Study Guide

The Alchemist Humanity and the Natural World

By Paulo Coelho

Humanity and the Natural World

Part 2
The Alchemist

"God created the world so that, through its visible objects, men could understand his spiritual teachings and the marvels of his wisdom." (2.490)

The alchemist teaches Santiago that the entire natural world is just a big chalkboard full of lessons, and that human beings should find wisdom and knowledge by observing it. It doesn't matter if it's the desert or the jungle; God is showing himself through nature. And pay attention, because there's probably going to be a test.

"Show me where there is life out in the desert. Only those who can see such signs of life are able to find treasure." (2.419)

We usually think of treasure as dead: gold, silver, and jewels aren't really going anywhere. But the alchemist tells Santiago that he must be able to find life in order to find his treasure. Hint hint—the treasure is more than just the objects; it's a state of mind or a relationship.

There had been times when his heart spent hours telling of its sadness, and at other times it became so emotional over the desert sunrise that the boy had to hide his tears. (2.496)

Santiago's relationship with the desert is as emotional as a teenager girl's relationship with Channing Tatum. It's a beautiful place of wonder that he can pour out all his emotions to—and best of all, it never talks back.

As the Englishman stared out at the desert, his eyes seemed brighter than they had when he was reading his books. (2.297)

Lol bookworm. When the Englishman finally gives up relying on books and looks to nature instead, he seems more alive. Take a hint, kids: there's more to learn from observing the world and taking action than just reading. Although we're not sure that excuse will work on your math teacher.

When he reached the top of the dune, his heart leapt. There, illuminated by the light of the moon and the brightness of the desert, stood the solemn and majestic Pyramids of Egypt. (2.736)

Have you ever experienced a natural sight so beautiful that it felt spiritual or religious, like Niagara Falls or the cast of Star Trek: Into Darkness? That's what's happening with Santiago. The beauty of the desert night combined with the engineering wonder of the Pyramid lead him straight to his treasure.

Someone might one day plant trees in the desert, and even raise sheep there, but never would they harness the wind. (2.642)

Look, we know that humankind's relationship with weather isn't all sunshowers and rainbows. In fact, a lot of the time it's floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes. Santiago has to remember people may try to tame the desert, but they'll never dominate it completely.

"Who is your friend?" the chief asked.

"An alchemist," said the alchemist. "He understands the forces of nature." (2.579-80)

Interesting. Up until now we've thought that an alchemist is someone who can change lead into gold, but here the alchemist is giving us a much broader definition that still includes the gold-creating powers. By this definition, Santiago is an alchemist too—someone who has observed and learned from the natural world.

Fatima

"I'm a desert woman, and I'm proud of that. I want my husband to wander as free as the wind that shapes the dunes." (2.296)

In this simile, Fatima compares Santiago to the wind: from nowhere, tied to no place, and free to fulfill its natural destiny. The natural world provides a model for human relations. Sure, sounds great—right until you need your husband to take out the trash.

Santiago

"Nature knows me as the wisest being in creation," the sun said. "But I don't know how to turn you into the wind." (2.672)

Gee, Santiago, why do you ask the sun stuff it knows? Even the sun, the natural force that supposedly has the most wisdom, has never tried to do something so durn unnatural. But Santiago has learned enough to tap into the soul of the universe, so he ultimately succeeds. Yay Santiago!

"I have watched the caravan as it crossed the desert," he said. "The caravan and the desert speak the same language, and it's for that reason that the desert allows the crossing. It's going to test the caravan's every step to see if it's in time, and, if it is, we will make it to the oasis." (2.169)

Here, Santiago personifies the desert, talking about it as though it's a sentient being with the power to observe and also to react to what it observes, taking a part in writing history. Um, creepy much? We don't really want our deserts to be sentient; they're deadly enough as it is.

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