The Alchemist (Coelho): Part 2

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Santiago has been working loyally for the crystal merchant for a month when he offers to build a display case to attract more customers. Although the merchant is hesitant, fearing people passing by might bump into it and break merchandise, he agrees it is right to follow omens. The boy’s love for travel reminds the merchant of his own dream, long ago, to go to Mecca and fulfill the fifth obligation of Muslims. Different as he is from his young worker, the merchant gives Santiago permission to build the display case. Two months later, Santiago figures he has reduced the time he will have to work to be able to buy sheep from one year to six months. He is pleased with all he has learned and continues to make innovative suggestions, such as selling tea to those thirsty from climbing the hill. The merchant tells Santiago, in Arabic, how depressed he is to glimpse possibilities he has turned his back on, but agrees to this idea as well, saying simply “maktub,” or “it is written.” Customers seek out the crystal shop with the refreshing mint tea, and the merchant has to hire additional employees to meet the demand. 
 
Eleven months and nine days in total pass following Santiago’s arrival in Africa. One morning he awakes before dawn and contemplates the money he has saved, enough to buy twice as many sheep as he sold in Spain. The merchant gives him his blessing, but says he is not going to Mecca nor does he believe Santiago is going to buy his sheep. As he packs his things, the boy sees the nearly forgotten stones, Urim and Thummim, tumble out of the pouch and onto the floor. Without saying goodbye, he returns to the bar he had first sat in upon arriving a year before, and thinks how he can always return to the life he had before, but only now has the chance to follow his dream and see the Pyramids. 
 
He ventures to the warehouse of a supplier to the crystal merchant he remembers transports caravans across the desert, figuring there is no harm in learning whether the Pyramids are really that far away. He meets an Englishman there who is excitedly searching for an alchemist he has heard knows the universal language. Both stop reading to talk about omens, and decide to go to Al-Fayoum together with about 200 people and 400 animals. The driver of the caravan shares a story about going to Mecca and witnessing a natural disaster in which the Nile flooded the land and his wife feared losing their children. He remarks that people seem to fear losing what they have until they understand that all human lives and the history of the world “were written by the same hand” (76). Later, he imparts that there have been rumors of tribal wars, but that there is no turning back.
 
Santiago begins to read the books in the suitcase the Englishman has brought, and is fascinated to learn about the literature of alchemy. He reads about something called the Emerald Tablet, on which the most important lines are written, and the Elixir of Life and Philosopher’s Stone, the liquid and solid parts of the Master Work. Santiago is excited to hear the Philosopher’s Stone can turn metal into gold, but becomes frustrated by the obscure texts which seem to make everything much more complicated. He returns the books, saying he has learned about the soul of the world and that all of these complex truths can be reduced to a simple message that fits on the surface of a single emerald. The Englishman, though he seems disappointed, takes back the books and the two continue to travel, now day and night, and the Bedouins appear more frequently. Talk of war is constant, but Santiago is comforted to awaken one morning and see a row of date palms beckoning towards an oasis.
 
The alchemist has received an omen that a man in the caravan is someone to whom he should teach some of his secrets, and he believes he will recognize this person. Santiago and the Englishman begin asking around for the man who cures people’s illnesses, and meet a young woman whose smile convinces Santiago he has fallen in love. He learns her name is Fatima and returns the next day hoping to see her, but finds only the Englishman, who is discouraged that all the alchemist said to him was to try to turn lead into gold. As soon as Fatima arrives to fill her vessel with water, Santiago declares his love for her and intent to marry her. He decides she is more important than any treasure and returns daily to visit her, telling her about his life and the Soul of the World.
 
After a month, the caravan driver declares that they cannot continue on their journey because the battles are raging and may last for years. Fatima encourages Santiago not to lose sight of his goal, assuring him that as a desert woman she is content with waiting for him to return, but does not want him to stop pursuing his dream in order to be with her.  She feels that if they are meant to be together, he will return one day. Although the boy is sad to leave her, he is slowly convinced she is right. He sees a pair of hawks circling above and as one dives to attack the other, he has a sudden vision of an army attacking the oasis. He cannot forget the disturbing image, and tells the caravan driver, who is at first dismissive but then takes the forewarning seriously when it is confirmed by a seer who reads twigs. The boy tells the chieftains, who are reminded of the story of Joseph in the Bible, who was also a young dreamer. As the Tradition of listening to his visions saved them from famine, they believe the message despite the oasis having traditionally been respected as neutral territory. The leader tells Santiago that tomorrow the prohibition against carrying arms will be lifted, and he will be given a piece of gold for every ten enemies killed. But he threatens him that if at least one of the guns is not used by nightfall the following day, it will used on him.  Alarmed, Santiago returns to his tent, calming himself that he has become accustomed to risky bets and that he has no regrets.
 
Suddenly, a horseman dressed in black appears astride a white horse, with a falcon perched on his shoulder. He draws his sword and asks who has dared to interpret the flight of the hawks. Santiago is reminded of the image of Santiago Matamoros with the infidels under his hoofs, and is struck that his reality presents the reverse. He repeats twice that it was he who did so, intending to save many lives. The horseman draws a droplet of blood from the boy’s forehead, and asks why he read the flight of the birds.  Santiago believes he has read only what the birds wanted to tell him, to save the oasis, but the stranger accuses him of changing Allah’s will. The boy responds that Allah created all the languages, spoken by armies and birds alike, and the stranger warns him to be careful. Santiago tells him all he has seen was an army, not the outcome of the battle, and the horseman asks what a stranger is doing in a strange land, to which Santiago answers he is following his Personal Legend. The horseman seems satisfied with this, putting his sword away and explaining he had to test the boy’s courage, which is essential to understanding the Language of the World. He continues that if the boy is still alive the next night to come and find him, and points south to where he lives. Santiago realizes he has met the alchemist.
 
The next day, the two thousand men of Al-Fayoum hide among the palm trees with their weapons, ready for the five hundred tribesmen who appear on the horizon only to attack an empty tent. The residents of the oasis surround them and kill all but one, the commander, who explains they have violated tradition out of hunger and thirst, but he is condemned to death by hanging anyway. Santiago is given 50 pieces of gold and after again hearing the tale of Joseph, is invited to become the counselor of the oasis.
 
Santiago finds the alchemist’s tent and when the moon is high the alchemist arrives with two dead hawks, which he roasts as he tells the boy of the omens which predicted his arrival. The boy believes it is the Englishman the alchemist speaks of, but the alchemist tells him he will point him in the direction of his treasure. Santiago is content with the riches he has already accumulated, and is eager to return to Fatima. But the alchemist opens a bottle of wine and assures the boy he must continue on to the Pyramids, selling his camel to buy a horse. The next day, he and the alchemist ride across the desert, knowing that “life attracts life” but unsure of exactly what they will find. At one point, the alchemist reaches into a hole and after battling briefly with its contents, extracts a cobra and places it on the ground inside a circle he has drawn. The alchemist tells Santiago that finding life in the desert was the omen he needed, and offers to guide him to the Pyramids. The boy expresses his preference to stay at the oasis to be with Fatima, but the alchemist predicts that should be become the counselor of the oasis his satisfaction would wane in the third year and in the fourth he would lose the counselor position and wind up a rich merchant who knows it is too late to pursue his Personal Legend.  Santiago agrees to go together and it is decided they will leave the following morning before sunrise.
 
Two hours before dawn, Santiago pays an Arab boy to wake Fatima, and the two walk among the palms and embrace for the first time. He promises he will return to her and declares his love; her eyes fill with tears and she returns to her tent content to wait for him to come back to her, and the desert now contains new meaning for her. Meanwhile, the alchemist advises Santiago not to think about what he has left behind, but says little else as they cross the desert together, carefully avoiding the warring tribes. He tells him that there is only one way to learn, through action, and draws for him what is written on the Emerald Tablet, though suggests he instead immerse himself in the desert to fully understand all he must and to listen to his heart. Santiago is aware that his heart is agitated and keeps him awake at night, but the alchemist assures him that is good because it means his heart is alive.
 
As they pass more armed tribesman, Santiago grows afraid and tells the alchemist his heart is a traitor, but the older man calms him saying it is nevertheless important to listen to his heart as it is inescapable, and better not to be surprised by what it has to say.  Although the boy’s heart tells him it is afraid to suffer, he understands the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself, and at last his heart is at peace, having reconnected with the Soul of the World. The alchemist tells the boy this was his final test, for the Soul of the World tests everyone towards the end of their journey. The next day armed Arabs search them for weapons, and the alchemist answers their questions about his belongings honestly but is not believed. They continue with all of their valuable belongings until two men on horseback stop them, saying they cannot go any farther.  The alchemist answers that they’re not going very far, and the strength of his gaze convinces the angry strangers and they continue crossing the mountain range that separates them from the Pyramids by only two days. Picking up a shell, the alchemist tells the boy the desert was once a sea and that the sea’s Personal Legend was to live on in the shell. He also tells him that anyone who interferes with the Personal Legend of another is destined never to discover his own.
 
The next evening, the pair is surrounded by tribesmen who take them to a military camp nearby. There, the alchemist gives the chief the boy’s gold and promises that within the three days the boy will change himself into the wind or they will humbly give their lives for the honor of the tribe. Santiago is petrified and spends the time looking out across the desert until the third day when the chief and the alchemist join him and witness his conversation with the desert. He tells the desert about his love and the desert suggests he speak to the wind, which agrees to blow so he is not blinded by the sun, and two men become afraid and suggest stopping. The chief takes note of their names but continues, and the sun tells the boy to speak to the hand that wrote all. He prays in silence and those gathered are awed to see him move from where he stood by the alchemist to across the way to stand by a sand-covered sentinel. 

The next day, the general sends them off with an escort party. The alchemist bids the boy farewell, telling him he is now only three hours’ from the Pyramids he has sought for so long. He first tells him a story about a father and his two sons who lived in ancient Rome. One of the sons was in the military, the other a poet. One night, the father dreamt an angel appeared to him, telling him the words of one of his sons would be repeated for many generations to come, a prophecy that brought the man great joy. The father died and because he had lived an honorable life, an angel offered to grant him a wish. He asked to hear the verses of his son, and was transported to the future where he heard people speaking a strange language. Curious to know which of his son’s poems they were repeating, the man asked the angel to tell him, only to learn the words were those of his other son, who as a centurion had traveled far and whose words outlasted the reign of Tiberius. When the man’s servant fell ill, he went in search of a rabbi he had heard was the Son of God, and his words to him were remembered and repeated ever since. The alchemist advised Santiago not to forget that every person has an important role to play on earth, and with that, the two parted ways.
 
Santiago rode along, and ascended a dune from which the sight of the majestic Pyramids brought him to his knees where he wept tears of joy at having pursued his Personal Legend. He is pleased to see that where his tears touched the earth, a scarab beetle has appeared, which he takes as an omen and begins digging in the dune. He digs all night, and at dawn is greeted by a group of refugees from the wars who demand to know what treasure he is hiding. They search him and find the piece of gold, and insist he keep digging. He finds nothing, and they beat him until he is sure he is at the point of death.  Remembering the alchemist’s words about money saving men’s lives, the boy declares that he has twice dreamt of treasure hidden near the Pyramids. The leader tells the group to leave the boy alone since he clearly has nothing to offer them, and they do. He then returns to tell him not to be so stupid as to believe in recurrent dreams, for he himself in this same spot dreamt of a ruined church where shepherds sleep with their flocks by an old sycamore. The men leave and Santiago seems to share a joke with the Pyramids, for now after all his travels he knows where his treasure lies.
 
Analysis
 
As in Part I, the second half of The Alchemist has many allusions to the Bible. The multiple references to both the Old and New Testaments make Coelho’s work more powerful, resonating as it does with metaphors and characters whose antecedents are found in the book that over the centuries has been one of the most widely read and revered books in the entire world.  For example, Santiago’s meeting with Fatima at a well where she is filling her water jug calls to mind the encounter between Jacob and Rachel in the Old Testament, an anecdote likely to be familiar to many readers. (Unlike the Biblical parallel, in which the protagonist worked for seven years to earn the right to marry his beloved only to instead be wed to her older sister, Fatima understands that Santiago must continue on his journey and that if it is meant to be, he will return to her.) In another Biblical reference, Santiago dreams of hawks in flight and shares his vision of an army attacking the oasis with the local chieftains. Although they at first dismiss him, they are also reminded of how Jacob’s favorite son Joseph once interpreted dreams for Pharaoh. In yet another Biblical reference, the alchemist parts ways with Santiago with another parable, this of a Roman centurion whose words to Jesus were immortalized in the New Testament.
 
By retelling beloved stories with a fresh perspective and new characters, Coelho plays with timeless themes and makes it clear that Santiago has much in common with heroes throughout history and fiction. Like Moses or even Jesus, the simple shepherd leaves the familiar world into which he is born to fulfill a quest bigger than he can imagine. The many Biblical allusions throughout the novel put his epic quest in broader context, calling to mind others who have been called to undertake a journey that will challenge them and help them grow along the way, a perfect metaphor for life.
 
In Part II, Santiago continues to fulfill the role of an everyman hero, going through many of the trials and tribulations of the mythical hero described by Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Santiago decides to leave the comfort he has found at the crystal merchant’s shop, and though he experiences doubt, is persuaded that his Personal Legend is worth pursuing. Like most heroes, he finds allies and enemies along the way who help him to better define his goals and overcome tests of his character and of his will. When he and the alchemist are captured, Santiago does not lose faith in himself, though he knows well that he lacks the skill to turn himself into the wind. He relies on both the powers within himself and on the support of his environment, asking for aid from the wind, the desert and the sun itself as he recognizes they share a common origin. After passing this test, Santiago is ready to continue on his quest alone. The alchemist watches him “graduate” and sends him on his way, where he is lastly confronted by thieves who beat him even within sight of the majestic pyramids he has sought for so long. Here, at what might be called, following Campbell’s terminology, the “return threshold,” Santiago is tested one last time and passes with flying colors. He has learned to trust himself in the desert, and despite having lost everything he obtained, has faith that his mission was for a purpose. He is able to laugh at the irony of the thief’s dream of the church in which he slept by a sycamore and dreamt of Egypt, and knows that he has become, like the heroes described in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, “master of two worlds.” Having left Spain a simple shepherd who knew only about tending sheep, Santiago is now equally able to survive in the desert as a solo adventurer, relying on his wits to stay alive among warring tribes. His journey has changed him dramatically. He has lost many things and gained others; he may no longer have his sheep or any money, but he has fallen in love with Fatima and has been mentored by the alchemist himself. Santiago has become adept at living in two worlds, in fact has mastered two very different realities. He can now choose, as in the many examples of heroes throughout literature, how to integrate his new skills into his old life, or his talents from his old life into the new. Although the novel ends before he leaves the pyramids, it is implied that he will keep Fatima in his life but also return to his native Spain at some point, a changed and much more powerful person than when he left.
 
 

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