1. Discuss Santiago. How do you think his character is important to understanding the main point of the book? This is an initiation or a coming-of-age novel, sometimes called a bildungsroman. That means that the main character develops from childhood to adulthood during the book. How does Santiago develop? What kind of adult/man does he become?
2. Look at the roles of women or Arabs in the book. Are these fair portrayals of these groups, or are they stereotyped and limited? This doesn’t mean to just look at how some Middle East cultures look at women. (Remember that the author is not from the Middle East.) Do women have the same kinds of opportunities and place in the story that men do in this book?
3. Look at the following terms and definitions. Which one do you think Santiago uses to view life? Be sure to use examples from the story to support your choice.
a. Determinism: The belief that your fate is determined by some higher power. You have no control over your destiny.
b. Humanism: The belief that although determinism exists, you can overcome determinism through hard work and intelligent choices.
c. Free Will: The belief that you are in complete control of your own destiny. Your own actions are solely responsible for the consequences that affect your life.
4. The novel’s ending (in the Epilogue) brings us full circle in the sense that it takes us back to the beginning of the book. Why do you suppose Coelho does this? In what sense might this ending be important to understanding the main point of the book?
5. What are some of the implications for starting the book with a story about Narcissus?
6. Reflect on some of the spiritual terms in the book: The Language the World, The Soul of the World, and omens.
7. Reflect on some of the some of the symbols in the book, like the ruined church with the sycamore tree growing through the roof, Santiago’s sheep, and the desert.
8. What does alchemy have to do with the development of the Santiago and spirituality?
Writing Purpose and Audience
An explication is an interpretation of something, usually a literary or philosophical work. The objective in this assignment is to interpret and explain our novel, using analysis and close reading, but also to consider it using a particular approach. While this might seem like a long essay, it really is not. To make the essay manageable given its short length, you will use a particular approach above as a kind of lens to focus on the main point of the book, but to also allow you to look at some elements of the book in great detail. That way, the essay can take on the big picture, the overall main point of the work, while also providing some in-depth analysis of some element of the book.
Your writing goal is to be able to support your interpretation using relevant information and details from the story. Remember that you are not being graded so much on which interpretation of the novel you choose (for example, some people may think Santiago is a wayward child, while others might think he has a clear purpose in his life), but on how well you prove your points using details from the novel and your own sound reasoning.
Also note that you should use a number of quotes, summaries, and paraphrases from the book. You should have some experience with this from the Module 3 paragraph papers. The idea now is to synthesize these into your essay effectively with your own comments and explanations.
One term that students generally struggle with is “analysis.” Analysis is a critical thinking tool, the process of breaking down of some larger work or concept into its component parts, which allows the thinker to better understand how these parts work within the whole. In other words, if you can understand the parts, one at a time, it is usually easier to think about the whole. With a novel, component parts include elements of fictional writing, things like plot, character, narrative point of view, and setting. When we begin to look at how these work together to create the story, we usually begin to think how they lead us to the main point of the fictional work, what is usually referred to as theme.
Another important element of this book is that it calls itself a fable in its title. This would be its fictional genre or sub-genre. Most of us are probably familiar with Aesop’s Fables, which are often read to children, and we probably tend to think of fables as short stories that contain animals in them, often used to present some ethical or moral lesson. However, I don’t think that is the sense that Coelho means here. Rather than talking animals, Coelho presents a world of heroic characters, like the Alchemist, and supernatural occurrences, such as the dream that starts Santiago on his journey, or the meeting with Melchizedek. In this sense, the fable is a story imbued with the supernatural, and much of its meaning comes from how Santiago deals with and what he learns from these supernatural events, people, etc.
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