The Alchemist

by: Paulo Coelho

Section 12

Summary Section 12


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.