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The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho

Section 10

Section 9

Section 11

Summary

Santiago returns to the alchemist’s tent the next night with a horse. The alchemist mounts his own horse and puts a falcon on his shoulder. He tells Santiago to lead him to where there is life in the desert. Santiago feels confused, but he understands what to do when the alchemist tells him that life attracts life. He gallops into the desert until his horse slows down. He tells the alchemist life exists where they have stopped, because his horse knows life. The pair look around among the desert stones and the alchemist finds a cobra and grabs it by the tail. The cobra flails and hisses and Santiago jumps away. The alchemist draws a circle in the sand with his scimitar and places the cobra inside it. The cobra relaxes, and the alchemist says the cobra will not leave the circle.

The alchemist prepares to move on with Santiago to the pyramids, but Santiago complains that he doesn’t want to leave Fatima. The alchemist says Fatima understands that Santiago needs to complete his Personal Legend. Santiago asks the alchemist what would happen if he stayed in Al-Fayoum. The alchemist explains that Santiago would have enough money to buy many sheep and camels, and that he would marry Fatima. Santiago and Fatima would be happy for one year, but that during the second year Santiago would start to think about the treasure again. He would not be able to ignore the omens. During the third year, Santiago would become increasingly obsessed with his Personal Legend, and Fatima would feel bad for interrupting Santiago’s quest. Santiago and Fatima would still love each other, but by the fourth year, the omens of treasure would disappear. The tribal chieftains would dismiss Santiago as their counselor, and Santiago would live the rest of his life in regret. The alchemist’s story convinces Santiago. The pair returns to Al-Fayoum for one night and Santiago tells Fatima he is leaving, but that he still loves her and he will return. The two embrace, touching for the first time.

The alchemist leads the boy through the desert with the falcon on his shoulder. During their stops, the falcon flies off and returns with rabbits or birds to eat. They travel for a week, speaking little. On the seventh day, the alchemist sets up camp early and tells Santiago his journey is almost finished. Santiago feels frustrated that the alchemist didn’t teach him anything, but the alchemist says Santiago should have learned through actions. Santiago asks him why he is an alchemist, and the alchemist explains he learned the practice from his grandfather, when alchemy was simpler. He says men complicated alchemy by writing books about it. Previously, alchemists only needed the Emerald Tablet. Santiago asks what the tablet says, and the alchemist replies that one can’t understand it through reason since it provides a passage to the Soul of the World. The alchemist encourages Santiago to immerse himself in the desert and listen to his heart so he can also gain an understanding of the Soul of the World.

Analysis

Santiago’s first challenge, to find life in the desert, demonstrates his increasing proficiency at getting in touch with the Soul of the World and also reaffirms elements of the novel’s belief system. The alchemist gives Santiago only a vague hint about how to find life in the desert (he says that life attracts life), but immediately Santiago understands the alchemist’s meaning. Santiago quickly finds the cobra, and the alchemist considers Santiago’s success as a sign of Santiago’s ability to understand the Language of the World. Notably, as Santiago gets better at performing these feats, he does not pray or communicate directly with spirits. Instead, he interacts with natural things such as the desert and his horse, emphasizing that the Soul of the World is not an abstract or independent spirit. It exists in every natural thing, and one just needs to develop the right frame of mind to find it.

In this section, we again see Santiago hesitating to pursue his Personal Legend because he feels satisfied with what he already has. Santiago wonders whether he should leave Al-Fayoum at all, and as a result, the alchemist draws the book’s sharpest distinction yet between feeling content in the present and feeling a sense of lifelong contentment. According to the alchemist, if Santiago does not pursue his Personal Legend, his relationship with Fatima will eventually deteriorate as she begins to feel he gave up his dream for her and he begins to regret his decision. Moreover, Santiago will gradually lose touch with the Soul of the World. He will lose his ability to recognize omens, and he will no longer serve as tribal counselor to the chieftains of the oasis. The story of Santiago’s potential future shows that, though Santiago undoubtedly loves Fatima, that love will not sustain him permanently, suggesting that love holds less spiritual importance than one’s Personal Legend. Only by following his Personal Legend will Santiago find lasting satisfaction and avoid regret.

We additionally learn some detail about the alchemist’s personal history, about alchemy in general, and about how a person should follow his Personal Legend. Notably, we learn that the alchemist came to alchemy by happenstance. As he tells Santiago, his grandfather was an alchemist and taught him to be one, just as his grandfather learned because his own father was an alchemist, and so on. In other words, the practice of alchemy holds no special significance in the book except as a metaphor for a person’s purification in pursuit of his or her Personal Legend. Only the Emerald Tablet serves as an exception to this idea because, as the alchemist tells Santiago, the wisdom it contains provides a direct passage to the Soul of the World. Over time, however, other men trying to become alchemists have complicated that wisdom. They have also sought only the treasure of their Personal Legends, meaning the gold they wanted to create, without actually living out their Personal Legends, and thus lost the ability to practice alchemy. The alchemist’s story tells Santiago that the process of pursuing his Personal Legend is more important than the particular dream he wants to fulfill, and that he cannot reach his goal through learning. Santiago must do so through action.

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