'The Alchemist' Characters

The characters in The Alchemist are a reflection of the genre of the novel itself. As an allegorical novel, each character represents something more than a mere being living and operating within a fictional context. In fact, The Alchemist itself, aside from being structured like a quest-oriented adventure novel, is a parable of fulfilling one’s own destiny.

Santiago

A shepherd boy from Andalusia, he is the protagonist of the novel. His parents wanted him to become a priest, but his inquisitive mind and headstrong personality made him choose to become a shepherd instead, since that would allow him to travel the world.

Following a dream about pyramids and buried treasures, Santiago travels from Spain to Egypt, with stints in Tangier and in the El Fayyoum oasis. In his journey, he learns various lessons about himself and about the laws governing the world from a peculiar cast of characters. He is both a dreamer and a self-satisfied, down-to-earth youth—a stand-in for mankind’s impulse to both dream and remember one’s own roots. 

Starting his adventure as a shepherd, he becomes a spiritual seeker thanks to his encounter with Melchizedek, and, as he progresses in his quest, he becomes acquainted with the mystical force that imbues the world, called the Soul of the World. Eventually, he learns how to read omens, and is able to communicate with natural forces (the sun, the wind) and supernatural entities, such as the Hand That Wrote All, a stand-in for God.

The Alchemist

He is the novels’ title character, who lives at the oasis and can turn metal into gold. The alchemist is another teacher figure in the novel, guiding Santiago through the last leg of his trip. He is 200 years old, travels on a white horse with a falcon perched on his left shoulder, and carries a scimitar, the Philosopher’s Stone (capable of turning any metal into gold), and the Elixir of Life (the cure for all ills) with him the whole time. He mainly speaks in riddles and believes in learning through action instead of through verbal institution, as the Englishman does.

Under the alchemist’s guidance, Santiago learns to communicate with the world around him, eventually leaning into his own supernatural abilities. Thanks to the alchemist, he undergoes a transformation that echoes the nature of alchemy—the transformation of an element into a more valuable one. He is connected to the Soul of the World, which provides him with supernatural powers. However, despite the powers that allow him to turn any metal into gold, the alchemist is not motivated by greed. Instead, he believes he has to purify himself before turning any common element into a precious metal.

Old Woman

She is a fortune teller who interprets Santiago’s dream of pyramids and buried treasures in a straightforward manner and makes Santiago promise he will grant her 1/10 of the treasure he is poised to find. She pairs black magic with iconography of Christ. 

Melchizedek/King of Salem

A wandering old man, he introduces concepts such as Personal Legend, The Soul of the World, and Beginner’s Luck to Santiago. He also gives him a set of stones, Urim and Thummim, that will answer, respectively, yes and no.

Melchizedek is the one who, metaphorically, transforms Santiago from a simple shepherd into a spiritual seeker, and is the first character to showcase any use of magic in the novel. He is actually a powerful figure of the Old Testament, who was awarded 1/10 of Abraham’s treasure for blessing him. 

Crystal Merchant

The crystal merchant serves as a foil to Santiago. A merchant in Tangier with a less-than-friendly disposition, he hires Santiago to work at his shop, which results in his business soaring. His Personal Legend consists of making a pilgrimage to Mecca, but he accepts the fact that he will never fulfil his dream. 

The Englishman

He is a bookish individual obsessed with acquiring knowledge with books, he is determined to learn the ways of alchemy by meeting the mysterious alchemist who is said to live by the El Fayyoum oasis. Given the allegorical nature of The Alchemist, the Englishman represents the limits of knowledge acquired from books. 

Camel Herder

He was once a prosperous farmer, but then a flood destroyed his orchards and he had to find new ways to support himself. In the novel, he has two functions: he teaches Santiago the importance of living in the moment, and shows how wisdom can be acquired from the most unlikely sources. The camel herder is a keen observer of the omens coming from God.

Fatima

Fatima is an Arab girl who lives at the oasis. She and Santiago meet when she is filling her water jug at one of the wells, and he falls in love with her. The feeling is mutual, and, being a woman of the desert, she supports Santiago’s quest instead of feeling petty or jealous, knowing that it’s necessary for him to depart, so that he will eventually be able to come back. Even when he hesitates to leave her, she convinces him that he has to go, since she trusts that, if their love is meant to be, he will make it back to her. 

Fatima is the love interest of Santiago, and Coelho explores love through their interactions. She is the only female character that’s fairly developed. In fact, she demonstrates that she, too, can understand omens. “Ever since I was a child, I have dreamed that the desert would bring me a wonderful present,” she tells Santiago. “Now, my present has arrived, and it's you.”

The Merchant

The merchant buys wool from Santiago. Since he worries about scams, he asks him to shear the sheep in his presence. 

The Merchant’s Daughter

Beautiful and intelligent, she is the daughter of the man who buys wool from Santiago. He feels a mild attraction towards her.

The Tribal Chieftain of Al-Fayoum

The Chieftain wants to maintain Al Fayoum as a neutral ground, and, as a consequence, his rule is strict. Yet, he believes in dreams and omens.