Literature Study GuidesThe AlchemistPart 2 At Work With The Crystal Merchant Summary

The Alchemist | Study Guide

Paulo Coelho

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Part 2 | At Work with the Crystal Merchant

Course Hero’s video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Part 2 | At Work with the Crystal Merchant of Paulo Coelho's novel The Alchemist.

The Alchemist | Part 2 (At Work with the Crystal Merchant) | Summary

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Summary

One month into his new job, Santiago knows the position is not a path to happiness, but he sticks with it and works hard, earning a commission on each piece he sells. The merchant, in turn, notices the substantial uptick in business but doesn't understand Santiago's motivation to go above and beyond. "You'll be able to return to your sheep. Why ask more out of life?" the merchant says. The merchant assumes that Santiago will purchase some sheep and go back to Spain as soon as possible. The narrator confides that this is an unpleasant reminder for Santiago; his dream of Egypt and buried treasure is "now nothing but a painful memory, and he tried to avoid thinking about it."

After the merchant agrees to let Santiago build a new display case, sales increase even more. The boy becomes happy in his job, knowing he can return to Spain and buy all the sheep he wants. He is also proud to have mastered the Arabic language and to have succeeded at business in a foreign land.

Santiago continues to think of ways to grow the business. Reluctantly, the merchant agrees to the boy's idea to sell tea in crystal glasses to people who arrive thirsty after their climb up the hill. The novelty of the tea service draws many new customers, enabling the merchant to take on two additional employees and to start importing enormous amounts of tea and crystal. The merchant relates that, although he does not like change, he is adapting under Santiago's influence. He says, "You are forcing me to look at wealth and at horizons I have never known." Together, the two discuss the merchant's dream of going to Mecca. Although he has thought for years about making this trip, he prefers to simply fantasize about it, because he fears the reality would prove disappointing.

After almost a year of working together, Santiago realizes the time has come to leave. The merchant gives Santiago his blessing. "But," the merchant says, "You know that I'm not going to go to Mecca."

Analysis

In Tangier, Santiago embarks on another step in his hero's journey: facing a road of trials, or an ongoing series of challenges. After he is robbed, his first challenge is to earn money—without being able to speak the local language. At the beginning of this section, Santiago's optimistic outlook contrasts noticeably with that of the crystal merchant. The merchant goes through the motions of running his shop without considering his own happiness or the possibility of doing anything else.

As time passes, Santiago thinks up innovative ways to attract new customers and bring the business out of a 30-year slump. The merchant questions Santiago's initiative; yet, he also sees the positive outcomes brought by his ideas and changes. Santiago, in turn, regains his confidence and thinks often about Melchizedek's words. The theme of a Personal Legend figures significantly here. Santiago recognizes that the merchant understands the meaning of a Personal Legend but has no intention of pursuing his own. The merchant confides that the difference between them is that, "You want to realize your dreams. I just want to dream about Mecca." Although the merchant chooses to see his decision not to go to Mecca as fate, he knows deep down that he is exercising his free will in avoiding the pilgrimage.

The merchant fulfills the archetypal role of threshold guardian, as he initially challenges Santiago's resolve to pursue his dream of visiting Egypt and later hints that he believes the boy will, in fact, travel on.

The merchant comes to recognize that Santiago is of a different caliber. For instance, in the early stages of their relationship, the merchant questions Santiago's desire for "more than sheep." After working together closely for almost a year, however, the merchant comes full circle; he accepts and blesses Santiago's intentions, using for a second time the Arabic term maktub, which means "it is written." He also states, "[You] know that you're not going to buy your sheep." This is the merchant's way of saying that Santiago will pursue his Personal Legend by making the journey to Egypt rather than returning to Spain. Thus, he indicates that the boy's destiny is written in the stars, so to speak. He has no choice but to continue his journey. His life is not meant to unfold any other way.

This section directly contrasts the characters of Santiago and the crystal merchant, as the crystal merchant's realization that he will not pursue his Personal Legend highlights Santiago's eventual decision to go ahead with pursuit of his own. The two characters are foils for each other in this matter and in their contrasting attitudes toward increasing sales in the shop. (A foil is a person or thing whose qualities make the qualities of another person or thing all the more noticeable.)

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