The Alchemist

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Santiago’s sheep Symbol Analysis

Santiago’s sheep Symbol Icon

Santiago is introduced in the novel as a shepherd, and although he sells his sheep to travel to the Pyramids of Egypt, he continues to reflect on his life as a shepherd throughout the novel. Many of the lessons he learns on his journey also reinforce things he discovered by being a shepherd. There is a humbleness and simplicity to Santiago’s sheep, and the novel reveals these qualities to contain great value. For example, the symbol of the Emerald Tablet reveals the value of humility and simplicity, and the humble characters who support and guide Santiago on his quest include poor merchants, the camel driver, and a generous monk. Even Melchizedek, a powerful individual and a king, appears to Santiago in the guise of a poor old man. Therefore the sheep, in their quiet yet fulfilled lives, symbolize the values of humility, simplicity, and self-actualization. They are living out their Personal Legends as they graze and roam contentedly.

Santiago also learns life lessons by watching his sheep, and later these lessons are reinforced as he observes the desert and listens to his heart. Coelho suggests that because of the interconnectedness of all things, anything can be learned from observing one small part of creation. Santiago’s sheep thus also symbolize the potential of learning through observation, as well as the importance of observing even the seemingly unimportant aspects of life.

Santiago’s sheep Quotes in The Alchemist

The The Alchemist quotes below all refer to the symbol of Santiago’s sheep. 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 One Quotes

Here I am, between my flock and my treasure, the boy thought. He had to choose between something he had become accustomed to and something he wanted to have.

Related Characters: Santiago (speaker)
Related Symbols: Santiago’s sheep
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Santiago learns about Personal Legends from Melchizedek, who encourages him to seek his by going on a quest to find the treasure from his dreams. In order to do so, Santiago must abandon his flock of sheep and the country in which he has lived his whole life. In this passage, Santiago sees the choice that is before him. He is split between staying with his flock, which represents familiarity and safety, and pursuing his treasure, which represents the unknown, but also the possibility of even greater happiness and fulfillment. This choice shows that the road toward one’s Personal Legend is not always easy. Risks must be taken and difficult choices must be made.

In order to make this choice and pursue his Personal Legend, Santiago cannot be afraid of the unknown. This fear could prevent him from taking a risk that would result in his happiness. Santiago later sees other characters, such as the Crystal Merchant, who are prevented from pursuing their Personal Legends because they are afraid of taking this very same risk. The distillation of Santiago’s specific choice (between his sheep and his treasure) into one between the familiar and the unknown shows that this is a universal choice that humans face. At some point in our lives, we will each need to choose to take a risk in order to open up new possibilities for happiness.

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Once again he saw that, in that strange land, he was applying the same lessons he had learned with his sheep. “All things are one,” the old man had said.

Related Characters: Melchizedek (the Old Man) (speaker), Santiago
Related Symbols: Santiago’s sheep
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

Despite his own hardships, Santiago takes time to help a candy seller in the Tangier marketplace assemble his market stall. Santiago and the candy seller don’t speak the same language, and yet Santiago is struck by how well the two are able to understand each other despite this language barrier. He realizes this feeling of communication without words is familiar to him because he was able to communicate with his sheep in the same way. Throughout the novel, Santiago’s sheep are a grounding point for him. He learned valuable information from his sheep simply by caring for and observing them. This shows the value of simplicity--an important lesson of the novel. Santiago didn’t need to do anything dramatic or fancy to learn some of the most important life lessons. He simply needed to care for his sheep and observe the world.

Santiago’s connection with the candy seller and with his sheep presents the idea of a universal language. This novel develops the connections among all things in the universe, and one example of this connection is the idea of a universal language that transcends all barriers. Melchizedek also spoke of this interconnectedness of all things, which Santiago remembers in this passage as the phrase "all things are one"--essentially an encapsulation of the idea of a pantheistic universe.

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Santiago’s sheep Symbol Timeline in The Alchemist

The timeline below shows where the symbol Santiago’s sheep appears in The Alchemist. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part One
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
...grows up through the open space. Santiago spends the night in the church with his flock of sheep. He lays his jacket down on the floor, and uses the book he's... (full context)
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
...has had before—but he wakes up before the dream has ended. He notices that his sheep awake at the same time as he does. Santiago reflects that they are used to... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
Santiago wakes up the last of his sheep—he knows them each by name. Sometimes he reads aloud to his sheep, and often speaks... (full context)
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
Santiago reflects on the contentment of his sheep as he travels, thinking that they, unlike him, never have to make decisions. The sheep... (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
...many castles and met many women, and he owns a jacket, a book, and a flock of sheep. These things are part of living out his dream. He feels that he... (full context)
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 reflects that his sheep don't recognize these possibilities. Because the sheep focus only on food and water, they don't... (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
...twice and he describes it. In the dream, he is in a field with his sheep, and a child appears. The child plays with the sheep, but suddenly she takes Santiago... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
...lead their lives. Santiago decides to wait until the sun sinks lower before taking his flock back to the fields. (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
...old man off by pretending he’s busy reading. In fact, Santiago is imagining shearing his sheep in front of the merchant’s daughter. He is also trying to remember good stories to... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
The old man introduces himself as Melchizedek, and he asks Santiago how many sheep he has. The boy says that he has enough sheep. Melchizedek says that he can't... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
Melchizedek asks Santiago why he tends a flock of sheep. Santiago answers that it is because he likes to travel. Melchizedek points out... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
...wants to learn about his treasure, he will have to give him one-tenth of his flock. Santiago wonders if could instead offer the old man one-tenth of his treasure. The old... (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 remembers his flock, and decides he should go back to being a shepherd. On his way back to... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
...considers the merchant’s daughter, but reflects that she does not depend on him like his sheep do, and perhaps she doesn't even remember him. Santiago reflects that he left his father... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The next day, Santiago meets Melchizedek at noon, and brings him six sheep. He tells Melchizedek that he has already sold all his other sheep to his friend,... (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
...he understands its message: even though he may travel, he should never forget about his sheep. (full context)
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
...the wall of an old fort in Tarifa that afternoon. He is accompanied by the sheep, who are uneasy with their new owner. He watches a ship leaving the port and... (full context)
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
...his treasure. Santiago now has a substantial amount of money from the sale of his sheep, and he thought a lot about omens as he was crossing the strait to Africa.... (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
Santiago reflects that with his sheep at least he was happy, but now he feels bitter and distrustful of all people,... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
...the marketplace, and it is now the next day. Instinctively, he looks around for his sheep before realizing where he is. He walks through the marketplace, stopping to help a candy... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
...that does not depend on words, the same language he used to communicate with his sheep. He sees that even though he is in a strange land, he is applying the... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
...merchant. After a long silence, Santiago says that he needs extra money to buy some sheep. (full context)
Part Two
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
...the merchant, it will take a whole year to earn the money to buy a flock of sheep. He then comes to the crystal merchant with an idea. He proposes building... (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
...Santiago that business has improved, and soon Santiago will be able to return to his sheep. Why, he wonders, would Santiago ask any more from life? Santiago says that they must... (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
...they should build the display. Santiago says that he wants to get back to his sheep faster and that they should take advantage of the situation, as luck is on their... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
...is not going to Mecca, just as Santiago is not going to buy back his sheep. Santiago is startled, and wonders who told the merchant this. “Maktub,” the crystal merchant replies. (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
...has a strange feeling, as if the old king is nearby. He reflects that his sheep taught him something very important: that there was a language in the world that everyone... (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
...himself that he is going to return to the fields he knows and to his flock, but he is not happy with this decision. He wonders if it is better to... (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
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
...he has never visited the desert before. He reflects that he's learned things from his sheep and from working with crystal, and he should be able to learn something from the... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
...heart is speaking of other things. It speaks with pride of a shepherd leaving his flock to follow a dream. It speaks of Personal Legends, and of journeys. Finally, as he... (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
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
...that very spot. In the dream he saw an abandoned church that sheltered shepherds and sheep. The dream told him that if he dug at the roots of the tree growing... (full context)
Epilogue
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
...there and had the dream about the pyramids. This time he does not have his sheep, but he has a shovel. He thinks of the night in the desert when he... (full context)