Study Guide

The Alchemist Warfare

By Paulo Coelho

Warfare

Part 2

He needed someone to talk to so as to avoid thinking about the possibility of war. (2.196)

The Englishman, just like Santiago, can see and feel the signs of war in the desert. But it frightens him and his natural reaction is to avoid the truth, pretending it isn't there by distracting himself. Maybe not the best strategy. After all, war—like Miley Cyrus—doesn't stop just because you ignore it.

The hooded Bedouins reappeared more and more frequently, and the camel driver—who had become a good friend of the boy's—explained that the war between the tribes had already begun. The caravan would be very lucky to reach the oasis. (2.203)

The desert, with its roaming Bedouins bringing news of tribal war, is a dangerous place for the caravan. The oasis may offer safety, but it's still far away. Hey, nothing like a little mortal danger to spice things up, right?

Although the vision of the date palms would someday be just a memory, right now it signified shade, water, and a refuge from the war. (2.214)

Santiago is learning about living in the present, but he still can't help project into the future, when his first sighting of the oasis will be converted into a memory. Let's try crossing that bridge when we come to it, okay bro?

"Those are the rules of war," the leader explained. "The oases may not shelter armies or troops." (2.227)

The oasis isn't just a place to kick back and have some fruity drinks. It's been declared a neutral zone, a place to preserve life not only from the harsh desert but also from the roving bands of warriors who apparently populate the desert.

Suddenly, one of the hawks made a flashing dive through the sky, attacking the other. As it did so, a sudden, fleeting image came to the boy: an army, with its swords at the ready, riding into the oasis. (2.304)

Lots of stuff to unpack here in Santiago's vision, Shmoopers. First, hawks are birds of prey, so it's fitting that they're the ones showing the predatory army to the boy. Second, Santiago is an outsider, so it's not totally fitting that he's the one getting the message. Still, it's unheard of for the army to attack the oasis—so maybe it makes sense that the message would be given to an unheard-of person. Either way, we're definitely going to keep our eyes out for any suspiciously symbolic hawks.

The men of the oasis surrounded the horsemen from the desert and within half an hour all but one of the intruders were dead. (2.387)

Talk about bloodless violence. This is the most violent scene in the novel, and we don't get any blow-by-blow or clashing scimitars, just a "nothing to see here, folks." Maybe Coelho doesn't want to glorify war or violence—but we have to say, a little scimitar action would really kick things up a notch.

Santiago

"Why a revolver?" he asked.

"It helped me to trust in people," the Englishman answered. (2.229-30)

Lolwut? No, hear us out. See, the Englishman never had to use his revolver in the desert, but he still has to take it out and give it up when he reaches the safety of the oasis. This statement suggests that he's not naturally trusting. He has to bolster his own strength in order to trust that he could protect himself from other people. Someone like the alchemist, though, only needs himself.

"I have crossed the desert in search of a treasure that is somewhere near the Pyramids, and for me, the war seemed a curse. But now it's a blessing, because it brought me to you." (2.278)

Talk about putting things in perspective. Santiago realizes that sometimes the worst inconveniences and dangers, like stubbing your toe or getting caught up in a foreign war, can have pretty spectacular consequences—like missing the bus that would have crashed, or meeting the woman of your dreams.

The Alchemist

The alchemist sounded angry: "Trust in your heart, but never forget that you're in the desert. When men are at war with one another, the Soul of the World can hear the screams of battle. No one fails to suffer the consequences of everything under the sun." (2.546)

Just in case you were starting to feel like things were going too well, the alchemist steps in to straighten things out: not everyone is in the groovy swing of their Personal Legend. In fact, the world is a dangerous place, which means Santiago—and you—can't ever let down your guard.

"There are powerful forces on both sides, and the war is important to both armies. It's not a battle of good against evil. It's a war between forces that are fighting for the balance of power, and, when that type of battle begins, it lasts longer than others—because Allah is on both sides." (2.284)

Huh. This is a little weird, right? Usually you got the good guys and the bad guys, and you know who to root for. In The Alchemist, we never know who is fighting or why. Instead, we're expected to see war almost as a force of nature.

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