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Free Study Guide for The Alchemist by Paul Coelho

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CHAPTER SUMMARY / NOTES FOR THE ALCHEMIST BY PAUL COELHO

Note regarding the structure:
Instead of breaking the story into traditional chapters, the author has separated the sections of the text by the characters **. Thus, each section separated by ** should be considered a chapter.

PART ONE

Summary

This section opens with our introduction to Santiago, the shepherd boy, who has decided to spend the night in an abandoned church which had fallen in long ago and now has an enormous sycamore tree growing on the spot where the sacristy once stood. We discover immediately that he is a reader, because he uses the book he has just finished reading as a pillow. He awakens in the middle of the night having had the same dream as the one he had a week before, but like before, he has awakened before it ends.

So he gets up and notices that his sheep begin to awaken, too, because as he tells us, They are so used to me that they know my schedule. He has a very interesting relationship with his sheep: he reads to them and he knows the name of each one, because he believes they understand what he says. Lately, he has only spoken to them about one thing: the daughter of the merchant who lives in the village they will reach in four days. He takes his sheep to this shop to be sheared and the merchant buys the wool. That is how he had come to know about his daughter. Like himself, she is Andalusian, from a region of Spain, and her appearance vaguely recalls their Moorish ancestry. They had spent several hours together the last time he had been there talking mostly about his travels. She wonders why a boy who knows how to read is only a shepherd. He gives her no real answer and only knows that he was experiencing the feeling of wanting to live in one place forever.

Santiago is excited to return to the village and the merchants daughter, but as he moves steadily forward, it occurs to him that his sheep stay close to him, because they are incapable of making any decisions. They trust him and have forgotten how to rely on their own instincts, because he always leads them to food and water. In return, they give him their wool, their company - and sometimes, their meat. It reminds him of his purpose in life: to wander, to travel. He had attended a seminary until he was sixteen years old, but even though his parents had wanted him to remain there and be a source of pride for them, he knew that he had wanted to see the world and that was much more important than knowing God and the sins of man.

**

He had told his father what he wanted to do, and his father had tried to dissuade him. But when he realized Santiago was determined, he told him that the only people who travel were shepherds and then he gave him three gold coins to help him buy his flock. He told his son goodbye with the advice that someday he would learn that their own countryside was the best and their women the most beautiful. In his fathers eyes, Santiago had seen his own desire to travel which he had buried beneath the burden of finding a way to just survive.

**


Santiago muses that he is able to live out his dream every day and if he tires of it, he can always sell his sheep and go to sea where he would come to other cities and lands to explore. Now, the dream concerns the merchants daughter and he hurries his pace to Tarifa, the next village. He also remembers that, in Tarifa, there is an old woman who interprets dreams.

**

When the boy enters the house of the old woman, he is somewhat uneasy, because she prays and acts like a Gypsy and gypsies are thieves. However, she has a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus behind her so he comforts himself with that thought. The old woman tells him that dreams are the language of God, so Santiago tells her that twice he had dreamed that he was in his fields with his sheep when a child appeared and took his hands and transported him to the pyramids of Egypt. At the pyramids, the child had told him that if he came there, he would find a hidden treasure. Every time the child was about to tell him the location of the treasure, he would wake up. The old woman thinks for a bit and then tells him she wont charge him anything that day, but that he must promise to give her one-tenth of the treasure if he finds it. He swears that he will and she tells him that its a dream about the language of the world and is very difficult to interpret. However, he must go to the pyramids, because if a child had shown them to him, they exist and he must find them to become a very rich man. Santiago is a little irritated, because he could have figured that out on his own. He leaves, deciding that hell never believe in dreams again. He goes to the marketplace for something to eat and to trade his book. There, he sits on a bench in the plaza watching people and maybe making new friends. He likes life this way, because, even though he wants to meet new people, he doesnt want to become a part of their lives. Thats when they try to change you.

While he is reading, an old man sits down and strikes up a conversation. Santiago doesnt want to talk to the man, preferring to read or think about the merchants daughter. However, the man persists, and because he had been taught to be respectful to the elderly, he doesnt get up or refuse to speak. The old man picks up the boys book and tells him that it is a good book, but one that is really irritating, because it tells the same thing that almost all other books in the world describe: how people are unable to choose their own Personal Legend. It also ends up saying the worlds greatest lie - at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of whats happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate.

Eventually, the old man tells Santiago that he is the King of Salem and that his name is Melchizedek. In spite of the boys surprise at that pronouncement, the old man just wants to know how many sheep he has. When the boy says he has enough, the old man responds that he cant help him if he already has enough sheep. Santiago makes a move as if to find another bench when the man tells him that if he gives him one-tenth of his sheep, hell tell him how to find the treasure. Santiago fears that this man is the old Gypsy womans husband and that hes trying to get more information out of him. However, before he can say anything to him, the old man bends over to write in the sand and reveals something so bright on his chest that it almost blinds Santiago. Then, when he can see again, there in the sand are the names of his mother, his father, the seminary he had attended, and even the name of the merchants daughter. There are even things there he had never told anyone.

 

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