Literature Study GuidesThe AlchemistPart 1 Tarifa And Melchizedek Summary

The Alchemist | Study Guide

Paulo Coelho

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Part 1 | Tarifa and Melchizedek

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

The Alchemist | Part 1 (Tarifa and Melchizedek) | Summary

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Summary

As Santiago approaches Tarifa, he remembers a dream interpreter who lives in the village and decides to pay her a visit. The woman leads Santiago to a back room, where the boy discovers she's a gypsy. Afraid of gypsies, Santiago feels nervous but extends his palm and recounts his dream. In the dream, a child guides Santiago to the Egyptian pyramids and tells him, "If you come here, you will find a hidden treasure." Hearing Santiago's tale, the gypsy woman tells him to go to the pyramids.

Santiago leaves and finds a spot in the village to relax and read a book. An old man sits down and strikes up a conversation, introducing himself as Melchizedek and asking Santiago to trade one-tenth of his sheep for information about his buried treasure. Interpreting this as a scam, Santiago believes the old man and the gypsy woman are working together to con him. He listens with skepticism as Melchizedek tries to persuade him that he's the king of Salem. Melchizedek also introduces the concept of a Personal Legend, or what a person truly wants to accomplish in life.

Melchizedek explains that most people fail to fulfill their Personal Legends, whether out of fear or to please someone else (such as a parent). "Why are you telling me all this?" Santiago eventually asks. "You are trying to realize your Personal Legend. ... you're about to give it all up," the old king says.

The boy and Melchizedek part ways, and Santiago roams the village and contemplates everything he would leave behind—his sheep, his parents, the Andalusian hills, and the merchant's daughter—to pursue his Personal Legend. He decides to take Melchizedek up on his offer, trading his sheep and setting sail for Africa.

Analysis

Santiago advances on his hero's journey as he meets a helper and later crosses a first threshold by selling his sheep and embarking on a boat to Tangier.

In Santiago's allegorical quest, Melchizedek fills the archetypal role of helper or wise old man by imparting significant pieces of information that help Santiago in pursuit of his Personal Legend.

In this section, the narrator depicts an open-minded yet skeptical Santiago. The boy's curiosity leads him to the dream interpreter, but his intuition prompts him to leave the gypsy woman's house and take what she says with a grain of salt. The gypsy woman fills the archetypal role of a herald, a character who urges Santiago to answer the call to adventure. Santiago, however, is skeptical of her counsel. Likewise, when he meets Melchizedek, he doesn't automatically believe what the old king tells him. Instead, he takes time to think it over and reflect on what he wants out of life. Again, he chooses his own Personal Legend.

Santiago emerges as a good listener and student, weighing carefully Melchizedek's cautionary tales of other people's attempts to realize their Personal Legend. The king doesn't connect the dots for Santiago. Instead, he challenges the boy to discover the meaningful lessons embedded in each story. Here, Santiago always succeeds. From one story, for instance, Santiago realizes that "a shepherd may like to travel, but he should never forget about his sheep," while another prompts him to recognize that the only things holding him back from his Personal Legend are his own fears and limitations. Melchizedek's stories, with their literal and symbolic characters and events, are typical of allegorical writing.

The dialogue between Melchizedek and Santiago sets the stage for what will happen in the coming sections and reveals much about the journey on which the boy will soon embark. Melchizedek uses the terms "treasure" and "Personal Legend" interchangeably, tipping off readers to the fact that Santiago's buried treasure is actually the fulfillment of his Personal Legend. "In order to find the treasure, you will have to follow the omens," Melchizedek advises, foreshadowing the many signs, both good and bad, Santiago will encounter on his way to the pyramids. Exercising free will, Santiago sets off on his journey to Tangier.

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