Explain quote in your own words: "The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never forget the drops of oil in the spoon." From Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist.

In The Alchemist, the King of Salem tells the story of a boy who must travel the world carrying a spoon of oil, which must not spill. It is important for the boy to experience the world, but on this journey, he shouldn't be distracted from his own personal goals and purpose in life. 

Expert Answers

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

In Paulo's Coelho's The Alchemist, the King of Salem (Melchizedek) tells Santiago the story of a boy who is told by the "wisest of wisemen" that he must carry oil on a spoon while he sees the world, and yet not spill the oil.

The message I get from this is that while there is much to be seen in the world, we must not lose sight of our primary responsibilities in life. For Santiago (according to the King of Salem), every person has a responsibility to pursue his or her Personal Legend. Nothing else can be as important. In doing so, all the things that are significant in life will eventually come to the person who stays focused anyway. When the boy in the story does not spill the oil, he has missed everything around him. If the boy is spilling the oil, he is losing sight of his original goal, losing focus because of the things he sees in the world as he moves about. Soon, his task of carrying the oil safely has been forgotten, and the oil gone—much like the loss of an exceptional opportunity when one is distracted from one's purpose.

"'Well there is only one piece of advice I can give you,' said the wisest of the wise men. ‘The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never forget the drops of oil on the spoon'.”

The King of Salem is telling Santiago to see all that he can of the world. (This make sense, for how can Santiago follow omens or learn the Universal Language, etc., if he does not observe the world around him?) However, Melchizedek is also reminding Santiago not to be distracted by what he sees so much that he loses sight of his purpose in life: he must maintain a balance on his journey.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

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