At a Glance
- Santiago, a Spanish shepherd boy who leaves home to discover his Personal Legend.
- Santiago's father, who wants him to become a priest.
- Fatima, Santiago's soulmate, who teaches him about the Soul of the World.
- The Englishman, a learned man in search of a famous alchemist said to live at the Al-Fayoum Oasis.
- The gypsy woman, who interprets Santiago's dream about the treasure.
- The crystal merchant, who offers to help Santiago get back on his feet after he is robbed.
- Melchizedek, the King of Salem, who gives Santiago information regarding the location of the treasure in exchange for one tenth of his sheep.
- The merchant's daughter, Santiago's first crush.
Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist can be considered a bildungsroman for his protagonist, Santiago. A bildungsroman is a novel in which a relatively innocent young person achieves spiritual, emotional, and psychological maturity.
In the beginning of the story, Santiago is a shepherd. The parallels to a young biblical Joseph and to Christ are evident. Christ calls “each sheep by name” and tenderly cares for their needs. However, like Joseph, Santiago strongly believes he is called for bigger and better things. He has chosen this life rather than the path his father would have preferred for him (that of a priest), but Santiago has reached a point where he is no longer satisfied with what the sheep can teach him. He aims for more, though unsure of what, and this desire propels him to discover his Personal Legend. Like for all people who decide to follow their dreams, however, the choice is not easy. He must leave his life of familiarity and security to pursue the unknown: “I am between my flock and my treasure,” Santiago realizes. He opts for the hope of a more fulfilling life. His rejection of the norm is the first step on his journey to maturity and to true happiness.
Obstacles will be frequent on his journey from Spain to the Egyptian pyramids, where he is told in a vision that his treasure lies. In the introduction to the novel, Coelho outlines four major stumbling blocks that often dissuade people from achieving their dreams. The first obstacle is people who tell others from “childhood onward” that dreams are impossible to achieve. Santiago’s father claims that no one who pursues dreams is ever satisfied. Later, Santiago is urged by the crystal merchant to stay working for him in his shop. The man scoffs, “I don’t know anyone around here who would want to cross the desert just to see the Pyramids. They’re just a pile of stone. You could build one in your backyard.” Later, when the journey is successful and the treasure his, Santiago understands the words of Melchizedek, who cautioned him against believing “the world’s greatest lie”: that people have no control over what happens to them. Santiago chooses to control his own fate by rejecting first the priesthood, then shepherding, then a comfortable but uneventful life in the crystal merchant’s shop as he furthers his spiritual and intellectual growth.
Overcoming obstacles like the skepticism of those close to him is only one set of difficulties with which Santiago must grapple. However, dealing with these relatively minor roadblocks gives him a sense of confidence to face more challenging barriers. Throughout it all, from understanding the nature of love to the real threat of death, Santiago meets every challenge with courage and enthusiasm, his two greatest strengths.
Without courage and enthusiasm, Santiago could never have achieved the seemingly impossible task the alchemist sets for him: becoming the wind. The choice is either to perform as expected or to be killed. In order to become the wind, he has to intimately understand that “all things are one” and thus be able to speak the Language of the World. This unbelievable task is reminiscent of Jesus’s words from the Book of Matthew: “He said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this...
(The entire section is 2,296 words.)