Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist Summary

In Andalusia, Spanish shepherd Santiago dreams of a long-buried treasure in Egypt. An old man claiming to be Melchizedek, King of Salem, tells Santiago that he must follow the omens guiding him to the treasure. He gives Santiago two stones to consult if he ever needs help interpreting the omens.

  • Against his father's wishes, Santiago sells his flock and uses the money to travel to Africa. Soon after arriving in Tangier, Santiago is swindled out of his money and left homeless. He offers to work at a crystal shop in exchange for food and shelter. After working for a while, Santiago decides to continue his quest.
  • On the way to the pyramids, he meets an Englishman in search of an alchemist living at the Al-Fayoum oasis. At the oasis, Santiago receives an omen of an impending attack. After Santiago defends the oasis, the alchemist agrees to take him to the treasure.
  • At last, Santiago reaches the pyramids. A group of men happens upon him and beats him savagely when they find no treasure. One of the men tells Santiago about a dream he had about a ruined church in Spain. Santiago realizes the treasure has been buried there all along. He returns home to find the treasure buried in the church where he used to sleep with his flock.

Introduction

One of the most popular novels to emerge in the past twenty years, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, a story about the necessary pursuit of happiness, has endeared its author to thousands of readers worldwide. The Alchemist was originally published in Portuguese in 1988. However, the novel’s translation into English and republication in 1993 made the work an “overnight” financial success. It remains on several best-seller lists every year.

The Alchemist traces the path of Santiago, a young Spanish shepherd who is compelled to follow his dream of finding hidden treasure in Egypt. To do so, he must leave the comfort zone of home, learn to trust the “Soul of the World,” and believe that there are forces in the universe that want us to be happy. In order to find happiness, however, Santiago must first discover his “Personal Legend”—that is to say, he must to discover what he is meant to do in the world. Fortunately, Santiago soon takes the first step in his acquisition of happiness: he listens to his heart and overcomes fear. As Santiago continues his sometimes-painful journey, he discovers that one cannot be dissuaded from pursuing a “Personal Legend,” even if the choices seem impossible to bear. The end result for anyone who does so, Coelho assures his readers, is physical and spiritual reward.

Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In Andalusia, Spain, a shepherd boy, Santiago, decides to sleep in an abandoned church that has no roof but has a sycamore tree growing from within. Aside from a herd of sheep, Santiago’s only property is a jacket and one book, which he uses as a pillow. The next morning, he begins his journey to the village where he plans on selling his sheep’s wool.

Stopping briefly in Tarifa, Santiago visits a fortune-teller for help in interpreting a recurring dream. In the dream, he is in a field with his sheep when a child appears. The child takes Santiago’s hands and transports him to the Egyptian pyramids, telling him along the way that there is a hidden treasure there. At this point in the dream, Santiago awakens. The soothsayer advises him to travel to the pyramids to find this treasure.

While reading his book, Santiago meets an old man, professing to be Melchizedek, the king of Salem. The king encourages Santiago to seek his Personal Legend, and he explains that when a person wants something, that desire arises from the Soul of the World. Melchizedek tells Santiago that the treasure he is looking for is near the Egyptian pyramids and that he will have to follow the omens to find it. The old man gives him two stones, Urim and Thummim, to consult in case he has trouble interpreting the signs.

Santiago sells his flock and travels through Tangier, Africa, where he is swindled out of his money. Upset, he asks the two stones if he will find the treasure. In reply, the stones fall to the earth. Santiago interprets this as a positive sign, reaffirming his faith. Resuming his travel, he happens upon a crystal shop and offers to work in exchange for food. Intent on returning home some day, Santiago asks to continue working at the shop to earn the money to buy a flock of sheep, and the merchant agrees. Santiago earns the needed money to return home, though he decides instead to resume his journey to the pyramids.

On his way to the pyramids, Santiago meets an Englishman in search of an Arab alchemist living in Al-Fayoum. The alchemist is said to possess exceptional powers. As the boy is holding Urim and Thummim, the Englishman produces two similar stones from his pocket, which Santiago interprets as a favorable omen. The Englishman and Santiago board a caravan that is crossing the desert, but the ride is arduous because tribal wars have been waged. They arrive safely at an oasis and begin their stay as guests there until the threat of war is over.

While at the oasis, Santiago sees a hawk, prompting a vision of an army attacking the oasis. Because the oasis is a safe zone, he doubts his own vision, yet he tells the camel driver, who instructs him to notify the chieftain. The chieftain declares that everyone shall carry arms. He then promises that for every ten enemies Santiago kills, Santiago will receive a piece of gold. If...

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