The Alchemist (Coelho): Character Profiles
This mystical man plays two important roles in the book whose title bears his name. His legendary abilities have inspired the Englishman and countless others to learn to turn metal into gold, and the mythical magic that surrounds his desert existence enchants even those who never meet him. However, he approaches Santiago believing him to be a boy it was prophesied would interpret the flight of the hawks, and is not disappointed in the youngster’s passion for pursuing his Personal Legend. The alchemist as a man, even more than as a legend, demonstrates the power of following dreams wherever they may lead.
Soon after his arrival in Egypt, Santiago finds work in the shop of an Arab merchant who is pleased by his hard work and imaginative ideas. Although he lacked the courage to pursue his own dream of seeing Mecca, he is supportive of his young charge and both benefit from increased business, whether by displaying wares outside the shop or serving refreshing mint tea to weary customers.
This foreigner is enchanted by the ideas of alchemy to the point of crossing the desert on a quest to meet the illustrious alchemist. He is another foil for Santiago, for although he has read all the right books and tried his hardest to understand, he lacks the ability to listen to his inner self. Somewhat like the crystal merchant who never made it to Mecca, or the baker who preferred the security of a store to the wandering ways of the shepherd, he is afraid to really trust his heart. His role in accompanying Santiago on the caravan across the desert serves to show the boy’s uniqueness in interpreting the mysteries of the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life.
Fatima is the girl Santiago first glimpses collecting water at the well in Al-Fayoum. She proves worthy of his love through her willingness to wait for him, believing his pursuit of his Personal Legend a noble goal and supporting him in continuing on to the Pyramids despite the inconvenience and doubt this generates for her. The two become quite close over the course of the boy’s stay at the oasis, and he is quite tempted to stay and accept the offer of becoming the village counselor. However, her trust that he will return to her if it is meant to be, along with the alchemist’s insistence, persuade Santiago to continue on his quest.
Melchizedek is also referred to as the King of Salem. He befriends the young shepherd Santiago as he begins his quest, giving him Umim and Thummim to help guide him on his way. The name Melchizedek appears in Genesis, and in the story, through this Biblical reference, the author suggests that the same character who led Abraham the father of the Jews on his way has returned to help Santiago along his path in similar fashion.
At the book’s opening, Santiago is returning to sell his wool to a merchant he met the year before. He is nervous because last year he fell in love with the man’s daughter. He never makes it because he remembers an old woman who interprets dreams in Tarifa, on his way back to where he sold the man four sheep the previous year.
The Merchant’s Daughter
The merchant’s daughter is the girl with the raven hair who captured Santiago’s heart the year before, though their only conversation revolved around her expression of surprise that if he could read, he was “only” a shepherd. Despite his excitement at the prospect of seeing her again, Santiago’s own thoughts reveal that the daughter of the textile merchant may not understand his love of travel or his complexity as a person.
The Old Woman
The old woman is a gypsy in Tarifa who tells Santiago’s fortune, suggesting the pyramids in his dream are really a prophecy that he must pursue. She is sure of the dream’s meaning because a child appeared in it, and rather than request payment for her services asks for a tenth of the treasure he finds in Egypt, an offer he willingly accepts.
Santiago is the young protagonist of The Alchemist, who at the beginning of the novel is presented as a simple yet literate shepherd who longs to explore the world and the meaning to be found in it. He is simultaneously representative of “everyman” in that little detail is revealed about him and he seems to symbolize all human beings on their quests of self-discovery. However, he is also unusual in his willingness to listen to his own heart and to the elements around him, and is able to stay strong in pursuit of his goals rather than fall victim to fear as most of those around him are prone to do. Frequently referred to as “the boy” rather than by name, Santiago’s heroic qualities suggest all people have the choice to believe and behave as he does and follow their dreams to self-discovery and love rather than remain afraid of what awaits them in the world beyond their doorstep