In Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, discuss the importance of the supporting characters.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The four most prominent characters in Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist are all involved, in some way, with providing direction to the main character, Santiago (also known as "the boy") as he searches for his Personal Legend—that which will make him happy.

An African proverb states: "It takes a village to raise a child." A similar idea is present here: Santiago cannot be successful on his own. And contrary to assumptions based on the book's title, the alchemist does not provide Santiago with any guidance until the boy has reached the oasis. On the way, there are several people who play a significant role in helping him. This echoes Melchizedek's statement to Santiago:

When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

Melchizedek, the King of Salem, is the first to help. It is he who speaks to the boy first about his Personal Legend. He appears as some old man who the boy at first dismisses as unimportant. However, he learns that one cannot casually judge anyone or anything with a glance. Melchizedek also reminds Santiago to watch for omens.

[Santiago] remembered something his grandfather had once told him: that butterflies were a good omen...

"God has prepared a path for everyone to follow. You just have to read the omens that he left for you...That's right," said the old man, able to read the boy's thoughts. "Just as your grandfather taught you. [Butterflies] are good omens."

And the King of Salem keeps Santiago from giving up and going home.

When the boy is robbed, again he is disheartened. He decides to quit his search, get a job and make enough money to buy more sheep, and go home to Spain. He goes to work for a crystal merchant who influences Santiago by his example: he had always wanted to go to Mecca, on a religious pilgrimage. Now he is too old and harbors deep regrets.

"Why don't you go to Mecca now?" asked the boy.

"Because it's the thought of Mecca that keeps me alive...I'm afraid that if my dream is realized, I'll have no reason to go on living...I just want to dream about Mecca."

Santiago soon learns that he does not want to live with regrets and dreams, and he decides to continue on his journey.

As Santiago travels with the caravan to the oasis to find the alchemist, he meets an Englishman—also looking for the alchemist. The Englishman believes in reading books, and that watching for omens and learning the Universal Language of all things is a waste of time. He is searching for a way to turn lead into gold. Santiago soon realizes that though they both may be headed in the same direction, their lives are on totally different paths. Santiago learns to listen to his heart, which the Englishman cannot do.

Santiago, a young man who decided he did not want to be a priest— as his father had hoped—but a shepherd so he could travel the world, reaches the oasis. Here he meets his true love, Fatima. And here, too, he meets the alchemist who forces him to reach beyond what he thinks he can't do, like turning into the wind:

"Don't give into your fears," said the alchemist, in a strangely gentle voice. "If you do, you won't be able to talk to your heart."

"But I have no idea how to turn myself into the wind."

"If a person is living out his Personal Legend, he knows everything he needs to know. There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure."

Santiago finally realizes his Personal Legend—with the guidance of these four important characters.

Read the study guide:
The Alchemist

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