Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho is celebrated as one of the most successful and influential authors. Although his work is originally written in Portuguese, his books have been translated into more than 67 languages. Paulo Coelho has sold more than 100 million books worldwide with the Alchemist having the highest sales of 65 million. One of the most common themes in Coelho’s books is finding one’s purpose in life and seeking after the attainment of ones dreams (Silvey 247). ‘The Alchemist’, ‘The Witch of Portobello’, ‘The Zahir’ and ‘Brida’ have this theme in common. Through these stories Coelho teaches about signs, dreams, determination, love and the Deity.
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The alchemist is a novel about a young man called Santiago who has a recurrent dream where he dreams that he goes to Egypt and finds some hidden treasures which make him very rich. Santiago shares the dream with a Gypsy woman who tells him that he should go to Egypt and find the treasure (9). Although initially dissatisfied with the woman’s interpretation of the dream, Santiago decides to go in search of the treasure. He sells his flock of sheep and heads to Tangier when all the money he had was stolen. With no way to continue his journey, he begins working for crystal merchant. Eventually he takes a journey to meet the Alchemist, accompanied by an English man. In the end Santiago reaches the pyramids and discovers where the treasure he was looking for was hidden (Alchemist). The Alchemist is a story of seeking and finding ones destiny and purpose in life.
The Witch of Portobello is a novel about a young woman called Athena who dies mysteriously. Being orphaned at a young age, Athena was adopted by a wealthy couple. Because of her prophetic abilities, people assume that she is a witch. The story is mainly a description of Athena’s life by people who knew her such as her ex-husband, landlord, a journalist, a priest, teacher and her adoptive mother among others. The story portrays Athena as a seeker of her true self and her destiny (John n.d).
In ‘The Zahir’ a well known author finds out that his wife of ten years is missing. It is initially thought that she kidnapped by some terrorist group or that she ran away with a young lover. The author discovers a deeper reason for her absence and in his search he also searches for the truth of his life. His quest leads him to discover the power of love, following ones heart and the importance of destiny.
‘Brida’ is a captivating story about a young woman whose pursuit is to find her purpose in life. She is drawn to spirituality and mysteries which she learns from the Magus and Wicca. The novel focuses on tenacity, knowledge and the fulfillment of one purpose in life.
Paulo Coelho took a pilgrimage to Santiago and his experience taught him the importance of signs (Zahir 170). Coelho suggests that in finding our purpose in life, we must follow the signs that are presented to us (Zahir 171). This signs are not for a few special people; they are for all of us. If we just look around us carefully and reverently we will see the signs that are sent to each of us individually for our own unique journey in life (The Alchemist 37).
God sends us signs to guide us and through the signs He shows us which step we should take next. Therefore following the signs keeps a person in the right path. However, should be stumble in the road of fulfilling the mission of life, God comes to help us and prevents us from making dangerous mistakes. If we are in sync with the signs, we are in sync with God and He will bring to completion what He started. The lessons we need to learn in life so as to find our purpose are also easy to find. (The
Zahir 170) In the Alchemist, Santiago courageously follows the signs in the course of his journey and they guide and lead him to his destiny. The Alchemist told Santiago, “Show me where there is life out in desert. Only those who can see signs of life are able to find treasure.” (The Alchemist 50)
Spirituality is a very important aspect of finding ones purpose in life as depicted in Paulo Coelho’s books. A connection with God or a higher power is seen as a prerequisite for the successful attainment of ones purpose on earth. When Santiago tells the Alchemist that he is afraid, the Alchemist tells him, that “no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity” (The Alchemist 56). In ‘The Zahir’, the author says that he was better able to accept his destiny when he allowed himself to be lead by the Divinity. Athena in the ‘Witch of Portobello’ worshipped and looked on the Goddess for guidance in finding her purpose. Brida was advised that we should surrender ourselves to every moment of our lives, believing that there is a higher power guiding us. However, whether we accept this guidance or not is up to us. (158)
In following our destiny we have to be decisive and strong. The writer in “The Zahir” says that people are given numerous chances every day to make the best decisions about all they engage in and the fulfillment of there destinies (154). Having failed in this respect, he lost connection and had to endure untold miseries. This means that every individual has a responsibility and a part to play in the fulfillment of their purpose. This can also be illustrated in Wicca’s words to Brida, “We are all masters of our own destiny. We can easily make the same mistakes over and over. We can so easily flee from everything that we desire and which life so generously places before us. Alternatively, we can surrender ourselves to the Divine Providence, take God’s hand, and fight for our dreams, believing that they always arrive at the right time” (172). Many people are not responsible for themselves and what becomes of their lives. They just wander through life without exerting themselves to reach their destiny. We must actively seek for our purpose in life.
Paulo Coelho acknowledges that fear may prevent us from finding and fulfilling our purpose. The Magus tells Brida, ‘When you find your path, you must not be afraid. You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes. Disappointment, defeat and despair are the tools God uses to show us the way’ (Brida 16). Wicca also tells Brida that she should be careful never to allow doubt to paralyze her. She should always make the decisions she needs to make whether or not she is sure of their correctness (167). In the ‘Witch of Portobello’, Deidre O’Neill’s Protector said, “I am afraid of taking steps that are not on the map, but by taking those steps despite my fears, I have a much more interesting life” (102). It is clear that people will only find there destiny if they pursue their purposes in spite of fear. Although fear is a natural feeling that comes up due to anticipated danger, we should not let it deter us from our purpose life.
Finding ones purpose in life can never happen without faith. We must believe that what we are doing is right and where God and the signs guide are the most favorable paths. In Brida, the Magus made the protagonist of the story stay alone in the forest all night long. She was fearful for most of the night and was startled any time there was some movement in the forest. In the height of her fear Brida began saying, “I have faith in God, faith in my Guardian Angel, who brought me here, and who remains here with me” (22). She began feeling a protective presence immediately and she knew she was safe. She eventually slept and when she awoke she found the Magus there. She learnt that the dark night was actually faith. Brida realized that when we are in the dark night of life we can only have the strength to go on if we trust and believe (25). When we are not sure of the steps we take or the path we choose we must believe. In ‘The Alchemist’, Santiago was full of faith in his quest for his treasure. Even after falling prey to thieves, he did not give up on his dream of finding treasure. He chose to view himself as an adventure instead of a god-forsaken shepherd. “He did not have a cent in his pocket but he had faith”. (The Alchemist 18)
In conclusion, Paulo Coelho shows his readers ways of finding their purpose in life and fulfilling this purpose. This way is through faith, determination, self-belief, courage, responsibility, obeying the signs and trusting in God. Paulo lets the readers know that there dreams will come true if they are persistent in seeking them. Everyone has a unique vocation or calling and it is up to us to find it. By using the wisdom Coelho offers in his books we can all find our purpose and actualize it. In the midst of uncertainty and fear we can choose to fill our minds with defeating thoughts or concentrate on the truth and hope. By creating characters who pursue and live their dreams, Coelho offers readers the challenge to find their purpose in life.
Coelho, Paulo. The Zahir. London: HarperCollins, 2005. Print.
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Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist. New York: Harper San Francisco, 2006. Print.
Coelho, Paulo. The Witch of Portobello. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. Print.
Coelho, Paulo. Brida. London: HarperCollins, 2008. Print.
John, Ydstie. “Coelho Explores Goddesses in ‘Witch of Portobello’.” Weekend Edition Saturday (NPR) (n.d.): Newspaper Source. EBSCO. Web.
Silvey, Anita. 500 Great Books for Teens. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006. Print.