Living the Personal Legend

Coelho addresses a global issue. He sees the divide between the brain and the soul. The brains of today seek money, power, and safety, while the hearts of today seek compassion, love, and togetherness. The Alchemist, a story written by Coelho, shows how accustomed people are to material dependence, and how the only righteous way to live is to follow one’s personal legend. A personal legend, one’s ultimate goal and purpose on earth, represents self-actualization and transcends money or goods. This pursuit for one’s personal legend ignores technological and economical achievements, but communicates with the soul. Miller’s An Experiment in Institutional Autobiography with Cole’s A Piece of The Wall exemplify the pitfalls of modern society, and how people succumb to material wealth, while Coelho’s The Alchemist illustrates the beauty and higher purpose to live out one’s personal legend.

A scene from The Alchemist.

In The Alchemist, Coelho explores the concept of the personal legend. Instead of following society’s course, Coelho portrays, through Santiago, to live for one’s enlightenment. Santiago, a lowly shepherd, journeys to Egypt because of a recurring dream. Along the journey, he sells all of his sheep, leaves his home and lover, befriends a shopkeeper and the king of salem, meets an alchemist, defends from a terrible omen, and finds a philosopher’s stone that leads him to the treasure from his dream. All of this came about him only because he decided to ask a psychic to interpret his dream. A personal legend is unique to every being, and is one’s true purpose on this world. While Santiago travels with the Alchemist, he learns that every character, object, and animal interact with one another to create the Soul of the World, the spiritual ebb and flow of everything in existence. He ultimately travels to listen to his heart and not

“not be afraid to dream,” and “to yearn for everything he would like to see happen to his life.”

This is the pursuit of one’s heart. This is also the journey which one’s true nature takes priority over material needs. Coelho wants everyone to see that one does not need money or goods to satisfy, and to base one’s potential holistically. In other words, one must also

“see all the marvels of the world, and never forget the drops of oil on the spoon”

The society people live in today do not exemplify true happiness. Technology brings instant gratification and unlocks the whole world in the palm of one’s hand, but cannot appreciate the small details in front of them. In each community and institution, people stray from their legend. People become content with the money they have or the roof over their heads. This mentality means that

“unfortunately, very few follow the path laid out for them - the path to their Personal Legends and to happiness”

Coelho makes a direct correlation between Santiago’s world and his world. Santiago spends most of his journey in the desert. Like the mid-size suburban city is to his world, Santiago realizes that

“the desert, with its endless monotony, put him to dreaming.”

Countless people spend their time in a routine fashion, which, like the monotony of the desert, puts people in a false sense of reality and belonging. In relation to this monotony, the

“world’s greatest lie is at a certain point in one’s life, one loses control of what’s happening to him, and his life becomes controlled by fate.”

However, Coehlo argues that each person has the power to change the course of one’s own fate, but the influence of environment shrouds this fact. In other words, one needs to break free from this illusion and seek the Soul of the World from within. A lot of politics and social problems question the possibility of reaching or even recognizing one’s Personal Legend.

Teju Cole, like Paulo Coelho, addresses his concern for society. Cole witnesses the injustice of border control, and shows how society condemns people from exploring out of bounds.. His piece, A Piece of the Wall, stresses the importance of branching out and exploring new things, instead of narrowing our judgement to stereotyping. The process of stereotyping causes a lot of problems, and instead should treat each case uniquely to the person in question. Aurora, a figure in his story, talks of an officer that unjustly accuses her of being an illegal immigrant. This police officer, a man who swears to be the figure of law and order, blatantly accuses her of being an illegal immigrant without any definitive proof. Even though she’s been living in Tucson, Arizona for nine years and communicates with a

“low and holy intensity”

she still subjects to interrogation. The law, which is made to protect the people of its jurisdiction, shows flaw by the people trying to enforce it. The rules of modern society hinder individual growth and the willingness to thrive. The beliefs of this system constricts each individual as if they were like

“animals in a pen, fasten to each other, a shimmer of sound each time one moves.”

The reason people take the risk and immigrate into America is to experience the land of the free and equal opportunity, but instead, people such as Aurora focus on being a part of this system, which in the end, totally stalls their dreams of a life without corruption. These immigrants are similar to Santiago. They all imagine a life of freedom, prosperity, and a place for a better future, and should not let society’s goals hinder their own.

Miller constructs An Experiment in Institutional Autobiography to show how institutions influence personal writing and education. An institutioinal autobiography is a style of writing in which institutions skew the perception of the personal experience. A typical person learns common beliefs in order to become a fully functional members of society. Even though society teaches these beliefs, each memeber takes these as one’s own. Because of this, personal writing is

“the felt experience of the impersonal”

Today, institutional education and writing base themselves off of what is popular. Schools are institutions where

“the nation works out its evolving understanding of social justice”

However, these same institutions do not help to indulge on personal and spiritual development. Known to be

“open-ended and over-determined, liberating and and confining”

institutions focus each person to a develop a

“sense of connection between self and society”

Even though this connection helps others relate with one another, it severly binds one’s own nature to the society it lives in. These people, instead of discovering the wonders of the world on their own, base these fundamentals from society itself. Ignoring thte exterior influences, one needs to look within oneself to seek his or her own personal legend.

Within A Piece of the Wall, An Experiment in Institutional Autobiography, and The Alchemist, Miller, Cole, and Coelho show why one must understand the difference between how one must think to survive and how one feels to survive. Santiago, Aurora, and others learn to recognize the deceit of material desires and rise above it. The social construct that humanity has put itself today proves to be monotonous and destructive. Most people internalize the society around them, making it very hard to derive one’s true purpose on this world. On the daily, people study and work to satisfy a material desire, whether it be money or goods. As time progresses, these activities become clockwork by continuing a process of wake, eat, work, eat, and finally a never ending sleep.


Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993. Print.

Miller, Richard. Dark Night of the Soul. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Cole, Teju. “Piece of the Wall.” Twitter. N.p., n.d. Web.

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