From Coelho's The Alchemist, what might the habits of Santiago's sheep symbolize?   

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At the beginning of Coelho's The Alchemist, Santiago is traveling the countryside with his flock of sheep. He muses to himself about his sheep as follows:

"They were content with just food and water, and, in exchange, they generously gave of their wool, their company, and--once in a while--their meat" (7).

The sheep represent most people in the world who do not seek or discover their Personal Legends; and, in fact, daily habits get in the way of finding our personal treasures. Most people go along in life working to supply themselves and their families with the basic necessities of life--and there's nothing wrong with that unless these daily habits distract us from something greater. People may also give generously of what they have and live content lives without any regrets; but, the main theme of the book is that a person can only achieve one's highest potential after fulfilling one's own Personal Legend. Santiago's thoughts even turn a bit darker regarding his sheep as in the following passage:

"If I became a monster today, and decided to kill them, one by one, they would become aware only after most of the flock had been slaughtered" (7).

This is a scary thought because if the sheep represent people in the world, then the parallel could be extended accordingly. How many people have the habit of only focussing on daily responsibilities that they do not notice opportunities to succeed or to improve their quality of life right in front of them? It is sad, but people can become like sheep if they are only focused on living out their daily lives without any more purpose than to find something to eat each day. Coelho stresses throughout the book that we can become more than just sheep in life; in fact, we can discover our highest potential if we seek to discover our Personal Legend.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial