Literature Study GuidesThe AlchemistPart 1 Life In Andalusia Summary

The Alchemist | Study Guide

Paulo Coelho

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Part 1 | Life in Andalusia

Course Hero’s video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Part 1 | Life in Andalusia of Paulo Coelho's novel The Alchemist.

The Alchemist | Part 1 (Life in Andalusia) | Summary

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Summary

Santiago, a shepherd boy from Andalusia, arrives with his flock of sheep at an abandoned church, where an enormous sycamore tree grows in the place of the former sacristy (a room where priests prepare for services). He settles in for the night, awakening some time later from a strange dream—the same dream from a week ago.

Santiago gathers his sheep and embarks on a four-day trek to the village of Tarifa. He intends to sell some wool to a merchant. He also hopes to see and impress the merchant's daughter, who mesmerized him the last time they met. He wants to explain to her that he is educated. Until the age of 16, Santiago attended a seminary (an educational institution where students are trained for religious occupations, such as the priesthood). Despite his education, he decided to become a shepherd because it would allow him to travel the world. As he walks on, his thoughts meander to his sheep and his upbringing and the love and support his father gave him as he set off to become a shepherd.

Analysis

In the opening part of the novel, readers get a sense of Santiago's thoughtful, reflective character and natural curiosity about life outside his home region. Santiago chooses to bed down under the sycamore in the church ruins, and readers may wonder whether his recurring dream may be influenced by the tree. (The sycamore is a symbol linked to Egyptian mythology. In the Bible, the book of Amos 7:14–15 says, "I was a shepherd, and looked after sycamores.") Because he has twice dreamed about buried treasure in Egypt but woken each time without learning the exact location, this missing information spurs him to find out the meaning of the dream. This dream and Santiago's response to it are a first step on his hero's journey: the call to adventure.

In this passage, Santiago realizes that, because a shepherd's life is a lonely one, he speaks more often to his sheep than he does to people. This leads him to believe that he and the sheep communicate in some way. As he thinks about his sheep's passivity and dependence on him, he becomes angry. It doesn't seem right to him that the animals have no curiosity, make no decisions, and want nothing more from their lives than mere food and water. This contemplation of his flock also relates to his own life. Santiago yearns for more than food and drink; he wonders what his meeting with the merchant's daughter will bring and hopes to have the mystery of his dream revealed.

Santiago's dream and his curious spirit represent two of the novel's themes—free will versus fate, and personal legend—as the boy chooses to exercise free will and follow his own path.

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