The Study of Santiago’s Major Needs in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist

The Study of Santiago’s Major Needs in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist

Devian Try Gustary,M.Pd

Abstract. Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist is considered as one of the contemporary best-sellers in the world, and is known to break the world record for most translated book by a living author of the twentieth century. Here, in this study, the researcher would like to analyze the character of Santiago, the protagonist of the story. The analysis will focus on the character’s major needs seen from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs Theory. The Researcher applied formalistic approach along with library research methodology of the qualitative research to study the intrinsic element of the literary work. The result of the study proves that Santiago shows and tries to fulfill his needs in all five stages of the hierarchy of human needs. However, the major need that he shows in the story belongs to the third stage, the needs for Love and Belonging.

Keywords: character, major, need

The Alchemist was written by Paulo Coelho in 1988. Since the novel is considered a best-seller and is known to break the world record for most translated book by a living author of the twentieth century, the researcher considers it worthy to be analyzed. And, because the focal point of the novel is mostly struggles, revolving around human needs, which are experienced by the main character, the writer decides to analyze the major needs experienced by Santiago, the protagonist of the novel.

The main theory that the writer will use in the research is the theory of human needs stated by Abraham Maslow. Maslow explains that the basic needs arrange themselves in a fairly definite hierarchy on the basis of the principle of relative potency. Thus the safety need is stronger than the love need because it dominates the organism in various demonstrable ways when both needs are frustrated. In this sense, the physiological needs (which are themselves ordered in a sub-hierarchy) are stronger than the safety needs, which are stronger than the love needs, which in turn are stronger than the esteem needs, which are strong than those idiosyncratic needs we have called the need for self-actualization. (Maslow, 1970:56)

Maslow also explains that there are two cognitions of needs which are called the Deficit needs and Being needs or he also calls it in D-needs and B-needs. B cognition is seen as whole, as complete, self-sufficient, as unitary. D cognition is seen as part, as incomplete, not self-sufficient, as dependent upon other things. (Maslow, 1971:249)

As a classification of human needs, hierarchy of needs itself illustrates himan needs from the most basic needs to the top most needs using a pyramid-like visual aid. Below is the image of Maslow’s pyramid of hierarchy of needs:

Maslow explains that basic needs are what human really want. As a support to his theory, Boeree explains it in his journal:

For example, if you are hungry and thirsty, you will tend to try to take care of the thirst first. After all, you can do without food for weeks, but you can only do without water for a couple of days! Thirst is the “stronger” need than hunger. Likewise, if you are very very thirsty, but someone has put a choke hold on you and you can’t breathe, which is more important? The need to breathe, of course. On the oh hand, sex is less powerful than any of these. Let’s face it; you won’t die if you don’t get it! (Boeree, 2006).

From that knowledge, the five different levels in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, from the lowest to the highest, can be summarized into: Physiological (breathing, food, water, sex, sleeps, etc.), Safety (security of health, employment, property, etc.), Love/Belonging (friendship, family, etc.), Esteem (achievement, confidence, respect from others, etc.), and Self Actualization (morality, creativity, spontaneity, etc.)

The novel, The Alchemist, tells about Santiago’s adventure in trying to find the treasure which appears in his recurring dreams. Santiago, a shepherd from Andalusia, starts his journey to Egypt after he visits a fortune-teller who gives him advice to do so after he mentions his recurring dreams. During his journey to Egypt, Santiago experiences many things which includes getting swindled, working to earn enough money to continue his journey, falling in love, and learning from wise people about something called Personal Legend. After experiencing those things, he manages to get what he desires and returns home as a successful person.

Santiago’s attempt to satisfy his most basic physiological needs can be seen from the quotes below:

Well, then I’ll be a shepherd.” (Coelho, 1988, 1:9)

The quotation above shows how Santiago tries to fulfill his most basic physiological needs for living, like getting food, clothing, and shelter by choosing an occupation when he talks to his father about it. The occupation he chooses is not that glamorous or alluring for most people, but by doing that he manages to satisfy his physiological needs.

Another quote to show his concern for physiological needs can be seen from:

I’ve already told you. I need to buy my sheep back, so I have to earn the money to do so.” (Coelho, 1988, 2:59)

The background situation for the quotation above is the time when Santiago loses all of his possessions because he is swindled when he tries to go to Egypt. After his unlucky encounter, he needs to acquire money to fulfill his physiological needs, and the ones that give the boy a sense of comfort in basic matters are his sheep. So, his concern in fulfilling the needs is manifested in his naïve desire to get his sheep back. He believes that by doing so, he will again satisfy his physiological needs.

For the next stage of needs, Safety, Santiago’s attempt to satisfy these types of needs can be seen from:

I’m an adventurer, looking for treasure,”he said to himself. (Coelho, 1988, 1:44)

The quotation above happens when Santiago feels uncomfortable from fears and doubt for leaving his secure life. Just like most people, Santiago feels the needs for safety when his future seems to be uncertain. Here, the boy tries to regain his sense of safety by reminding himself that of what he wants. By doing so, he believes that his needs of safety will be fulfill either thoroughly or just partially.

Another quote related to his needs for safety can be seen from:

Will you give me your blessing?” asked the boy. “You have helped me.” (Coelho, 1988, 2:63)

The background situation for the quotation above is the time after Santiago earns enough money by working at the crystal shop. Since he wants to continue his journey, he asks for his employer’s blessing since he believes that it will help protect him from danger. So, his concern in fulfilling the needs is manifested in his wish to get blessing. He believes that by doing so, he will again satisfy his needs for safety.

Santiago’s subsequent stage of needs, the needs for love and belonging, can be seen from the quote below:

“I know other girls in other places.” But in his heart he knew that it did matter. And he knew that shepherds, like seamen and like traveling salesmen, always found a town where there was someone who could make them forget the joys of carefree wandering. (Coelho, 1988, 1:6)

Here, Santiago shows that he subconsciously wants a place where he can belong. Although he chooses shepherd as an occupation because he wants to feel the joy of wandering freely, he knows that he will not feel that joy forever. He knows deep in his heart that someday he will, without any regret, discard his chosen way of living for someone who can make him feel love. He subconsciously realizes his needs for love and belonging.

Another quotation that shows his needs for love and belonging appears in:

“I’m going back to the fields that I know, to take care of my flock again.” He said that to himself. (Coelho, 1988, 2:66)

In the quote above, Santiago shows his longing to fulfill his love and belonging needs. This time, he wants to return home after all the hardships he faces in his journey. He feels homesick because home means a place where he belongs, a place where he can receive love. At this point, Santiago shows dominant needs for love and belonging.

Santiago’s needs for love and belonging also appear when he meets his main love interest, Fatima.

“I came to tell you just one thing,” the boy said, “I want you be my wife. I love you.” (Coelho, 1988, 2:100)

In the quote above, Santiago attempts to receive fulfillment for her love and belonging needs from her love interest, Fatima. Here, he confesses to Fatima that he loves her, hoping that she realizes his feeling and returns it with the same intensity. Santiago’s attempt for romance here clearly shows his needs for love and belonging.

Still related to his romance, Santiago shows another aspect of his needs for love and belonging with:

“I’m going away,” he said. “And I want you to know that I’m coming back. I love you.” (Coelho, 1988, 2:128)

Here, Santiago makes a promise to return to Fatima, because he decides to continue his journey. Promising to return is an obvious sign that although he leaves her behind, he does not abandon his desires to be with her later in the future. This simply means that, related to his relationship with Fatima, Santiago’s still deeply feels his needs for love and belonging, which he wants to be satisfied by returning back to her in the future.

“I’ll return, just as your father came back to your mother,” he said. (Coelho, 1988, 2:129)

Again, Santiago tries to convince Fatima that he will return. Here, he uses the story that Fatima tells him about her parents as an example of how he will fulfill his promise. The repeated tries of persuasion here shows how much Santiago feels his needs for love and belonging, concerning with Fatima.

The next stage of needs, the needs for esteem, is also experienced by Santiago. What he experiences can be seen from the quote below:

“I promised that I would make my own decisions,” he said. (Coelho, 1988, 2:128)

In the quote above, Santiago tries to portray himself as an adult who can make his own decision. He wants others to see him as a person capable of making his own decision. This is the signs of the manifestation of his needs for esteem, since here he desires to make good impression of himself to others.

Another quotation that shows Santiago’s attempt to fulfill her needs for esteem can be seen when he answers questions related to the two stones he possesses.

“They were given to me as a present by a king,” the boy said. (Coelho, 1988, 2:72)

What Santiago says in the quotation above is the truth. However, by answering that the stones are given by a king, he subconsciously shows his needs for esteem. Santiago’s needs for esteem will be satisfied if the person he is talking to gets impressed by his words. This shows that Santiago in the story still shows his needs for esteem.

For the last stage of needs, the needs for self actualization, Santiago just experiences it in the final part of the story.

“I’m learning the language of the World, and anything in the world is beginning to make sense to me… even the flight of the hawks.” (Coelho, 1988, 2:104-105)

In the final part of the story, Santiago learns the language for the world for the sake of learning itself. He does not do the learning because he has to, but because he wants to. This shows that he starts to manifest his needs for self actualization.

“I’m following my destiny. It’s not something you would understand.” (Coelho, 1988, 2:117)

Here, Santiago again shows another characteristic of the needs for self actualization. He says that he is following his destiny. He believes that what he does is something that will express his real self and something that he can give to the world. This shows that he tries to display his needs for self actualization.

From the analysis, it can be concluded that out of the five levels in Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, the main character of the novel, Santiago, manifests and tries to satisfy his needs in all five stages of the hierarchy of human needs. However, it can be seen from the quantity of the needs’ manifestation that the most dominant level of needs he experiences in the story is the third stage, the needs for love and belonging.

The result of the research confirms the logically acceptable assumption that a wanderer, as what Santiago represents, struggles mostly to satisfy her needs for love and belonging rather than any other needs, despite what seems to be his or her outward appearance of free, unbound life.

Works Cited

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Coelho, Paulo. 1988. The Alchemist. Brazil.

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Duffy, Charles and Henry Petit. 1953. A Dictionary of Literary Term. USA: BrownBook Company.

Maslow, Abraham Harold. 1943. A Theory of Human Motivation.

Maslow, Abraham Harold. 1954. Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper and Row New York.

Subhan, Bustami, 2003. A Guide to Literary Criticism. Yogyakarta: Debut Press.

Thornley, G.C, and Robert, Gwyneth, 2004. An Outline of English Literature. China: Longman