Study Guide

The Crystal Merchant in The Alchemist

By Paulo Coelho

The Crystal Merchant

Talk about wishy-washy. The crystal merchant is one of those people you want to pick up and shake into taking some action to make their lives better. The problem is that he doesn't want his life to be any better; he'd rather it always be the same than have to deal with change to make it better.

Don't get us wrong: the crystal merchant is a good guy. He gives Santiago a job when he's down and out, keeps him fed, and pays him well. Plus, his own inactivity and fear of change gives Santiago an example of what not to do. It's like an after-school special about not letting your infant brother drive the riding lawnmower. Better to learn from example than experience.

Anyway, the crystal merchant knows about omens and knows about Personal Legends, but he's just not really into fulfilling his. He tells Santiago that he's always wanted to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, but that he never has even though he has the time and money. Santiago asks him why not, and his answer is pretty bleak:

Because it's the thought of Mecca that keeps me alive. That's what helps me face these days that are all the same, these mute crystals on the shelves, and lunch and dinner at that same horrible café. I'm afraid that if my dream is realized, I'll have no reason to go on living. (2.27)

Ouch. This guy is so sure that he will run out of dreams that he's afraid to fulfill the only one he has. And his attitude is catching. Santiago almost falls into the trap, thinking that he'll just go back to Spain and his sheep. Luckily, the knowledge that the crystal merchant is unhappy never going to Mecca drives him onward across the desert.