The Alchemist (Coelho)

The Alchemist – Study Guide

12. In the character of the Crystal Merchant, the author Paulo Coelho creates a character foil for Santiago. A foil

is a character whose behavior and values contrast with those of another character in order to highlight the unique

personality of that character (usually the main character, or protagonist). Foils are useful to writers in many ways.

For example, they can be used to establish the personality traits of a character, or they can be used as a way to

force a character to a deeper level of self-understanding that precedes character change or character development.

Compare and contrast Santiago with the Crystal Merchant by examining how each one approaches the possibility

of expanding the shop’s business, first by building a display case and second by selling tea to customers. How is

Santiago a foil of the shop’s owner?

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The Crystal Merchant is a middle-aged resident of Tangier who gives Santiago a badly needed job. The crystal merchant's Personal Legend is to make a pilgrimage (or haj) to Mecca. He knows he will never fulfill his dream because he feels he would have nothing left to live for if he did go to Mecca. The shop owner fails to see the possibilities that his dream might reveal. Santiago on the other hand is willing to take the risks to pursue his dream and to experience the possibilities.  Santiago hence functions as a character foil to the shop owner.