That, as much as anything else, disturbed me when reading the novel. I had become aware, by degrees, of sexism in what I'd read and otherwise experienced long before I started my transition. In fact, it was the first thing I disliked about Hemingway's work when I was in high school. But what bothered me then was that the female characters weren't so deftly drawn. In other words, it was more of an aesthetic concern than anything else. Even though I didn't care for much else about Hemingway's writing, I felt that at least it was a world I could enter and experience. That is exactly what I didn't feel when reading "The Alchemist." In fact, I think that for the first time in my life, I felt entirely outside of something I was reading.
Then again, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I feel as I do about The Alchemist. I suppose that my experiences can and should change the way (and, possibly, what) I read. After all, as my students and I were reading and discussing Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man last week, I couldn't help but to feel I was reading a very different novel from the one with the same name, and by the same author, I'd read more than thirty years ago. It's a very different book, thankfully, from The Alchemist, if for no other reason than Ellison is a much better writer.
I can make such a judgment because while Invisible Man is at least as sexist as The Alchemist, I don't feel the same alienation from the story and its characters that I felt while reading The Alchemist. In addition to his narrative style, Ellison's writing distinguishes itself from his seeming intimacy with the people (the men, anyway) and their motives. I could actually empathise with the narrator/protagonist of the book, even when he seems foolish. That may be because I have experienced treachery and betrayal, not to mention outright violence, from people who were supposed to be "friends" of some "community" to which I (at least in their minds) belong. And, even though the protagonist isn't always what I expect, at least I find his words and reactions plausible in the situations in which he finds himself. Even the misogyny--which, by the way, comes as much from the protagonist as anyone or anything else in the book--seems plausible, if not defensible. That's a lot more than I can say for The Alchemist. And it's the reason why I may read Invisible Man again, but I'll probably leave my copy of The Alchemist for whoever wants to take it.