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The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho

Section 12

Section 11

Section 13

Summary

A battle takes place during Santiago’s and the alchemist’s first day at the camp. Santiago finds the alchemist feeding his falcon and tells him he has no idea how to turn into the wind. He asks why the alchemist doesn’t seem worried, since if Santiago doesn’t turn into the wind, they will both die. The alchemist says he already knows how to turn himself into the wind.

For most of the second day, Santiago sits on a cliff contemplating his fear. On the third day the chief and his officers visit Santiago to see if he can make good on his claim. Santiago looks out to the desert and it speaks to him. Santiago tells the desert about his love for Fatima, and it offers its sand to Santiago to help the wind blow. It says that Santiago will also have to ask the wind for help.

A breeze picks up as Santiago asks the wind for help. The wind argues that Santiago differs too much from it, but Santiago contends that he desires to reach all corners of the world, just like the wind. The wind understands but doesn’t know what to do. Santiago tells the wind that love can empower it to do anything. The wind feels like Santiago demeans what it already knows how to do. It blows harder, annoyed, and tells Santiago to talk to the Hand That Wrote All. Santiago says he will, but that first the wind should create a sandstorm so he can look into the sky without the sun blinding him.

The wind picks up into a powerful gale called the simum and the tribesman ask their chief if they can stop Santiago’s stunt. The chief, however, wants to see Santiago complete his task. Santiago speaks to the sun. The sun tells him it knows of love, but Santiago argues it does not. Santiago says that all things have their own Personal Legend, and when something realizes its Personal Legend, it must change so it can acquire a new Personal Legend. Alchemists use this process to coax lead into becoming gold. After hearing Santiago’s words, the sun decides to shine more brightly, and the wind blows harder so it can continue to block out the brightness.

Santiago tells the sun that love transforms the Soul of the World and asks the sun to turn him into the wind. The sun says it can’t and suggests Santiago speak to the Hand That Wrote All. The wind is happy to see the limit to the sun’s wisdom and blows harder. Santiago communicates with the Hand That Wrote All but senses he should not speak. Instead, he prays and experiences a rush of love. He realizes that the Soul of God is his own soul, and that he can perform miracles.

Generations of people after remember the wind on that day. When the tribesmen look at where Santiago was standing, he is gone. Instead, he stands far on the other side of camp. The men feel terrified, and the alchemist seems pleased. The chief lets Santiago and the alchemist continue on their journey and provides them with an escort party.

Analysis

Santiago’s great test of turning himself into the wind serves as the climactic scene of The Alchemist. In this scene, several of the novel’s major themes and symbols converge. Santiago, for instance, must overcome his fear, a theme the novel presents as a person's greatest obstacle in pursuit of his Personal Legend. He also communicates with the desert, one of the most prominent symbols in the novel. Repeatedly in The Alchemist, the desert acts both as a challenge to Santiago and a teacher. It poses threats, such as the wars, but the desert also teaches Santiago to understand the Language of the World as he spends more and more time contemplating it. He uses this knowledge to communicate with different elements in this scene, including the desert itself, the wind, and the sun. In the context of the novel, Santiago can communicate with all these elements because they all speak the Language of the World and because they are all part of the Soul of the World, again emphasizing the theme of unity across all elements in nature. Additionally, Santiago recognizes that each element, even inanimate objects, has its own Personal Legend. Invoking the main symbol of the book, he explains that alchemy involves coaxing lead to live out its Personal Legend of evolving into gold. Finally, Santiago, in something like his notion of alchemy, transforms himself literally into the wind.

This physical transformation adds a new dimension to the ideas of alchemy and the Personal Legend that we have seen to this point in the novel. Previously, alchemy had generally referred to a spiritual transformation brought about when one reaches her Personal Legend. Here, however, achieving one's Personal Legend causes a physical transformation with implications beyond the individual. Santiago tells the sun that once something achieves its Personal Legend, it evolves into something new and better, and assumes a new Personal Legend. As the elements of the world evolve in this way, they grow like a pyramid into “one thing only,” the highest step of evolution. If every natural thing completes the cycle of achieving its Personal Legend, evolving, and repeating the cycle, eventually all creation will become the same thing. According to Santiago, this evolutionary spirituality allows for alchemy, and for personal transformation. It also roots Santiago’s seemingly selfish quest to find a treasure in the higher goal of becoming part of a unified creation.

Santiago's challenge also reiterates the alchemist's lesson that knowledge must be gained through action. As Santiago prepares to attempt to turn himself into the wind, the alchemist offers him little, if any, help. The alchemist goes so far as to say he will be safe in any case since he can already become the wind, but that he won’t protect Santiago if he fails. The alchemist's behavior suggests that Santiago must face this test alone, without assistance or even instruction from the alchemist. In fact, repeatedly in the novel we see teachers, such as the alchemist and Melchizedek, and omens, such as Santiago's initial dream of the treasure, providing only limited guidance to Santiago. Most of what he accomplishes in the story he does primarily on his own.

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