In Coelho's The Alchemist, what does Santiago learn from his sheep?
In Coelho's The Alchemist, at first Santiago believes that his sheep do not consider anything beyond eating and sleeping. He believes that they have no way of understanding that life might have a deeper purpose: after all, they are only animals. However, this is, in many ways, the way Santiago has lived—how most people live. He has had dreams but for some time, he has never acted on them. When he finally decides to set off and sees that there is more to life than working each day in a long progression of repetitious behaviors—through an seemingly meaningless life—that Santiago learns that there is purpose in life if one will only be willing to search it out.
There is foreshadowing in the first few pages to indicate that this may not always be the case:
He arose and, taking up his crook, began to awaken the sheep...He had noticed that, as soon as he awoke, most of animals also began to stir. It was as if some mysterious energy bound his life to that of the sheep...
As Santiago travels and meets the Gypsy woman, Melchizedek, the crystal merchant, the Englishman, the camel driver, and eventually the alchemist, he discovers that there is a world he was never aware of. He learns to search for his Personal Legend. He looks for omens, and is finally able to converse with the desert, the wind and even the sun. Life becomes a much fuller experience, and his rewards are great: for he also learns that things are not as important as people. Fatima becomes the center of his world. Santiago also learns to persevere rather than quitting when things become difficult.
As for his sheep, Santiago looks at them differently as well, and in studying them, he learns something important about how all things in the world are connected:
...the sheep had taught him something even more important: that there was a universal language in the world that everyone understood...It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired.
In coming to this realization, Santiago also believes he can "conquer the world."
Once Santiago understands that everything is connected, he realizes he is connected not just to other people, but also to nature as well, including the sheep—animals that, like Santiago, continue their journey, one step at a time.