Skip over navigation

The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho

Section 7

Section 6

Section 8

Summary

The alchemist watches from Al-Fayoum as the caravan arrives. The village around Al-Fayoum buzzes with excitement, but the alchemist has seen many people come and go so he pays no attention. Omens have made the alchemist aware that someone traveling with the caravan will learn from him, and the alchemist wonders how capable his new apprentice will be.

Al-Fayoum, a desert oasis, amazes Santiago. The place appears larger than many Spanish towns. Curious children crowd the caravan and women accost the caravan’s merchants. The camel driver tells Santiago that they are safe in Al-Fayoum. Warring tribes avoid it because mostly women and children inhabit the place. The caravan leader explains that the group will remain in Al-Fayoum until the war ends, and that they must hand over their arms and stay in tents with locals and fellow travelers. Santiago sleeps in a tent with five other young men his age. The next morning, he regales his roommates with stories of his life as a shepherd in Spain, but the Englishman interrupts him to ask for help finding the alchemist.

The pair searches all day for the alchemist’s tent without luck. Santiago asks an old man about the alchemist, and the old man replies that even tribal chieftains can’t meet with him. Santiago decides to ask one more person before giving up, and approaches a young woman at a well. As soon as he sees her, he falls deeply in love with her. The girl introduces herself as Fatima, and explains that the alchemist communicates with desert spirits and lives in the south of Al-Fayoum. The Englishman disappears to pursue the alchemist and Fatima leaves after getting water. Santiago remains where he stands, love-struck.

The next day, Santiago returns to the well, hoping to see Fatima again. He finds the Englishman there as well. The Englishman explains he waited all day for the alchemist. When the alchemist finally arrived, the Englishman asked how to turn lead into gold. The alchemist only responded that he must “go and try.” The Englishman feels annoyed to get such vague instructions after his long journey, but he resolves to try.

Fatima arrives after the Englishman leaves, and Santiago tells her he loves her. As the war drags on and the caravan remains in Al-Fayoum, Santiago meets Fatima at the well every day. Santiago tells Fatima about his Personal Legend which leads him to the pyramids, but he says he wants to stay in Al-Fayoum with her. One day, Fatima tells Santiago that she has been waiting for him her entire life, but insists that he continue on to Egypt after the war to pursue his Personal Legend. She says if they are meant to be together, they will meet again.

After this conversation, Santiago seeks out the Englishman and discovers he has built a furnace. The Englishman explains that he has abandoned his fear of failure and will attempt the Master Work.

Analysis

In this section, we finally meet the alchemist. He watches the caravan arrive from afar, instead of greeting it along with the tribal chiefs. He acts more like an observer than an involved member of the power structure of Al-Fayoum. In fact, as the old man that Santiago speaks to explains, the chieftains can’t even meet with the alchemist unless he consents. Like Melchizedek, the alchemist appears to possess magical powers. He knows in advance that an apprentice will arrive and has supposedly lived for much longer than a typical human lifespan. When Santiago and the Englishman begin asking local residents about the alchemist, the locals react strangely, telling the pair to leave or give up. Some aren’t even sure that such a man exists, or at least they try to make the pair believe that he doesn’t exist. It remains unclear why the alchemist possesses such a reputation, but he appears to be a powerful and mysterious figure.

Santiago has no purpose for remaining at the oasis, but he ends up benefiting from his time there. Although he knows the alchemist lives there, he doesn’t have as much interest in the alchemist as does the Englishman. At first, he even considers the delay in Al-Fayoum a major impediment to his quest for his Personal Legend and evidence that his “beginner’s luck” has run out. But Santiago comes to realize that each challenge he faces on the way to his destination forms part of God’s plan. Rather than worry about a schedule he cannot control, he contents himself with remaining at the oasis and opens himself to new experiences. Santiago then meets Fatima. As soon as Santiago approaches her, he notices her beauty, and he feels instantly in love with her. Once the two begin speaking, the delay at the oasis allows them to become friends, and Santiago even starts to worry that one day he will have to leave. He comes to recognize the time as a part of his journey rather than an obstacle, suggesting that fate predestined the delay.

The love affair between Santiago and Fatima moves very quickly, but this abruptness makes sense given the novel’s allegorical style. Santiago goes from meeting Fatima to proposing to her in just a few pages. The novel skips any realistic description of their affair that would develop and explain their love to the reader. Instead, the book regards Santiago’s and Fatima’s relationship more as a symbolic step in Santiago’s larger quest for his Personal Legend. He explains their love, for instance, by comparing it to the pure “Language of the World,” which allows people (and things) to communicate with each other and with the Soul of the World. The novel treats their love as part of this mysterious process, evident when Santiago recognizes without even speaking to Fatima that he loves her. Consequently, Santiago’s and Fatima’s relationship serves to reiterate the novel’s broader themes of interconnectedness and Santiago’s growing connection with the forces that bind the world together.

Follow Us