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The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho

Section 3

Section 2

Section 4

Summary

Melchizedek explains the concept of the Personal Legend to Santiago. A person’s Personal Legend, he says, represents what that person most desires to accomplish in his or her life. Everyone knows their Personal Legend when they are young, but as time passes, a mysterious force makes them feel they will never achieve their Personal Legend.

Melchizedek asks Santiago why he lives as a shepherd. When Santiago says he likes to travel, Melchizedek points to a baker working nearby. The baker likes to travel, but became a baker because people consider them more important than shepherds. Melchizedek worries that Santiago is about to give up on his own Personal Legend and says he appears to everyone who is about to quit pursuing his or her dream. He usually appears as a solution to a problem or an idea, and once appeared as an emerald to a miner. He says he will help Santiago if Santiago hands over one-tenth of his flock.

The meeting upsets Santiago, and he begins wandering through the city. He buys bread from the baker Melchizedek mentioned. He then stops at a booth selling tickets for the boat to Africa, but decides to keep being a shepherd. Then, an intense wind called the levanter picks up. Santiago envies the wind’s freedom, and decides the merchant’s daughter and his sheep are only steps on the way toward his Personal Legend.

Santiago finds Melchizedek the next day and brings six sheep. He tells Melchizedek he sold the rest of his sheep the day before. Melchizedek says Santiago can find his treasure in Egypt by the pyramids. Initially, Santiago feels annoyed that Melchizedek does not give a more exact location, but then a butterfly appears. Melchizedek explains the butterfly is Santiago’s first omen and opens his cape to reveal a jeweled breastplate. Melchizedek gives Santiago two stones from the breastplate. He says the stones are called Urim and Thummim and they represent “yes” and “no.” They will help Santiago to read omens.

Before Melchizedek leaves, he tells Santiago the story of a shopkeeper who sends his son to learn the secret of happiness from the wisest man in the world. The boy finds the man in a beautiful castle in the desert. The wise man tells the boy to spend time looking around while balancing a spoonful of oil. When the boy returns, he says he didn’t pay attention to any of the castle’s splendor because he concentrated on the oil. The wise man sends him out again to see the castle, and the boy returns having seen the castle but having also spilled the oil. The wise man tells him he must admire the castle without forgetting the oil. The story reminds Santiago of a shepherd always needing to remember his flock.

As Melchizedek watches Santiago’s ship pull out of port towards Africa, he remembers making the same bargain with Abraham that he made with Santiago.

Analysis

Santiago’s meeting with Melchizedek, which teaches him about Personal Legends and their importance to anyone who wants to live a fulfilling life, essentially marks the point when Santiago decides to embark on his journey to Egypt. Subsequently, the book’s plot largely focuses on Santiago following his dream and trying to live out his Personal Legend. The Alchemist subsequently resembles other “follow your dream narratives,” though Melchizedek’s lesson differs from the lessons in those narrative in a few important ways. For one, Melchizedek insists that everyone knows their Personal Legend when they are young. Personal Legends do not become clear to people only in later in life. In addition, the baker’s story illustrates that society works as an enemy of Personal Legends. When the baker adopts society’s traditional expectation of success, he forgets his true Personal Legend. But as Melchizedek explains, the force that age and society exert against anyone pursuing their Personal Legend plays a vital role in preparing a person to achieve her or his goal.

Santiago’s sheep exemplify the ways in which material possessions can help or hinder a person in his quest to reach his Personal Legend. Without his flock, for instance, Santiago would not have had anything to trade with Melchizedek to get the clue about the next step in his Personal Legend. On the other hand, Santiago’s flock provided him with material wealth and personal satisfaction, both of which tempted him to disregard his Personal Legend and remain in Spain. When Santiago watches the strong “levanter “ wind, he realizes that he must move freely as well. Once Santiago recognizes his flock as just one step in a quest towards an ultimate goal, as opposed to an end in and of itself, he becomes as free as the wind. This realization, that one must be free to move and develop without remaining tied down by material possessions, as well as the image of wind will resurface several times as the story progresses.

Coelho employs several stylistic strategies in this section that give The Alchemist a mythic quality. He introduces phrases and concepts such as The Soul of the World, the Personal Legend, and the Warriors of the Light that continue to appear throughout the book. These phrases resonate by their repetition and because they often appear in capital letters. By echoing Biblical and Koranic phrases, such as the Lamb of God or Inshallah (“if Allah wills”), they make The Alchemist resemble a spiritual text. They also give the reader a sense of a higher power in the book guiding the material world we see. Another strategy Coelho uses to give the book a mythic tone involves using stories as moral lessons. Specifically, Melchizedek’s stories of the baker, the miner, and shopkeeper’s son recall moral allegories in spiritual texts. As a result, the novel comes across as a fable, more akin to the Bible or Koran than a work of realism.

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