Chapter by Chapter Summary of The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream
Life gets busy. Has The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, learn the key insights now.
Paulo Coelho’s Perspective
Paulo Coelho is a Brazilian writer who specializes in spiritually-inspired novels. Coelho had a troubled childhood. He rebelled against his catholic parents’ religion. Subsequently, they committed him to a psychiatric hospital on three occasions. Paulo used this hardship and his spiritual awakening, while on his 500-mile journey on Santiago de Compostela, as inspiration for his books. Before becoming a writer, Coelho engaged with multiple professions. For example, he has worked as a lawyer, songwriter, actor, journalist, and theatre director. The Alchemist was initially a slow seller but has since become the most translated book by a living author. Coelho lets the world guide his writing. His ritual is to begin writing a novel when he sees a white feather in January of an odd year.
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StoryShot #1: Dreaming is What Makes Life Interesting
The main character in The Alchemist is a shepherd, Santiago. The story starts with Santiago pondering the nature of his work. Santiago is close to his animals. He calls each of them by name, his schedule revolves around them, and he has conversations with them. Recently, Santiago’s conversations have been about a girl that he met a year ago. He met her at the town that is the next destination on his journey. Santiago hasn’t stopped thinking about this girl all year. She is a merchant’s daughter he met while delivering wool to a shop she was browsing. This shop owner bought it from Santiago and encouraged him to return one year later. Hence, Santiago was on the way back to the town where he first met this girl.
Santiago views his shepherding life as providing him with considerable freedom. He allows his sheep to lead the way, and eventually, he finds a new path. However, Santiago realizes this is not a real discovery. He had once dreamed of traveling the world. Santiago accepts that dreaming about what you don’t have is what makes life interesting. This is why he has been dreaming for the last year about seeing this girl again.
StoryShot #2: Achieve Your Personal Legend
Once Santiago reaches Tarifa, his last stop before the city where his dream girl lives, he visits an old Gypsy woman. This woman claims she can interpret dreams. Santiago has had a recurring dream where a child shows him the location of some treasure. However, Santiago wakes up just before he finds out exactly where it is located. The Gypsy woman tells Santiago that this treasure is legitimate. She explains to Santiago that dreams are a language used by the Soul of the World to communicate with people. The woman accepts her payment as one-tenth of the treasure when Santiago finds it.
Upon leaving the Gypsy woman’s house, Santiago sits in the plaza to read a book. An old man comes up to Santiago and tells him that he has read the same book before. The man reveals himself to be Melchizedek, who is the king of Salem. He bestows wisdom upon Santiago. This wisdom is that the world believes that fate prevents people from achieving their Personal Legend. Personal Legends are dreams that individuals have wanted to achieve their entire life. Just as the Gypsy woman says, Melchizedek explains that Personal Legends come from the Soul of the World. However, fear and routine obscure our Personal Legends.
Melchizedek explains to Santiago that he only appears to people who are ready to achieve their dreams. Plus, he can tell Santiago about the treasure in his dream if he gives him one-tenth of his sheep.
Pursuing Your Dreams
After deliberation, Santiago decides his sheep and the merchant’s daughter were merely steps on the way to his Personal Legend (i.e., the treasure). Therefore, he decides to sell his flock immediately and gives Melchizedek six sheep for free. Melchizedek tells Santiago to always follow the omens. Plus, he gives Santiago two stones. One stone was black and called Urim (meaning “yes”), and the other stone was white and called Thummim (meaning “no”). These stones are there in case Santiago is struggling to understand the omens. With the money from selling his flock, Santiago buys a ticket from Tarifa to Africa and sets sail to find the treasure.
Upon arriving in Tangiers, Santiago realizes that obtaining his Personal Legend will be more complicated than he first imagined. For starters, he does not speak Arabic. While sitting in a bar alone, a young man approaches Santiago. In Spanish, the man offers to help him get to the Pyramids where the treasure lies. However, when the young man offers to help Santiago buy a camel, he robs Santiago of all his money. Santiago weeps with despair. He had nothing, but he asked the stones if Melchizedek’s blessing was still with him. The answer was yes. So, Santiago continued on his journey toward obtaining his dreams.
Wandering the streets in search of opportunities, Santiago came across a crystal shop struggling financially. Santiago cleans the front window, and the owner subsequently offers him a job. The owner is willing to pay Santiago enough to save up for a new flock of sheep and a passage back to his home. Santiago agrees and takes the job.
Personal Legends Explained
Personal Legends are a common theme in The Alchemist. Throughout the book, Personal Legends serve as the only means by which an individual can live a satisfying life. Those who put off their Personal Legends will suffer from regret and fail to experience the wealth associated with achieving them. Additionally, following your Personal Legends will allow the world to bestow favors upon you. The novel even explains that natural elements must aim to achieve their Personal Legends. For example, alchemy involves turning metal into its own Personal Legend: Gold.
StoryShot #3: Everything Happens For a Reason
After obtaining enough money to buy another flock and travel home, Santiago has a conversation with the crystal shop owner. He asks for the owner’s blessing to go home. Although the owner gives his blessing, he also tells Santiago that he knows he will not return to Spain. Instead, he knew Santiago would continue to pursue his Personal Legend. Santiago accepted that he was far from home and far closer to the pyramids and the treasure. Therefore, he took a chance and started living in a caravan in a desert to search for the treasure.
While living here, he meets an Englishman in search of his own Personal Legend. Just like Santiago, this man had been given Urim and Thummim by Melchizedek. At this moment, Santiago realized that the series of events he had experienced had all guided him toward nearing his Personal Legend. Even being robbed was part of his journey toward finding the treasure.
While traveling across the desert, the Englishman talks to Santiago about the Soul of the World. He describes this as the principle that governs all things. If we have an intuition or genuinely want something, then we are immersed in the Soul of the World. Santiago read some of the Englishman’s alchemy books. He discovered that almost all famous alchemists dedicated their lives to realizing their Personal Legends. However, Santiago wants to read the world’s omens through everyday life, rather than in old books.
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This is an unofficial summary and analysis.
This article was first published in early 2021. It was updated in June 2022.
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