for
his Personal Legend. The king of Salem he meets before his journey introduces the ‘universal
language’ to him, a concept that he begins to understand more and more throughout the story.
The exact identity of the universal language Santiago seeks is perhaps found right in the title of
his story; alchemy. Alchemy, Chemistry, science, and all of the studies beneath it is the universal
language of Santiago’s world because no only will the biology in him enable him to judge others,
but physics will help him understand his surroundings movements while chemistry will help him
interpret omens as reactions as he continues his journey and meets new people.
Biology is essential to Santiago’s understanding of the universal language as it is the
makeup of any living being. The biology of plants and animals is the connection of
communication, allowing for verbal and nonverbal signals to be sent to each other. In The
Alchemist, the Englishman says, “that this is not just a human gift, that everything on the the face
of the earth has a soulmate whether mineral, vegetable, or animal—or even just a simple
thought” (Coelho 79) This is a significant saying referring biology, stating are not the only things
that have a inner will. Anything that has a properly functioning body or system is able to make
decisions according to urges dictated by their controlling forces (brains, a cells mitochondria).
This then thus leads to body language and posturing, which enacts the control centers will to
send out a message non verbally. Neurological messages also allow living things to detect
emotions such as when a dog can feel its owners distress. This kind of communication is
important to Santiago because he needs to understand the behaviors of others in order for him to
adapt to them. When he becomes aware of their behaviors, he becomes aware that there is a core
in every animal, a soul and center that separates them from just existing. They all have a
Personal Legend, too.
Physics bring even deeper meaning into ‘unspoken language’ through its studies of
matter as it travels through time and space. “The caravan and the desert speak the same language,
and its for that reason that the desert allows the crossing” (Coelho 79) is an observation of
physics because in context, the drivers of the caravan understand the ‘language’ of the desert
because of the years of knowledge they gathered while traveling through the desert. By
analyzing this knowledge, the drivers then respond to the desert by wearing protective garments
while riding in groups of camels. By traveling through the same space for years, they were able
to adapt and successfully cross, thus bringing meaning to “the desert allows the crossing”. The
interaction between the two is applicable to physics. Santiago, with his lack of experience, will
need to interact with the desert in order to learn how to survive the desert. When he learns to do
so, he will become better at understanding the language of the universe.
Chemistry, in terms of reactions, can be mistaken as omens at times as it illustrates the
connection between microscopic elements, creating a common understanding between them that
allow them to act in this way. Reactions are a behavior found in everything; an snake hissing at a
mongoose, wood burning, even glass breaking. It’s a psychological and chemical response to
anything that triggers a still object. These reactions can reveal enigmas that have been neglected
or passed off. “...If metal were heated for many years, it would free itself of all its individual
properties, and what was left would be the Soul of the World” (Coelho 80) Burning is a chemical
property of an element/object, yet in this quote it states how the constant exercise of an activity
can burn away negativity, and bring happiness as how the crystals brought peace to Santiago.
Build up of excess materials around a hearts priority obstructs it from fulfilling its will, thus
creating a burden. Burning customs and cultures, teachings that tend to influence beings greatly,
leave behind the be heart, or the Soul of the World. Because of this chemistry is important for
Santiago to learn as it can help him understand how the Soul of the World communicates through
the universal language. Chemistry is the universal language communicating through the smallest
particles to create the largest reactions or end products, signaling to those who can see it as a
message: “Something is going to happen.”
Universal languages to Santiago hold a very shallow meaning, yet he is able to read the
signs that his environment sends. He’s grasped the smallest concepts on alchemy, but he still has
a long journey ahead. Biology may help him get out of sticky situations with other people or
animals by trusting his instinct, physics may help him find conclusions on exactly how the
omens he finds come to be, and chemistry may help him to look closer. By communicating
simply with gestures or motion, even reading reactions, Santiago can use the universal language
to ‘speak’ to his surroundings by reading the behaviors of climates and organisms, and then
respond to it by adapting.
Orono, Paulo. The Alchemist. HarperCollins, 1988.