The Alchemist By Paulo Coelho Summary and Analysis Part 2: Crystal Merchant Episode (II)

Summary

Part Two begins after Santiago has worked for one month at the crystal merchant's shop. Santiago offers to build a display case for the crystal, which the merchant can put outside his shop to attract potential customers. The crystal merchant fears that passers-by will bump into it and break the glass. Santiago responds that business has improved since he began working at the store and that the merchant should take advantage of this trend. He explains the idea, learned from the king of Salem, of moving when luck is on one's side — the principle of favorability. After two more months, with the display case in place outside the store having generated an enormous amount of new business, Santiago figures that if he returns home with all the money he has made, he can double his flock in less than a year. Also, he can trade with the Arabs in Tangier or in Spain, because he has learned to speak Arabic.

Hearing a tourist complain of thirst after climbing the hill to the crystal shop, Santiago suggests to the crystal merchant that they sell tea and serve it in the crystal, which in turn will help them sell more crystal. Meanwhile, Santiago's aspirations have encouraged the merchant to recall his own abandoned dreams. He uses the word that will feature prominently in this section of the novel: maktub, meaning "It is written." In Western terms, maktub means that something is destined, meant to be. Santiago and the crystal merchant offer tea at the store, and their venture is a huge financial success.

After eleven months and nine days in Tangier, Santiago has earned enough money to buy one hundred and twenty sheep, a return ticket to Andalusia, and a license to import products from Africa. The crystal merchant has made enough to travel to Mecca, one of his own life's aspirations. But the merchant tells Santiago ". . . you know that I'm not going to go to Mecca. Just as you know that you're not going to buy your sheep."

The merchant is right. When the stones Urim and Thummim spill out of Santiago's jacket, he recalls Melchizedek and his teachings. Santiago realizes that he will always be able to return to Andalusia and the life of a shepherd, but he will not always be able to visit the Egyptian pyramids. He decides to forge onward in pursuit of his Personal Legend.

Analysis

In literary terms, the crystal merchant is considered to be Santiago's foil, a character who demonstrates by contrast everything that another character is and isn't. For instance, Santiago innovates and works hard to better the crystal shop's visibility and appeal, while after thirty years the merchant has stopped trying to improve his business.

In the greater scheme of things, Santiago is seeking his Personal Legend, whereas the crystal merchant is not. Once he desired to travel to Mecca, one of the five acts required of a devout Muslim. But even after Santiago's changes to the crystal business have brought in enough money to make that possible, the crystal merchant does not seek Mecca. He has abandoned his Personal Legend. By contrast, Santiago earns enough to return to the life that is most comfortable to him, that of a shepherd, yet he chooses to renounce this in his quest to reach the pyramids.

The Arabic word maktub sums up the crystal merchant's philosophy: He does something because "it is written" — that is, fated — rather than as a result of his own hopes and desires. Unlike Santiago, he lives life passively, as one who reacts to events rather than as a shaper of them. Coelho offers readers the character of the crystal merchant as an example of how not to live, versus the active, questing ideal embodied by The Alchemist's protagonist, Santiago.

The crystal merchant is not a bad man. In fact, he's quite ordinary. But it is precisely his ordinariness that the novel warns against. He is not a villain, or even an antagonist; he is simply Santiago's foil.

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