At the beginning of Coelho's The Alchemist, Santiago has been a shepherd for two years. This is a good amount of time to acquire many experiences and skills with any job. And Santiago is a true shepherd who knows each of his flock by name--unlike a sheepherder who drives his sheep around like dumb animals. This implicitly tells us that Santiago is kind, patient, and talks to his sheep as if they were friends. (Consequently, the relationship with his sheep is also a direct allusion to how Jesus refers to himself and his followers in the Bible.) The sheep represent the boy's safety zone where he is at peace and sustaining a life of his own. He thinks about the sheep often as he searches for his treasure because, if he fails to fulfill his Personal Legend, he could possibly go back to them and that life.
At other times, he sees them as a dead-end job. He describes this as follows:
"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. . . They trust me, and they've forgotten how to rely on their own instincts, because I lead them to nourishment"(7).
Later, while facing obstacles and failure on his journey, he sees them as a point of reference to either give up and go back to them, or as a reason to keep going forward rather than go back. He rationalizes his thinking by saying,
"I know why I want to get back to my flock. . . I understand sheep; they're no longer a problem, and they can be good friends. On the other hand, I don't know if the desert can be a friend, and it's in the desert that I have to search for my treasure. If I don't find it, I can always go home"(65).
We all have a safety zone that is scary to leave or a nice place to go back to if we've left it. Remembering his safety zone helps the boy to make weigh the consequences of decisions throughout the journey, and as a result, keeps him moving forward to achieve his dreams.