The Alchemist Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In Andalusia, Spain, a shepherd boy, Santiago, decides to sleep in an abandoned church that has no roof but has a sycamore tree growing from within. Aside from a herd of sheep, Santiago’s only property is a jacket and one book, which he uses as a pillow. The next morning, he begins his journey to the village where he plans on selling his sheep’s wool.

Stopping briefly in Tarifa, Santiago visits a fortune-teller for help in interpreting a recurring dream. In the dream, he is in a field with his sheep when a child appears. The child takes Santiago’s hands and transports him to the Egyptian pyramids, telling him along the way that there is a hidden treasure there. At this point in the dream, Santiago awakens. The soothsayer advises him to travel to the pyramids to find this treasure.

While reading his book, Santiago meets an old man, professing to be Melchizedek, the king of Salem. The king encourages Santiago to seek his Personal Legend, and he explains that when a person wants something, that desire arises from the Soul of the World. Melchizedek tells Santiago that the treasure he is looking for is near the Egyptian pyramids and that he will have to follow the omens to find it. The old man gives him two stones, Urim and Thummim, to consult in case he has trouble interpreting the signs.

Santiago sells his flock and travels through Tangier, Africa, where he is swindled out of his money. Upset, he asks the two stones if he will find the treasure. In reply, the stones fall to the earth. Santiago interprets this as a positive sign, reaffirming his faith. Resuming his travel, he happens upon a crystal shop and offers to work in exchange for food. Intent on returning home some day, Santiago asks to continue working at the shop to earn the money to buy a flock of sheep, and the merchant agrees. Santiago earns the needed money to return home, though he decides instead to resume his journey to the pyramids.

On his way to the pyramids, Santiago meets an Englishman in search of an Arab alchemist living in Al-Fayoum. The alchemist is said to possess exceptional powers. As the boy is holding Urim and Thummim, the Englishman produces two similar stones from his pocket, which Santiago interprets as a favorable omen. The Englishman and Santiago board a caravan that is crossing the desert, but the ride is arduous because tribal wars have been waged. They arrive safely at an oasis and begin their stay as guests there until the threat of war is over.

While at the oasis, Santiago sees a hawk, prompting a vision of an army attacking the oasis. Because the oasis is a safe zone, he doubts his own vision, yet he tells the camel driver, who instructs him to notify the chieftain. The chieftain declares that everyone shall carry arms. He then promises that for every ten enemies Santiago kills, Santiago will receive a piece of gold. If...

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The Alchemist Bibliography (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Further Reading

Coelho, Paulo. “The Beyond Is Accessible to Those Who Dare.” UNESCO Courier 51, no. 3 (March, 1998): 34-37. This interview with Coelho focuses on his thoughts about the spirituality of and themes in The Alchemist. It also addresses how some of his own life influenced his feelings about how and what to write. Also addresses why people should pursue their goals.

_______. “The Coming of Age of a Brazilian Phenomenon.” Interview by Glauco Ortolano. World Literature Today 77, no. 1 (2003): 57-59. Coelho discusses his writing technique and the motivations behind his works. A brief but helpful article.

Hart, Stephen M. “Cultural Hybridity, Magical Realism, and the Language of Magic in Paulo Coelho’s The Retrieve.” Romance Quarterly 51, no. 4 (Fall, 2004): 304-312. Although focused on a different Coelho novel, this essay examines the evolution of the genre of Magical Realism and its application to his works. Also discusses how Coelho’s works reflect Magical Realism.

Morais, Fernando. Paulo Coelho. New York: HarperCollins, 2009. This biography includes a time line of Coelho’s life with facts that detail how he rediscovered his faith and immersed himself in a life of simplicity.

Weeks, Linton. “Paulo Coelho: At Peace with the Inexplicable.” The Washington Post, September 27, 2004. This newspaper article addresses Coelho’s popularity with his readers and gives specifics regarding his life experiences. In particular, Weeks examines Coelho’s personal growth as a writer.