President Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote, “The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.” Life is tied with the very essence of nature. It is natural for life to blossom fully and go through a delicate and unpredictable cycle that is based on actions tied with one another like a string of togetherness until the ultimate demise is reached. It is this unpredictable in-between phase that makes life what it is, a pure enigma of indefinite proportions. The universe plays an important role in this game where it provides opportunities as well as diversions in a mathematical progression, all leading to infinite outcomes. One action begets another which progresses into a life style and ultimately a destiny. This is the quintessence that separates human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom, where logical reasoning and rationale give humans the better edge to dictate their lives’ outcome. Hence in this quest of steering life’s wheels, the universe can serve two different tasks. If human beings have the will to want something real bad, the universe will conspire in helping them achieve that dream or it might conspire against the dream and force humans to create a guise as a means of self preservation. This paper will try to explain this dual feature of the universe by comparing and contrasting the main characters of two novels, The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho and The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru. Santiago, the main character from, The Alchemist is a character that goes through life with the universe at his aid and Pran Nath, the main character from , The Impressionist goes through life with the universe as his setback.
In The Alchemist, Santiago is an educated young shepherd and future priest who decides to travel around the world in the quest for the true nature of the world, which was more important to him than knowing about God or learning about man’s sins. He sees the world in the way he wants to view it, not in what actually is happens.
Santiago’s journey is filled with inexplicable delicacy and marvel. He transforms in many stages to fulfill his inner search. He was young, bright and eager when he left for Africa, characteristics common to most adolescents as they make their initial venture on their careers with uncertainty of what it is to come lingering all in the atmosphere. His physical features were adequate for him to make his journey.
Emotionally, optimism blinded his common sense. He only envisioned the optimistic fates that awaited him and delayed on his contemplation of all the negative factors working against his plans. He leaves home voluntarily, driven with the inner urge to find the treasure he had heard so much about. He sells his belongings, his sheep and such, to travel to Tangiers, Africa. The most important observation of his emotional ties to his journey is the conversation he has with the gypsy woman and the old man. When asking the gypsy woman to interpret his dream about finding a treasure in the Egyptian pyramids, she offers to tell him for the price of one tenth of the treasure upon his return. On the other hand, when he asks the old man to show him the path to the treasure, the old man offers to tell him but requests one tenth of his flock as “payment”. The former payment method looks far more ideal but of Santiago’s eagerness beats the odds, being convinced for the presence of the treasure, he agrees wholeheartedly. This is emotional blindness at its best. The latter form of payment was more practical and indeed Santiago complies.
Spiritually, Santiago’s dream is the power that started the ignition. He had, what religious scholars would refer to as a revelation, an inner truth that is inspired by subconscious means. This dream changed his whole life and his journey is merely a spiritual quest in the physical world. His faith and convictions led him to pursue the intricate path of a personal-legend path charted by mysterious magnet of destiny but obscured by distractions. This was the force that appeared to be negative but actually showed him to realize his destiny by preparing his spirit and will. His spiritual desire to find the treasure originated in the soul of the universe and became his mission on earth.
In personality, Santiago was an adventurer at heart where his mission did not distract him into being subdued into a particular place as a settlement. He trusts his instincts more than anything else.
When observing his evolution as a person, his optimistic attitude was crashed on early on when he was robbed by a thief of all his money. This is the point where the first greatest challenge, the painful realization of reality, came into play. As they say, “Experience is the best teacher”, the robbery diversion thwarted Santiago’s plans and had him explore other alternatives of earning his living. He was forced to do menial job for a crystal merchant where he saw a great change in his growth. His mood and attitude had matured within the years he spent as an employee. He learns the art of business and most importantly, the art of patience. The latter practice especially was most crucial to the pursuit of his personal legend.
His judgment becomes sound when he indulges in a deeper notion of the meaning of the treasure. When he finds Fatima and falls head over hills in love with her, he questions whether she was the treasure he had always been searching for. His ways of doing things become less spontaneous as they used to be and he starts practicing patience more and more. His most profound growth in judgment is reflected on his conversation about the pilgrimage to Mecca with the crystal merchant. While the crystal merchant maintained that having a dream was more important than fulfilling it, Santiago realizes that he had always been in pursuit of it and starts exploring the pros and cons of where his treasure hunt would ceased at. He was happy with Fatima but then the contact with the Englishman brought back the passion of adventure once again.
The time he met the Alchemist is another most insightful moment of his journey. The Alchemist tells him that “you don’t have to understand the desert: all you have to do is contemplate a simple grain of sand and you will see in it all the marvels in creation.” The way to understanding life boiled down to exploring the makeup of life rather than the exploring life itself. The alchemist also shares this with him and not the Englishman because he saw the great features of a true adventurer, not driven by passion but by passionate logic. Santiago had to go through the dangers of tribal wars on the outskirts of the oasis to reach the pyramids and the alchemist had enough fate in him to let him finish his destiny alone.
Love was the second biggest diversion that had threatened to change his plans of obtaining his goals. “Love is blind” was the case when Santiago thought that Fatima was the treasure he had always been looking for.
The choices Santiago makes on his journey to Africa were completely voluntary and pressure free. He left his hometown as a tourist, thus he didn’t not face as much confrontations as he would have if had gone as a refugee. Moreover, if he had not been robbed and had not worked for the crystal merchant, he would have had another lifestyle and maybe wouldn’t have learned the tools of patience and networking to achieve his goal. Santiago had a strong heart, where he accepted all the pressures that fell upon him and had the determination to carry on with his task.
To sum up, Santiago voluntarily left his hometown in search of a treasure and had an unbreakable spirit and tenacity filled with optimistic emotions. He learned to mature and grow as a person in his journey through his interactions with different characters namely the crystal merchant, Fatima, the Englishman and the alchemist. He realizes that if one wants something really bad, the entire universe will conspire in an attempt to give aid and make the dream a reality.
Likewise, in The Impressionist, Pran Nath Rasdan is a character much similar to Santiago but with many subtle differences. Pran Nath was the child of a wealthy man of high caste but fathered by and Englishman. His life was filled with mysterious puzzles due to the interlaying lies built one top of the other. Even during birth, the astrologer could not predict the Pran Nath’s future, as his chart showed lies with the stars contorting themselves with no pattern and no equilibrium. This was a prologue to the life of lies that was in store for Pran Nath.
Pran Nath was forced to leave home at 15 when the truth about him was revealed and he was tossed to the streets on his own. He was still young but he had the heart of a lion. He had the survival instinct. He had the looks and the charms with his father’s pale skin tone working to his advantage. The pale splendor of his skin was initially a proof of his distinguished bloodline which later became a telltale trait of his tainted heritage.
Emotionally, he had lost his compassionate side and had developed the survival instinct, whereby implementing the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest. He denounces his English side at first because it was the factor that had alienated him from his family but along his journey, he realizes that it was of no help. Being Indian, he had to face caste systems and social hierarchies that tied the social construct. He found himself estranged and knotted in complexity. He saw no glimpse of hope which led him to act quickly, with a survival instinct to form a guise, he took full advantage of his English side to hustle his way in society.
He had chameleon like characteristics, where he was lost in lies by assuming different roles in society and leading multiple lives. He became an impressionist and this trait stemmed solely from the pressures of the political or social climate forces. It was not his wish to put on guises but without guises, he would go nowhere; the means justify the ends.
Spiritually, Pran Nath was impromptu with most of his decisions. Survival and self-preservation is what powered his engine. He is unethical because his guises serve as a tool of ruse and deception, yet it is an essential asset he had to go places. He represents more of the scientific ideology contrary to Santiago’s character who had the creationist’s ideology used throughout the story, in that he was not moved by any inner feelings but pure rationale. He was the perfect example of the universe working to conspire against him. To battle this, he used different guises as a form of shield.
Personality wise, Pran Nath was a character who knew what he wanted in life and how to get it. He represents todays more innovative and profit oriented corporate class. He had the ‘hustle’ mind frame with the intentions of providing for himself.
His maturity and growth is greatly shadowed by his multiple personalities and guises. He is a character living double lives and fulfilling different goals. He cannot be himself at any one point so the question of maturity is complex. He can act mature when he needs to be, just like he did with the Scottish foster parents becoming a dutiful foster son and just the same, as pretty Bobby, he is a pimp and a carefree lover of the women in the dangerous district of the area with no sign of maturity. From School boy uniforms and silk saris to academic robes and adventurer’s khaki’s, Pran Nath shaped others impression on him.
Pran Nath learns that perception is a ready replacement for reality. His judgments are based on his motivations of survival and are deceitful at many times, even unlawful. For instance, the incident when he took the passport of Jonathan Bridgeman to travel to London was a very bold and unethical move. He had completely taken advantage of Jonathan and was not even worried how he would act when meeting with Aunt Berthilda. He lives in a world where he takes the roles of all actors. “Jonathan had learned the trick… people care about outward forms… becoming someone else is just a question of changing tailor… easy, except when that being is involuntary, when fingers loose their grip and panic sets in that nothing will stop the slide, then becoming is flight… no one running… no one stopping… no one there alone.
Pran Nath seems like a character filled with adventure. He has the same tenacity as Santiago in that he is always seeking for something greater that he can guise for. He wants to explore other worlds in a quest to fill his inners self and maybe find himself and his status in society.
It is always interesting to imagine how things would have turned out if he had not been kicked out of his home. In his fifteen years as the only son of a wealthy academic of high caste, he could do no wrong in his family’s opinion, yet he had an arrogance, unappealing practical jokes and disrespectful nature that alienated the servants and townspeople. If the choice was not made to reveal his true self, he would have been despised even more but the opportunity of being expelled from home changed his attitude and forced his chameleon traits to emerge.
The foste, like the alchemist was the epitome that scared the impressionist. He thought that his English side would be sucked out of him and his barren, naked body exposed and his real personality revealed. His trait is common in today’s global world, where society assimilation has created a sense of loss in identity.
When comparing Pran with his English father, Mr. Forrester, they both had the sensed of adventure built in them. Although, Pran was more sociable than his dad, they were both determined in the goals they set and worked hard, by any means to achieve it. It was a dream and determination that took the life of his father away from him and Pran was at the mercy of such a fate. He was also spontaneous like his mother, wild and quick to make major decisions that would take him to places afar.
In summary, Pran Nath is a dispelled young lad who starts his journey as a lost kid but find his way around society and into prominence by the different impressions he creates and becomes. His journey is self-motivated by pressures of survival and his actions as far as he is concerned are acceptable as long as preservation is maintained.
In conclusion, the dual nature of the universe serves to help some and harm others but in doing so will implement a level of creativity by human beings either to combat it or go along with it. Santiago was getting the help of the universe; which was working along side him on his quest for the treasure. For Pran Nath, the universe was a bittersweet place which provided setbacks, one after the other to test his will and tenacity. Hence, whichever side the universe approaches, it is better to be always ready and ready for combat.
Coelho, Paolo. “The Alchemist”- 1st ed. New York Harper: Collins Publishers, 1993.
Kunzru, Hari. “The Impressionist” New York: Penguin Putnam Inc. Company 2002.