Literature Study GuidesThe AlchemistPart 2 Crossing The Desert Summary

The Alchemist | Study Guide

Paulo Coelho

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Part 2 | Crossing the Desert

Course Hero’s video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Part 2 | Crossing the Desert of Paulo Coelho's novel The Alchemist.

The Alchemist | Part 2 (Crossing the Desert) | Summary



With the alchemist serving as Santiago's guide, the two set off across the desert. They talk little during the first week of the journey, and Santiago eventually asks the alchemist whether he plans to teach him anything. The alchemist tells him, simply, that the only way to learn is through action and that he's learned nearly everything he needs to know from his journey alone.

The alchemist urges Santiago to immerse himself in the desert surroundings and listen to his heart. "Wherever your heart is, that is where you find your treasure," the alchemist tells him. Tuning in to his heart, Santiago acknowledges his fear of the tribesmen they pass along the way; he also notices a strong desire to return to Fatima. The alchemist reassures him that these are all normal reactions to pursuing his Personal Legend—and a reason why so many people fail to achieve it.

One day, Santiago's heart alerts him of danger ahead. Before he has time to react, a tribe of armed men appear on the horizon. Their veiled faces reveal only their eyes, "and their eyes [speak] of death." The tribesmen capture Santiago and the alchemist and transport them to a military camp. Facing a barrage of questions, the alchemist tells the tribesmen that Santiago is a great alchemist with extraordinary powers who will transform himself into the wind within three days. "If he can't do so, we will humbly offer you our lives," the alchemist vows.

Santiago, worried for their lives, solicits help from the alchemist but doesn't receive it. Eventually, he realizes he needs to turn his attention to his heart and to the sand, wind, and sun surrounding him. He meets the tribesmen on day three, and through a series of conversations with the sand, wind, and sun, he manages to create an enormous sandstorm and turn himself into the wind. The tribesmen, seeing firsthand Santiago's power, release the two captives, and Santiago and the alchemist continue on their way.

A few days later, they reach a Coptic monastery, and the alchemist asks the monks if he can use their kitchen. There, the alchemist demonstrates how to turn lead into gold. He gives a portion of the gold to Santiago before parting ways with him. At this point, Santiago is only three hours from the pyramids.


Here, Santiago encounters the harsh desert setting once again. Whereas the oasis was a safe haven, the desert represents the adversity and impediments that the hero must overcome to pursue his Personal Legend.

This part of the story continues the theme of oneness, using the symbol of universal language. At the beginning of their journey together, the alchemist and Santiago say few words to each other as they cross the desert, focusing instead on observing and tuning in to nature. They do not have to talk; instead, they simply watch, listen, and learn. The smells carried on the wind bring them news of nearby battles, and other omens tell the alchemist's hawk where to find game.

The concept of the Personal Legend is also reinforced here, as Santiago must master how to tune in and listen to his heart. This skill is necessary to staying the course and realizing his Personal Legend. The heart, as the narrator describes it, is all-knowing and intuitive. It senses when people don't follow their dreams and suffers because of it. The crystal merchant, for example, is fully aware of his dream of going to Mecca. By choosing not to follow his dream, however, the merchant will never achieve optimal happiness; his heart knows he's settling for a second-rate life. Thus, the merchant becomes a representative of the novel's symbol of sheep—the symbol of people who do not seek their Personal Legends.

Likewise, the alchemist distinguishes between those who follow their Personal Legends for the end prize (a treasure) versus those who live out their Personal Legends. An individual, for instance, might strive to become an alchemist so he can end up with gold and grow rich. He might study complicated diagrams, read a wide range of books, and spend time trying out concoctions in a laboratory. These steps, however, will only get him so far. Becoming a true alchemist requires listening to his heart and tapping into the Soul of the World. It must be written—maktub—that he will be an alchemist, and he must stop at nothing to achieve it. In this section, the symbol of alchemy can be seen not only in the literal transformation of lead into gold, but also in the steps that a true alchemist must follow in pursuing his Personal Legend: listening to his heart and tapping into the Soul of the World.

Santiago, compared with the Englishman, is more advanced in his ability to listen to his heart and learn by doing. While the Englishman possesses book knowledge about alchemy, he lacks real-life experience. However, the Englishman does show promise. "He's on the right track," the alchemist explains earlier in the story. "He has begun to try to understand the desert." Yet, the Englishman has more work to do. When Santiago is given the ultimate challenge—turning himself into the wind—he achieves success not by seeking advice from books or experts but by immersing himself in nature. Eventually, the desert, wind, and sun start to speak to him, asking him questions and testing his knowledge about love, alchemy, the Soul of the World, and more.

The novel's climax occurs in this section, as, struggling to save his life and that of the alchemist, Santiago labors to transform himself into the wind. He takes the advice of the sun and consults "the hand that wrote it all." When Santiago uses his heart to communicate in this way, he learns that his soul and the Soul of the World are one and the same. With this knowledge, Santiago performs a miracle and transforms himself into the wind. This act positions Santiago one step further on his quest to realize his Personal Legend. On his hero's journey, this step is known as atonement with the father (represented here by the alchemist). When Santiago is able to turn himself into the wind, he proves himself suitable to become the next alchemist. Here again, the novel weaves in the idea of oneness and of a spiritual force that conspires to help a person realize his or her dreams—and to make the world a better place. Santiago tells the sun that the process of alchemy results in a powerful force that moves the universe in a positive direction.

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