The Alchemist

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The Englishman Character Analysis

a British man who has come to northern Africa in search of the alchemist. He has studied alchemy from books, but he wishes to complete the Master Work—the production of the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life—and he feels that he’ll be able to learn these things from the alchemist. He and Santiago develop a companionship, despite their differences. Santiago encourages the Englishman to observe the caravan and the desert more, and the Englishman encourages Santiago to read more. Once in the oasis, the Englishman overcomes his fear of failure and starts to work on the Master Work.

The Englishman Quotes in The Alchemist

The The Alchemist quotes below are all either spoken by The Englishman or refer to The Englishman. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harper One edition of The Alchemist published in 2014.
Part Two Quotes

“The alchemists spent years in their laboratories, observing the fire that purified the metals. They spent so much time close to the fire that gradually they gave up the vanities of the world. They discovered that the purification of the metals had led to a purification of themselves.”

Related Characters: The Englishman (speaker), Santiago
Related Symbols: Alchemy
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

Santiago first learns about alchemy from the Englishman who has devoted his life to the study of its practices, and then he continues to learn about it from the Alchemist throughout the novel. The Englishman focuses on studying alchemy carefully and systematically, whereas the lessons of the Alchemist focus on simplicity and studying the world. From the Alchemist, Santiago learns ideas about alchemy in a broad context. In other words, the principles of his study are applicable to many different contexts. Alchemy teaches a person how to purify metals and how to understand chemical elements, but these processes can also be applied to life, and Santiago learns how to purify himself and how to understand the basic principles of the world.

Alchemy is used as a powerful metaphor in the novel and in Santiago’s life. He does not work directly with chemical elements or seek the philosopher’s stone, but he uses the same practices of alchemy in new contexts. He learns how to value simplicity and learn by observation, as the alchemists in this passage do when “observing” and “discovering.” In this quote, one of the first about alchemy in the novel, the reader is asked to see alchemy as a symbol for life, or a spiritual path. Those who practice purifying elements, purify themselves.

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“I learned that the world has a soul, and that whoever understands that soul can also understand the language of things. I learned that many alchemists realized their destinies, and wound up discovering the Soul of the World, the Philosopher's Stone, and the Elixir of Life. But, above all, I learned that these things are all so simple that they could be written on the surface of an emerald.”

Related Characters: The Englishman (speaker), Santiago
Related Symbols: Alchemy, The Emerald Tablet
Page Number: 85-86
Explanation and Analysis:

The Englishman asks Santiago to describe what he has learned from the alchemy books he loans the younger man during their journey. In this passage, Santiago explains what he has learned with an answer that surprises the Englishman. While the two have read the same texts, they have learned very different things. The Englishman values the complexity of alchemy and the hard work it requires. Santiago, on the other hand, values its simplicity and universality. The examples he provides in this quote all focus on universal ideas that make connections across places, cultures, and activities. Santiago speaks of the “Soul of the World” which is accessible to anyone, the success of alchemists in achieving their Personal Legends, and the simplicity of these ideas, which could be contained on the Emerald Tablet. The Englishman values the exclusivity of alchemy, believing it only yields its secrets to those who put in hard work. Santiago sees alchemy as broadly applicable and inclusive. His interpretation of alchemy ties into the idea used throughout the novel that the practices of alchemy can be applied in many areas of life. 

The Emerald Tablet contains universal ideas that require little explanation, as evidenced by the small amount of writing needed to communicate them. This shows that the more universal and applicable an idea, the simpler it often is.

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The Englishman Character Timeline in The Alchemist

The timeline below shows where the character The Englishman appears in The Alchemist. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part Two
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
Meanwhile, an Englishman is sitting on a bench in a warehouse. As he leafs through his chemical journal,... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
The Englishman has spent much of his family's fortune seeking the Philosopher’s Stone, which is the Master... (full context)
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
As the Englishman is waiting for the caravan, a young Arab arrives. The Arab boy asks the Englishman... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
...caravan, but the next step of this journey is a mystery to him. Nearby, the Englishman is also reading. (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
Santiago puts away his book and takes out Urim and Thummim. The Englishman recognizes the stones, and Santiago immediately returns them into his pocket. “They're not for sale,”... (full context)
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
Santiago says that the Englishman must not believe a king would talk to someone like him, a simple shepherd. The... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
The Englishman tells Santiago that there is a universal language already understood by everybody. He says he... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
The warehouse boss arrives, interrupting Santiago and the Englishman’s conversation. He tells them that there's a caravan leaving today for Al-Fayoum. The Englishman says... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Santiago swears to Jesus, but the Englishman says nothing. Santiago and the Englishman have both bought camels to ride. The Englishman continues... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
...whenever they make a major detour they still continue in generally the same direction. The Englishman is unaware of this, because he is focused on reading his books. Santiago also has... (full context)
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The Englishman asks the camel driver if they're in danger from the tribal wars. The camel driver... (full context)
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
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...to travel faster, and the days and nights are passed in silence. One night the Englishman is unable to sleep, and he and Santiago go for a walk. Santiago tells the... (full context)
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
...of the desert, and how the desert and the caravan speak to each other. The Englishman admits that he should pay more attention to the caravan, and Santiago says that he... (full context)
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The Englishman's books teach many strange ideas. In one book, Santiago learns that the most important item... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
Santiago asks the Englishman if observing the world is sufficient for learning to understand the universal language. The Englishman... (full context)
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
Santiago asks the Englishman why the alchemists of the past have made the processes of alchemy so complicated. The... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
Santiago returns the alchemy books to the Englishman. The Englishman asks him what he has earned. Santiago says that he learned about the... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
The Englishman is disappointed, because none of the complexity and years of research involved in alchemy have... (full context)
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
Santiago awakes with the sunrise and can see the date palms of the oasis. The Englishman exclaims happily, but Santiago is quiet and content to look at the trees of the... (full context)
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
...is surprised to see that the oasis is larger than many towns in Spain. The Englishman observes that it looks like something out of One Thousand and One Nights. Curious children... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
...oases no one is allowed to carry weapons. Santiago is surprised to see that the Englishman has a revolver. He says that carrying a revolver helped him “to trust in people.” (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
...them about his life as a shepherd and about working in the crystal shop. The Englishman comes into the tent while Santiago is sharing his story, and says that he's been... (full context)
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The Englishman frets that they've wasted an entire day in their search, and Santiago says that they... (full context)
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...of the war, and then leave with the caravan. Despite this word of warning, the Englishman is excited to hear that they are on the right track. (full context)
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The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
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Santiago asks the girl her name, and she says it is Fatima. The Englishman prods Santiago to ask about a man who cures illnesses. Fatima says that there is... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
...Santiago returns to the well, hoping to see Fatima. She is not there, but the Englishman is. He tells Santiago that he encountered the alchemist, and told him of his goal.... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
The Englishman leaves, and Fatima arrives at the well. Santiago tells her that he loves her and... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
Santiago goes in search of the Englishman, to tell him about Fatima. He finds that the Englishman has built a furnace outside... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
...and that he would need his help. Santiago insists that the omens spoke about the Englishman who wished to meet the alchemist. The alchemist says that the Englishman is on the... (full context)
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Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
...cobra with poisonous venom. As he begins to warn the alchemist, he remembers what the Englishman had told him: the alchemist is over two hundred years old. Santiago assumes that the... (full context)
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Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
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...Santiago thinks of the crystal merchant who wanted to go to Mecca, and of the Englishman and his search, and of the woman who trusts the desert. Santiago and the alchemist... (full context)