Study Guide

The Alchemist Part 1

By Paulo Coelho

Part 1

Paragraphs 1-190

  • A shepherd boy named Santiago falls asleep with his sheep in an abandoned church. Ooh, cozy!
  • He wakes up from a dream that he had had a week before.
  • Santiago is stoked about the village he will arrive at in four days, because he met a pretty girl there the year before.
  • He'd been at the girl's dad's shop selling wool, and sat down to read while he waited for the boss.
  • The girl asked him about what he was reading (oldest trick in the books, guys), and they hit it off, talking for hours.
  • Ever since meeting her, Santiago has been obsessed.
  • Santiago worries that the girl will have forgotten him by now, but keeps moving the sheep on their way.
  • In the town of Tarifa, he visits an old woman so that she'll interpret his dream.
  • Here's what he dreamed: he's watching a child playing with his sheep, when suddenly the child takes Santiago's hand and transports him to the pyramids. The dream-kid tells Santiago that if he comes to the pyramids he'll find a hidden treasure.
  • The gypsy woman makes Santiago promise to give her 1/10 of his treasure if she interprets his dream. Then, her genius interpretation is that he should go to the pyramids in Egypt and find a treasure there. Duh.
  • Bummed, Santiago goes to sit in a plaza and read his book. It's probably Dr. Zhivago because it starts out with a burial in the snow and has a lot of difficult-to-pronounce-unless-you're-Russian names in it.
  • An old man shows up and sits next to Santiago, striking up an annoying conversation and interrupting his reading. Interruption: great when a pretty girl does it, but not so much when it's an old man.
  • When he sees Santiago's book, the old man says that it is an irritating book because it tells the world's greatest lie. What might that be, you ask? It's that fate rules and people can't choose their destiny (yep, it's Dr. Zhivago, all right).
  • The nosy old man tells Santiago that he's Melchizedek, the King of Salem (um, okay), and then surprises him by saying that if he gives him 1/10 of his sheep, he'll tell him how to find the treasure. 
  • To convince Santiago that he's not a con artist, Melchizedek writes down Santiago's life story in the sand. Super powers, much?
  • So Melchizedek tells Santiago about how everyone has a Personal Legend i.e. a life's dream or purpose, and that as they get older they start to think that it's impossible to achieve.
  • The cool thing is, according to Melchizedek, that the Soul of the World is happy when the people who live in the world are happy, so the universe works toward everyone meeting their goals. 
  • Melchizedek also says that Santiago is about to give up on his Personal Legend, which is to go after the pyramid treasure, and that he's here to give him that little extra push to keep going. Gee, where's our guardian angel?
  • They make a date to meet at the same time the next day for the exchange of information for sheep.
  • The next day, as planned, Santiago brings six sheep to the old man and tells him that he sold the rest of his flock to a buddy to get money for his journey. The old man tells Santiago that the treasure is in Egypt, near the pyramids, which … is really not much of a news flash for the kid.
  • Melchizedek gives Santiago a couple of stones, one white and one black, and says they're named Urim and Thummim, and that one means yes and ones means no, for when he needs to make tough decisions.
  • Then his super-expensive advice is to follow the omens and to follow the Personal Legend.
  • Finally, he tells Santiago a story about a boy who went to visit the wisest man in the world. The wise man told the boy to walk around the mansion he lived in with a teaspoon full of oil without spilling a drop. When he finished, the wise man asked him what he had seen, and he couldn't tell him anything because he had been so focused on not spilling the oil.
  • Then the wise man told him to go again and pay attention to the art and architecture. He does so, but when he finishes finds that he spilled all the oil.
  • The wisdom of the wise man is to see the marvels of the world and never forget the drops of oil on the spoon. Gee, thanks. But didn't we just learn that it was impossible to do both at once?
  • Melchizedek then watches Santiago's little ship cross the strait, and knows that he'll never see him again.

Paragraphs 191-274

  • In Tangier, Santiago sits in a bar and watches the Muslims around him pray. He doesn't speak Arabic, so he can't really talk to anyone.
  • Finally someone approaches him speaking Spanish, and Santiago tells the young Moroccan boy about his quest to get to the pyramids.
  • The boy conveniently offers to be Santiago's guide. Santiago shows him his money, and it seems to be enough. The owner of the bar comes over and gets mad, speaking Arabic, so the boys leave.
  • The two go to buy some camels so they can leave for the pyramids the next day and end up in a market. Santiago sees a beautiful sword there, gets distracted looking at it, and then realizes that his "friend" is long gone with his money, and he is bummed out and starts crying.
  • Santiago decides to consult the special fortune telling stones, asking Urim and Thummim whether the old man's blessing is still with him. 
  • They say yes. He asks whether he'll find his treasure, and … they both fall through a hole in the pouch.
  • Santiago cleverly takes this to mean that he should make his own decisions, and feels a little bit better about his situation.
  • He decides to take it as an adventurer looking for treasure, and instead of heading back to Spain with his tail between his legs will continue on his journey.
  • Someone wakes up Santiago the next morning in the middle of the marketplace, and he takes a walk around. He helps one candy seller set up his stall, and gets a sweet in return.
  • Santiago speaks Spanish, and the candy man speaks Arabic, but they understand each other perfectly. Santiago realizes that there is a language that doesn't use words, and that if he can understand it he'll understand the world. And then possibly buy them a coke.
  • A crystal merchant wakes up in Tangier and gets ready to start working in his failing glassware shop. Santiago walks by and offers to clean the glasses in the window so that people will want to buy them, asking for food as payment.
  • The old man doesn't answer, but Santiago starts cleaning anyway. When he's done he asks for food, and the crystal merchant takes him out to eat lunch. They decide that Santiago will stay on to work in the shop officially, because he'll have to work for at least a year to get the money to get to Egypt.
  • A whole year? NM. Santiago decides to work just long enough for money to buy sheep and head back to Spain.