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The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho

Section 8

Section 7

Section 9

Summary

Santiago watches a pair of hawks attacking each other and has a vision of armies riding through the oasis. Santiago remembers Melchizedek’s advice to heed omens, so he tells the camel driver about his vision. The camel driver takes Santiago’s warning seriously because he believes that all people can penetrate to the Soul of the World.

The camel driver considers how seers make their living by understanding the Soul of the World, and recalls a time when a seer asked him why he wanted to know the future. The camel driver had trouble coming up with a good answer, so the seer refused to cast the twigs he used to make his predictions. Instead, he told the camel driver to forget about the future and pay attention to the present. The seer told him that God will occasionally reveal the future to someone, but only so it can be rewritten.

Because the camel driver believes that God showed Santiago the future through his vision, he tells Santiago to warn the local tribal chieftains of approaching armies. Santiago doubts the chieftains will take him seriously, but the camel driver explains that they deal often with omens.

The chieftains reside in a huge white tent in the middle of the oasis. Santiago visits and tells a guard that he saw an omen. The guard goes inside the tent and emerges with a young Arab dressed in white and gold. Santiago explains his vision to the Arab, and the Arab asks Santiago to wait as he goes back into the tent. Santiago waits outside until nightfall, when finally the guard invites Santiago inside. The chieftains sit at the back of the lushly decorated tent on silk pillows, eating, smoking hookahs, and drinking tea. One of the chieftains asks Santiago why the desert would speak to him, a newcomer to the desert. Santiago replies that, because he is new, he can see things those accustomed to the desert may not. The chieftains argue in an Arabic dialect Santiago can’t understand.

The old man at the center of the chieftains, dressed in white and gold, does not speak until the conversation ends. Then he recounts the story of a man who believed in dreams and was sold as a slave. The tribe’s merchants bought the man and delivered him to Egypt, because they thought that anyone who believed in dreams could also interpret them. The man was Joseph, and he saved Egypt from famine by interpreting the Pharaoh’s dreams. The old man says that the tribe believes in this tradition, which means they must take messages from the desert seriously.

After his speech, the old man says he will lift the ban on carrying weapons in the oasis for one day, and that everyone should be on the lookout for enemies. He says he will reward each man in the oasis for every ten enemies he kills, and if Santiago turns out to be wrong, they will kill him.

Analysis

The vision Santiago has while watching the hawks shows his progress in penetrating to the Soul of the World. In the moments just before Santiago has his vision, he wonders about Fatima and watches a pair of hawks in the sky. He deliberately tries to read meaning into the hawks' flight, and he thinks to himself that he understands the Language of the World better, in part because of his love for Fatima. He feels that everything begins to make sense just as his vision occurs, suggesting that Santiago is, in fact, learning to understand the Language of the World. In addition, the omens Santiago previously experienced offered only vague hints about the course Santiago should take. For instance, his dream about the treasure in Egypt pointed him in the direction of the pyramids but did not give him any detail about what the treasure contains or where it is buried. This new vision, however, gives Santiago a clear and specific image of the future, and unlike Santiago’s other visions, which informed his own Personal Legend, the vision of the hawks has implications for the entire oasis. He sees an army riding into the oasis with swords drawn, indicating that an attack will occur soon and allowing the people of the oasis to prepare.

Santiago's decision to go to the tribal chieftains with his knowledge of the future also shows his growing confidence in his ability to understand the Language of the World. Although Santiago has acted on omens regularly, he always hesitates to do so. Here, again, he hesitates. After he has his vision, he wishes he could forget it and return to thinking about Fatima. But he never questions the validity of what he saw. With a little encouragement from the camel driver, Santiago goes to see the chieftains, worrying that they will laugh at him but not that he will turn out to be wrong. He even gives the chieftains a reason why the desert might grant the vision to him rather than one of the men who has always lived in the desert, suggesting he believes in the truth of his vision. Even after the chieftains warn Santiago that they will kill him if he turns out to be wrong, he feels he made the right decision in going to see them.

The camel driver's story about his own experiences going to a seer emphasizes the conflicting points of view we see regarding fate in the novel. According to the camel driver, a seer told him that God only reveals the future if God wrote that future to be altered. If the seer is correct, then the future can, in fact, be changed. Melchizedek suggests as much in his earlier statement to Santiago that the greatest lie ever written is that fate controls people's lives. This notion, however, clashes with the idea that God has already written everything, a belief put forth by various characters and evident in the repetition of the word maktub, meaning “it is written.” While some characters suggest that God has already determined the course that everything will take, others suggest that each person controls his or her own destiny. The seer appears to fall somewhere in between. He implies that most of the time the future is fixed, but God can choose to reveal it on occasion in order to change it.

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