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Plot Summary

Course Hero’s video study guide provides in-depth plot summary of Paulo Coelho's novel The Alchemist.

The Alchemist | Plot Summary

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Summary

The novel is divided into four parts: Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, and Epilogue. The prologue sets up the two longer parts of the novel, and those parts are divided into several smaller sections. The sections are indicated by an asterisk, or star, and each new section signals a time shift or change of characters. The epilogue wraps up the novel's final scene, letting readers know that the hero has yet another journey ahead.

Prologue

The alchemist glances through a book left by someone in the caravan and comes across the story of Narcissus—the vain youth from Greek mythology who drowns in a lake while admiring his beautiful reflection in its waters. Surprisingly, the myth concludes differently in this book: the Goddesses of the Forest question the tear-filled lake and find that although it weeps for Narcissus, its reason is not that Narcissus was beautiful. Rather, it weeps because each time Narcissus knelt to admire his image, the lake says, "I could see, in the depth of his eyes, my own beauty reflected."

Parts 1 and 2

A shepherd boy, Santiago, sets off from his home in Andalusia for a nearby village, Tarifa, in the southernmost part of Spain. There he meets a gypsy woman and tells her about a dream he has each time he sleeps underneath an old sycamore tree. In the dream, a child plays with Santiago's sheep and reveals that buried treasure awaits Santiago at the Egyptian pyramids. The gypsy, hearing Santiago describe his dream, encourages him to set out at once in search of the treasure in Egypt. But the boy has no way to get there.

While roaming the village streets, Santiago meets a curious, mystical old man, Melchizedek, who claims to be the king of Salem. At first Santiago doesn't believe him, but the old man eventually gains the boy's trust and convinces him to sell his flock and travel to Egypt. There, Melchizedek says, the boy will find not a buried treasure but his "Personal Legend" (his destiny).

Santiago departs for Egypt, stopping on his way in the Moroccan city of Tangier. A thief steals his money, and Santiago has no choice but to stay in Tangier and find a job. He takes a position with a crystal merchant at a shop in a crowded marketplace.

Santiago learns a great deal about business while working with the crystal merchant. He takes risks and thinks outside the box, which enables him to earn a great deal of money in only a year. Intent on reaching the pyramids, however, he trades his earnings for the chance to join a caravan and cross the Sahara Desert.

In the caravan he meets an Englishman who is on his way to learn the secrets of the alchemy trade from a 200-year-old master alchemist. The Englishman and Santiago form a friendship and teach each other valuable lessons about learning and knowledge. Although the Englishman favors book learning, Santiago prefers to learn from firsthand experience.

Tribal warfare in the desert forces the caravan to stay for an extended period at the oasis of Al-Fayoum. Here Santiago meets Fatima, a woman of the desert and a native of Al-Fayoum. They soon fall in love. While walking through the desert one day, Santiago envisions the oasis under attack by the tribes at war in the surrounding area and decides to warn the chieftains. Consequently, the residents of Al-Fayoum prepare for the attack and effectively defend themselves against the hostile tribes.

The master alchemist hears about Santiago's vision and appears one night to test the boy's inner strength and awareness. Santiago impresses the alchemist, who decides to take him under his wing. Eventually, the alchemist persuades the boy to leave the oasis—and Fatima—to pursue his Personal Legend, much as Melchizedek advised years earlier. The two set off together for the Egyptian pyramids.

On their journey, the alchemist continues to share knowledge, revealing that the Soul of the World is the interconnection that exists among all living things. As the two near the pyramids, however, they face another obstacle, as Arab soldiers attack and capture them. The alchemist offers the attackers all of Santiago's money and warns that the boy is a formidable alchemist who—within three days—will transform himself into the wind.

Santiago is at a loss as to how to make this happen. He fears the worst but spends the next three days reflecting on and contemplating the interactions between the sun, wind, and sand in the desert. Nearing his deadline, he convinces the sun and wind to form an enormous sandstorm—and then disappears, only to reappear in the proximity of the soldiers after the storm dies down. Consequently, the soldiers believe in his unique power and release the boy and the alchemist, who continue on their journey.

The alchemist and Santiago stop along the way at a Coptic monastery, where the alchemist demonstrates how to use an alchemist's tool called the Philosopher's Stone to turn lead into gold. He gives the boy a portion of the gold he creates, and the two part ways. When Santiago reaches the base of the pyramids, he immediately starts digging for the buried treasure. Two men notice and harass and beat Santiago, who explains what he's doing by relaying his dream of the treasure buried at the pyramids. The men interpret Santiago's talk as nonsense and decide he isn't worth their time. Attempting to prove the meaninglessness of Santiago's story, one of the men shares his own dream of a buried treasure in Spain. He says the treasure lies hidden at the roots of a sycamore tree, "near a ruined church where shepherds and their sheep slept."

Epilogue

Hearing this, Santiago realizes that his treasure isn't at the pyramids—it's back in Andalusia. He sets off for his homeland, where he finds a trove of jewels and gold buried beneath the sycamore tree, just as the man's dream foretold. Santiago vows to return with the treasure to the woman he loves, Fatima, at the oasis of Al-Fayoum. "I'm coming, Fatima," he says.

The Alchemist Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction

Introduction

1 Santiago dreams of a buried treasure at the pyramids.

Rising Action

2 Melchizedek urges Santiago to follow his dream.

3 A thief robs Santiago on his first day in Tangier.

4 Santiago gets a job and considers going home.

5 Santiago travels across the desert by caravan.

6 Santiago and Fatima meet and fall in love.

7 Santiago envisions an attack on the oasis.

8 The alchemist guides Santiago. They are captured.

Climax

9 Santiago turns into the wind to escape.

Falling Action

10 Refugees beat up Santiago at the pyramids.

11 Santiago fails to find his treasure in Egypt.

Resolution

12 Santiago discovers his treasure in Andalusia.

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