How does the main character change from the beginning of Coelho's The Alchemist to the end?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Santiago is a young man who herds sheep for a living at the beginning of Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist. However, the universe has different plans for the boy than to allow him to remain on this non-productive path. It intervenes by giving him a dream about finding treasure at the Egyptian pyramids. This is only the first of various omens that help the boy discover his Personal Legend, or to achieve his full potential in life. As a bildungsroman, the whole point of the story is for Santiago to change, grow, learn, understand, and eventually, evolve into what his Personal Legend has to offer.

First, Santiago must make a sacrifice of faith to begin his journey. He sells his sheep and gives Melchizedek, the king of Salem, one-tenth of the flock as payment for his guidance and teaching. Then, the boy puts that faith into practice as he sets off towards the Egyptian pyramids to find his treasure. Little does he know, though, that the lessons he learns on his journey are more important than finding the treasure. It is on the trip through Africa that he changes by way of physical, mental, and emotional trials, which also help him grow from a boy to a man. 

For example, Melchizedek warns the boy before his journey of the following truth:

"At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend" (21).

Knowing this helps Santiago to persevere when he faced with temptations to give up on achieving his Personal Legend. For instance, he is robbed on his first day in Africa and loses everything. He is tempted to go home right then, but he doesn't because he remembers Melchizedek's advice. By not going home, and pushing through to find another way to keep going, Santiago grows and matures. Again, he discovers his own power in perseverance. Consequently, he finds a job with a crystal merchant and earns money in a different career for a year or so before finally traveling across the desert with a caravan toward Egypt. 

In the caravan, the boy learns about different philosophies about alchemy from an Englishman. Then, he falls in love with a girl at the Oasis and is tempted to stop his journey to stay and marry her. It is only after she tells him to achieve his dreams first that he is ready to be taught by the alchemist and learn the ways of the Soul of the World. The alchemist not only teaches him more about omens and alchemy but about following one's heart with complete faith, trust and love. These are the elements that help Santiago to believe in himself and to fulfill his Personal Legend. It is only after a few years of life experiences and focused study that Santiago learns his most important lesson as follows:

"The boy reached through to the Soul of the World, and saw that it was a part of the Soul of God. And he saw that the Soul of God was his own soul. And that he, a boy, could perform miracles" (152).

It is at this moment that Santiago realizes his capacity to live and love with strength and power. He would never have learned this tending sheep in Spain. There aren't enough trials and errors to teach the boy about the power of the Soul of the World as a shepherd. Only by getting out into the world and learning to depend on himself, the omens, and universal concepts is the boy able to change and fulfill his Personal Legend. In the end, Santiago becomes more aware of himself, the world, and the universe. He learns about true love, the power of perseverance, and how to fulfill one's highest potential. 

Susan Woodward eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning, Santiago is afraid to trust his dreams/intuition and so he seeks the aid of a gypsy woman to interpret a dream for him.  Her words are actually a confirmation of what Santiago believed to be the meaning of the dream, but instead of trusting himself, he sought a second opinion. As he goes on his journey across the Sahara, he shows how he is finally able to put faith in his own judgement and intuition.  When he asks the Alchemist how he is supposed to turn himself into the wind, the Alchemist refuses to give him the step-by-step instructions Santiago hopes for.  Throughout the test, Santiago begins to trust his intuition, and he is successful.  At the end, when the robber tells Santiago about his own dream and how he refused to succumb to the temptation to go on such a journey for a stupid dream, Santiago realizes how foolish the man's words are.  The description in the dream leads Santiago to find a marvelous treasure, and then leads him to join the one he loves.