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Part 1 | Time in Tangier

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

The Alchemist | Part 1 (Time in Tangier) | Summary

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Summary

Santiago arrives in the Moroccan port city of Tangier, aware that he's in a foreign country with no friends to call his own. Sitting in a bar, he is worrying about his inability to speak or understand Arabic when a young man of a similar age addresses him in Spanish. The two start chatting. Santiago feels a sense of relief to have found a friend, and he shares his plans to travel to the Egyptian pyramids. In turn, the young man inquires about how much money Santiago has on hand, a question that strikes Santiago as odd. Santiago answers honestly, however, when the young man warns him of the danger involved in crossing the Sahara Desert. He offers to serve as Santiago's guide.

Overhearing the conversation, the bar owner speaks in harsh terms to the young man; in response, the young man pulls Santiago outside, explaining that the bar owner is a thief. Santiago hands over his money, believing his friend will use it to purchase two camels. Together, the two wander about the crowded marketplace, and a beautiful, silver-embossed sword catches Santiago's attention. At his friend's urging, Santiago ventures over to find out the price, only to discover, when he turns around, that his friend has vanished.

Santiago, awaiting his friend's return, stays put in the marketplace, not wanting to believe he's been deceived. As the sun sets, however, reality sinks in, and Santiago starts to cry. "He wept because ... this was the way God repaid those who believed in their dreams," the narrator says.

Contemplating what to do, Santiago considers returning to his homeland but then remembers Melchizedek's words: "Learn to recognize omens, and follow them." He thinks about his interactions with the robber and realizes he has a choice—he can think of himself as a victim or "as an adventurer in quest of his treasure." Choosing the latter option, he reminds himself to remain patient and relaxed, as "only in that way would he be able to read the omens."

With no money in his pocket, Santiago earns something to eat by helping a candy seller set up his market stall. Afterward, he realizes he was able to communicate perfectly with the candy maker even though the man spoke only in Arabic. Santiago thinks there must be a universal language that does not depend on words. He remembers how he had communicated wordlessly with his sheep and thinks, "Now it's happening with people."

At the end of Part 1, a crystal merchant sits in his shop at the top of a steep hill, musing on his sluggish sales and watching as Santiago approaches. Hoping to earn his next meal, Santiago offers to clean glasses in the merchant's display window. The crystal merchant ignores him, but Santiago cleans the glasses anyway, and two customers enter the store to buy some crystal.

The crystal merchant, pleased to make a sale after many years of running a failing business, treats Santiago to lunch and offers him a job. The merchant warns him, however, that the job will pay just enough for him to purchase a return ticket home, not to go all the way to the Egyptian pyramids. The boy agrees to the deal, adding solemnly that he will use the money to buy some sheep.

Analysis

This dramatic change of setting indicates an initial phase of Santiago's quest: the step of crossing the threshold and entering the unknown. On his first day in Tangier, the total otherness of his surroundings overwhelms Santiago. Feeling vulnerable and out of place, he becomes the easy target of a conniving young man who steals his money. This theft leads to character development for Santiago, as he questions whether he should turn back and go home and abandon this whole nonsense about a Personal Legend.

Santiago doesn't make hasty decisions, however, and takes time to ponder what happened and why. He remembers Melchizedek's advice about omens, and, in retrospect, identifies signs that something wasn't quite right, such as the young man's question about money and the anger of the bar owner. Santiago can see now that the bar owner was worked up because "he was trying to tell him not to trust that man."

Throughout this section, Santiago comes across as a thoughtful, strong individual who uses self-examination to change his mindset from one of fear to one of opportunity. Earlier, he viewed the marketplace as a strange and scary place. Now, Santiago realizes the market isn't a strange place—it's just a new one. This shift in perspective furthers Santiago's character development, as it empowers him to stay the course and to do so in the calm, relaxed, and open mindset he needs to overcome obstacles and make it to his destination.

This section illuminates the theme of free will versus fate, as Santiago mulls over events and decides he will see developments in a positive light instead of being overwhelmed by an unfortunate situation. This also embodies the symbol of alchemy, as Santiago transforms his mindset and determines to move forward on his quest for his Personal Legend. The theme of oneness also plays a part, as Santiago realizes that he has been communicating in a wordless language. The reader will learn that this is the Language of the World, through which all living things and nonliving objects can communicate. By communicating in this language, living and nonliving things manifest their place in the Soul of the World. Earlier in the book, the gypsy woman tells Santiago that his dream uses the Language of the World. As Santiago reflects, he also remembers these words from Melchizedek: "All things are one."

As Santiago accepts employment with the crystal merchant, he realizes that his goal of traveling to Egypt and finding the treasure is a year or more away. The theme of free will versus fate is now in play. His dream and Personal Legend suddenly deflated, Santiago seems ruled by fate rather than free will. He acknowledges the merchant's offer to pay him enough for him to return to Spain, saying, "I need money to buy some sheep."

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