HomeLiterature Study GuidesThe AlchemistPart 2 First Encounters With The Englishman Summary

The Alchemist | Study Guide

Paulo Coelho

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Part 2 | First Encounters with the Englishman

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

The Alchemist | Part 2 (First Encounters with the Englishman) | Summary

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Summary

Santiago encounters the Englishman, whose head is buried in a book, while waiting for a caravan to cross the Sahara Desert. The Englishman is on his way to the desert oasis of Al-Fayoum in Egypt to find a 200-year-old master alchemist rumored to know the secret of turning lead to gold. The two begin talking as they wait for the caravan to depart.

As the caravan and its mix of animals and 200 passengers start the journey east, the Englishman is preoccupied by a book, hardly noticing the commotion around him. Santiago tries to read but cannot concentrate. With eyes wide open, he soaks up every inch of the expansive desert landscape while observing and getting to know his camel and the travel companions around him.

A camel driver warns of tribal wars ahead, and a sense of fear overtakes the caravan as it trudges through the desert sands. Santiago tries to persuade the Englishman to pay more attention to his surroundings, while the Englishman tells Santiago that he "ought to read more about the world."

One night, the Englishman awakens Santiago, who then walks with him along the dunes. Under a full moon, Santiago recounts the story of his journey, which fascinates the Englishman and leads him to compare the boy's experience with a principle in alchemy called the Soul of the World, which works to bring success to all living entities. He says that all entities are "part of that soul, so we rarely recognize that it is working for us." The Englishman explains that the Soul of the World was assisting Santiago in the crystal shop, where "even the glasses were collaborating in your success."

Santiago takes up the Englishman's suggestion to read more books, starting with a strange collection of stories about mercury, salt, dragons, and kings—essentially, about alchemy. From these books, Santiago learns about the Elixir of Life, the liquid component in alchemy, which cures all illnesses and keeps the alchemist from growing old. He also learns about the solid component, the Philosopher's Stone, which turns base metals to gold. Frustrated by the complicated drawings and descriptions, however, Santiago returns the books to his friend, and the disappointed Englishman quips that he learned nothing from watching the caravan.

Analysis

Time and again, Santiago attempts to read and learn from books. It puzzles him that for the past two years he has been unable to concentrate on reading. Because he is familiar with the universal language that allows all of creation to communicate, he builds on his ability to understand other creatures, such as his sheep. Now he absorbs knowledge by observing his surroundings and interacting with those around him. To the Englishman, he observes that the desert and the caravan converse in "the same language." He says that he has watched the "guides read the signs of the desert" and that the caravan's soul "speaks to the soul of the desert."

The Englishman reveals that he seeks to learn the universal language. However, rather than learning it from the world around him, he hopes to study the language with an ancient alchemist in Al-Fayoum. This is his Personal Legend.

Whereas Santiago is more comfortable with conversation and observation, the Englishman keeps his head in a book, ignoring the sweeping desert views and riveting stories told by the camel drivers. The Englishman's archetypal role is that of an ally, or one who shares friendship with Santiago as they each pursue their Personal Legends. He also serves as a foil to the character of Santiago in this section, as his sole reliance on reading contrasts sharply with Santiago's introspection and interaction with his surroundings.

After the Englishman and Santiago bond over a moonlit walk across the dunes, they agree to give each other's learning styles a try. Each becomes frustrated, however. Santiago reads a number of books about alchemy but struggles with the dense graphs and drawings, which seem overly complicated. Alchemy, he observes, is far simpler and more straightforward than these books suggest.

While Santiago has some success with book learning, the Englishman does not have any luck outside his comfort zone. With the oasis in sight, the Englishman admits to learning nothing from the caravan, suggesting that everything he needs to know comes from books, not life experience. Here (and in other parts of the story), the Englishman comes across as erudite and narrow-minded, while Santiago is more attuned to the world around him and open to what life brings his way.

For each of the men, the trading of learning styles is another challenge on their journeys to their Personal Legends.

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