The Alchemist Questions and Answers
by Paulo Coelho

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How is the Englishman an important character in Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The Englishman is important to Paolo Coelho's The Alchemist because he acts as a foil to Santiago. Both men are on a quest, but the Englishman is going about it the wrong way.

A foil is another character to which the protagonist is compared. They are similar in some ways, but very different in areas that are central to the story's plot. A foil is...

...[a] character who sets off another character by contrast.

As an example, Hamlet's foil in Shakespeare's play by the same name is Young Fortinbras. Both have lost fathers, both uncles have taken over the throne, and both want revenge; but where Fortinbras is chided by his uncle to behave himself and move on in order to take some valuable action (like fighting another country), Hamlet cannot decide either way, and he beats himself up over it. (And whereas Fortinbras' father died in a fair fight with Old Hamlet, Old Hamlet's brother murdered him.) The comparison of the two makes Hamlet's character stand out more clearly.

In The Alchemist , Santiago (the...

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litteacher8 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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laurto | Student

"The Englishman serves as a contrast to Santiago’s way of learning. Santiago meets him when the two are preparing to join the caravan. The Englishman is desperately seeking the famous alchemist who is purported to live at the Al-Fayoum Oasis. He thinks that all of his knowledge will be found in books and does not learn from experience the way that Santiago does. When Santiago returns the books he has lent, he reacts in a bitter way, thinking to himself that 'his soul must be too primitive to understand those things' found in the learned tomes."

He is important because you are able to see the different ways they see and go about their quest. The Englishman listens mostly to books while Santiago listens to his heart. Coelho is trying to tell us that listening to our heart will bring happiness.