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The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho

Part Two, Section 5

Section 4

Section 6

Summary

After almost a month of work, Santiago feels annoyed with his new job. The crystal merchant is grouchy and the work is tedious. The job pays decently, but Santiago would still need a year’s savings to afford a new flock of sheep. Santiago offers to build a display case to place outside the shop and attract more customers, but the crystal merchant fears people will bump into it and break crystal. He argues that business has been good and asks why Santiago wants more. Santiago says he needs to follow his Personal Legend and go to the pyramids.

The crystal merchant doesn’t understand why Santiago feels so determined. He warns that the display case could be a mistake just as easily as it could help them make more money. The crystal merchant says he lives by the Koran, which makes few demands, but as he explains these demands he recalls that one of them is a pilgrimage to Mecca. Traveling to Mecca has long been his dream. Santiago asks why he never made the trip, and the merchant says that, if he did, he would no longer have anything to live for. He prefers to have his dream. In recognition of Santiago’s dream, he agrees to build the display case.

The display case increases customer traffic, and Santiago realizes that, within six months, he will have enough to return to Tarifa and buy twice as many sheep as he originally owned. After hearing a man complain about the lack of places to drink on the hill, Santiago suggests that the crystal merchant also sell tea in crystal glasses. The crystal merchant hesitates to enter a new business, but he invites Santiago to smoke a pipe with him to discuss the idea. He tells Santiago he has become aware of the danger of ignoring blessings, and agrees to sell tea. The tea becomes popular, and the crystal merchant hires more employees as his business increases.

The months pass and Santiago, nearly a year after his arrival in Africa, has become rich as a result of the crystal shop’s success. One morning, Santiago wakes early. He tells the crystal merchant he wants to return to Tarifa and buy a large flock of sheep, and he encourages the crystal merchant to travel to Mecca. The crystal merchant says he will not go to Mecca, and Santiago will not go home. Santiago asks how he knows, and the crystal merchant says “maktub,” which means “it is written.”

As Santiago packs, the two stones, Urim and Thummim, fall to the floor, reminding Santiago of Melchizedek. He considers how much he has achieved by travelling to Tangier and reconsiders returning home and becoming a shepherd again. The trip through the desert to the pyramids will offer him the chance to get to know a new place, and he could always return to his sheep. He decides to continue pursuing his Personal Legend, and visits a supplier for desert caravans.

Analysis

Santiago and the crystal merchant represent the different paths a person may choose in life, with fear and complacency acting as the dividing factors between the courses they select. Whereas Santiago feels eager to pursue his Personal Legend and get to Egypt, the crystal merchant fears pursuing his own dream to make a pilgrimage to Mecca because he worries he will have nothing to live for afterward. He also feels comfortable with what he has and does not seek out more. Santiago has already faced several setbacks in his own quest, but they have all been due to outside forces, such as the thief who robbed him. The crystal merchant faces none of these difficulties. Rather, he has made a personal decision to avoid his dream because of his own fear and complacency. Although Santiago will continue to face many more material setbacks in pursuit of his Personal Legend, these factors remain the most difficult obstacles for him to overcome.

Santiago shows the crystal merchant that, by ignoring his greater dreams, he also reduces his perspective, to the point that his day-to-day business suffers. The crystal merchant displays the same sense of wariness toward traveling to Mecca that he displayed when Santiago proposed that they build a crystal stand or sell tea. When the crystal merchant finally agrees to risk changing his business, which could affect his lifestyle, his business thrives. Santiago compares his experience with the crystal merchant to his own experience with his sheep. Although Santiago learned some facts from his sheep, he could never have learned Arabic from them. He concludes that, sometimes, you need to abandon a comfortable lifestyle in order to grow. Notably, the crystal merchant becomes depressed after his success with Santiago. When the crystal merchant realizes that the possibilities for his life have no limits, he feels weak and lazy for having resisted his dreams.

Despite the lessons Santiago learns while working for the crystal merchant, he initially decides to use his earnings to buy a new flock of sheep and return to his old life. He must consult Urim and Thummim once more in order to renew his commitment to his goal. Santiago realizes that although the prospect of returning to the comfort of his sheep tempts him, had he not continued in pursuit of his Personal Legend when he first arrived in Tangier, he never would have found success with the crystal merchant. Urim and Thummim and the memory of Melchizedek remind him that a much greater goal exists than just a comfortable life. This epiphany allows Santiago to happily and confidently face his impending trip across the desert. The crystal merchant, meanwhile, does not feel surprised at Santiago’s departure. He invokes a term repeated throughout the book—maktub, which means “it is written”—suggesting that Santiago has a destiny to fulfill. This emphasis on the importance of fate becomes only more prominent as Santiago continues to search for his treasure.

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