don quixote theme

don quixote theme

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Don Quixote, which is composed of three different sections, is a rich exploration of the possibilities of narration. The first of these sections, comprising the chapter covering Don Quixote’s first expedition, functions chiefly as a parody of contemporary romance tales. The second section, comprising the rest of the First Part, is written under the guise of a history, plodding along in historical fashion and breaking up chapters episodically, carefully documenting every day’s events. The third section, which covers the Second Part of the novel, is different since it is written as a more traditional novel, organized by emotional and thematic content and filled with character development. Cervantes alone reports the story in the first section, using a straightforward narrative style. In the second section, Cervantes informs us that he is translating the manuscript of Cide Hamete Benengeli and often interrupts the narration to mention Benengeli and the internal inconsistencies in Benengeli’s manuscript. Here, Cervantes uses Benengeli primarily to reinforce his claim that the story is a true history.

In the third section, however, Cervantes enters the novel as a character—as a composite of Benengeli and Cervantes the author. The characters themselves, aware of the books that have been written about them, try to alter the content of subsequent editions. This complicated and self-referential narrative structure leaves us somewhat disoriented, unable to tell which plotlines are internal to the story and which are factual. This disorientation engrosses us directly in the story and emphasizes the question of sanity that arises throughout the novel. If someone as mad as Don Quixote can write his own story, we wonder what would prevent us from doing the same. Cervantes gives us many reasons to doubt him in the second section. In the third section, however, when we are aware of another allegedly false version of the novel and a second Don Quixote, we lose all our footing and have no choice but to abandon ourselves to the story and trust Cervantes. However, having already given us reasons to distrust him, Cervantes forces us to question fundamental principles of narration, just as Quixote forces his contemporaries to question their lifestyles and principles. In this way, the form of the novel mirrors its function, creating a universe in which Cervantes entertains and instructs us, manipulating our preconceptions to force us to examine them more closely.

Incompatible Systems of Morality

Don Quixote tries to be a flesh-and-blood example of a knight-errant in an attempt to force his contemporaries to face their own failure to maintain the old system of morality, the chivalric code. This conflict between the old and the new reaches an absolute impasse: no one understands Don Quixote, and he understands no one. Only the simple-minded Sancho, with both self-motivated desires and a basic understanding of morality, can mediate between Don Quixote and the rest of the world. Sancho often subscribes to the morals of his day but then surprises us by demonstrating a belief in the anachronistic morals of chivalry as well.

In the First Part of the novel, we see the impasse between Don Quixote and those around him. Don Quixote cannot, for instance, identify with the priest’s rational perspective and objectives, and Don Quixote’s belief in enchantment appears ridiculous to the priest. Toward the end of the Second Part, however, Cervantes compromises between these two seemingly incompatible systems of morality, allowing Don Quixote’s imaginary world and the commonplace world of the Duke and the Duchess to infiltrate each other. As the two worlds begin to mix, we start to see the advantages and disadvantages of each. Sancho ultimately prevails, subscribing to his timeless aphorisms and ascetic discipline on the one hand and using his rational abilities to adapt to the present on the other.

The Distinction between Class and Worth

Distinguishing between a person’s class and a person’s worth was a fairly radical idea in Cervantes’s time. In Don Quixote, Cervantes attacks the conventional notion that aristocrats are automatically respectable and noble. The contrast between the Duke and Duchess’s thoughtless malice and Sancho’s anxiety-ridden compassion highlights this problem of class. Despite his low social status, the peasant Sancho is wise and thoughtful. Likewise, the lowly goatherds and shepherds often appear as philosophers. In contrast, the cosmopolitan or aristocratic characters like the Duke and Duchess are often frivolous and unkind. Cervantes’s emphasis on these disparities between class and worth is a primary reason that Don Quixote was such a revolutionary work in its time.

Reliable Narration and the Aesthetics of Accuracy

From the beginning of the novel, the narrative's accuracy is called into question. In terms of authorship, Cervantes tells us that he has found this story and translated it from the work of a Moor named Cid Hamet Ben Engeli. Cervantes continually tells us that Ben Engeli cannot be trusted because he is a Moor. In an exterior frame, the narrative is immediately destabilized.

Within the novel, Don Quixote, the priest, the innkeeper (#2), the canon and numerous others weigh in on various chivalric tales and other literary works. The priest's aesthetics suggest that the style of narration determines the "reliability9quot; of a narrative‹not the accuracy of the details. If the "facts9quot; are properly arranged, the most improbable story can seem true.

Indeed, Cervantes' comic novel attests to this fact. Don Quixote is hailed as the first modern novel and praised for its realism. Realism applies more to the style in which the details are relayed than the actual narrative content. It seems highly unlikely that a man like Don Quixote might actually exist. In Chapters 33-35, "The Novel of the Curious Impertinent" figures in the exact same way. The priest says that he favors "the manner" in which the story was written though he sees Anselmo as an implausibly, unrealistically naïve and idiotic character. The story is realistic, but the character is unrealistic: How can this be so?

Part of what buttresses these reliable narratives (or perhaps, "reliably unreliable narratives") is their fetish for textual, historical, and or literary documentation. Cervantes' novel incorporates ballads, poems, oral narratives, editorial annotation and aesthetic commentary. Don Quixote incorporates diverse forms from disparate sources: unless they are all lying, the story is sound. "Curious Impertinent" is just as wily: the narrator reproduces the entire and unedited text of Camilla's love letters, while Lothario recites whole stanzas of lyric poetry without skipping a beat. These inner texts anchor the whole work. These inner texts become "evidence9quot; and these details are credited as accurate.

Edmundo Delgado is a literary critic who looks at how the word historía signifies both &;story' and &;history' depending upon the context. Quixote is candid about his desire for fame and he continually discusses the history-historía of knight-errantry. The other characters largely read chivalry as story-historía. Still, Quixote's focus on his personal history, combines with the historiography of Cid Hamet Ben Engeli: when arguments about how the details should be told become arguments about how the details actually occurred, story-historía subtly transforms into history.

Book II complicates these issues in one major way. Avellaneda's "imposter sequel" (1614) complicates Book II (1615) in a way that was not possible for Book I (1605). Book II has to prove itself as the true sequel‹but when Avellaneda published his work, Cervantes was already writing Chapter LIX (there are only seventy-four chapters in Book II). In "narratological9quot; terms, these final chapters get far more complicated than what preceded.

Delusion, Enchantment, and Imagination

The books of chivalry have left Don Quixote incapable of seeing "reality.9quot; When Don Quixote believes that the inn is a "castle9quot; or a "windmill9quot; is a "giant,9quot; he is not merely deluding himself. He has subverted his physical senses. While there are repetitions (inn = castle), not every "enchantment9quot; is predictable. Quixote sees festooned pagan warriors on horseback battling in a field where there are only two herds of sheep.

To this day, the word "quixotic9quot; is used to describe a person who is "foolishly impractical, especially in the pursuit of ideals." Chivalry is a social order that was disappearing. Quixote's delusions are not without philosophical underpinnings: he is deluded but also utopian; imaginative and idealistic. Quixote is not just living out any delusion; he is living out his fantasy. "Mad I am and mad I must be" is what Quixote tells Sancho. Delusion imprisons Quixote but the knight's imagination secures him freedom. Caged and ox-carted, there is no Utopia for Quixote, but his ideals are intact. "Mad I am," the knight exclaims, having fit himself into a role that has already been written in the chivalric literature. The delusion is strict and Quixote practices knight-errantry with orthodoxy. His imagination is expansive, however; every scene awards Quixote to see the enchantments as he chooses. He must battle giants, but they need not have been the windmills. He must search for Mambrino's helmet, but it need not have been a barber's basin. Quixote reserves the right to locate the enchantment right before his eyes.

Deception, Manipulation, and Strategy

This theme is treated differently in Book II, where the Duke and Duchess deceive and abuse Quixote. In Book I, Quixote is deceived by the priest, the barber, his housekeeper, his niece, Cardenio and Dorotea, among others. Even Sancho lies to Quixote, claiming to deliver the letter to Dulcinea. In the early chapters, the characters conspire to destroy Quixote's library and when the knight-errant prepares for his second sally, there is an effort to prevent him from leaving. In the second half of Book I, the priest and the barber enjoy numerous distractions but their primary concern is getting Don Quixote home safely. Their strategy is to use Quixote's delusions as a means of tricking him. Quixote believes that a cage is an enchantment to carry him to his next adventure. Meanwhile, the barber disguises himself and pretends to be a prophet, foretelling Quixote's triumphal return home. When Quixote speaks to the Princess Micomicona he does no think to ask 'Where is Dorotea?' because he does not Dorotea. But when the barber disappears in and out of costume, Quixote remains deceived. Indeed, the characters do not even bother wearing their disguises at one point because Quixote is so deep within his fantasy that there is no risk of him perceiving reality.

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Cervantes' theme throughout Don Quixote is quite consistent and straightforward. Though Cervantes makes a thinly veiled attempt to keep his biography of the Don objective, the reader quickly realizes that Cervantes sides strongly with his lead character. Despite the lengthy digressions and numerous episodic adventures, the theme of the novel is clear-the values of the Golden Age of men have been lost over the centuries and must be resurrected for the good of society. Before the fall of man, when the earth was still a paradise of sorts, Quixote explains to some goat herders, Mother Nature provided all that man needed, making it needless to steal, cheat or lie. He goes on, "Neither fraud, nor deceit, nor malice had yet interfered with truth and plain dealing." Because the world is no longer in such a state, however, "the order of knight-errantry was instituted to defend maidens, to protect widows, and to rescue orphans and distressed persons," the knight continues.

Quixote's code of knightly conduct is not simply an idle notion, but indeed a life-changing belief-his whole life's mission is to right the wrongs that have befallen his world. Readers may laugh at his idealized betrayal of lady Dulcinea, but his romanticized vision of courtly love is commendable. For example, Quixote forbids himself from thinking any impure thoughts about his fantastical princess. This suggests that the knight-errant, though he obviously feels a certain satisfaction in righting society's wrongs, values his belief in moral justice over his personal pleasure or happiness.

Yet unlike Don Quixote, Cervantes recognizes that reality can no longer accept such ideals of knight-errantry. Though the Don valiantly strives to carry his Golden Age ideals into the corrupt world of modernity, embodying the virtues of bravery, respect, justice, politeness, loyalty and reverence for God and others, Cervantes must make such outdated ideals a sign of madness. Only Don Quixote is able to remain constantly moral, while the world around him is constantly immoral. Indeed the fact that the knight-errant must be thought delusional to possess such morality sheds more light on the his world than on Quixote himself: the Don must be mad in order to remain true to his chivalrous principles.

  • Date of Creation:
  • 1868
  • Height (cm):
  • 51.00
  • Length (cm):
  • 32.00
  • Medium:
  • Oil
  • Support:
  • Canvas
  • Subject:
  • Figure
  • Art Movement:

This particular Don Quixote was just one of many paintings on this theme that Daumier produced. Towards the end of his life, as he was facing the prospect of his own mortality and going blind, he became increasingly preoccupied with the story of a man whose delusions of grandeur led him to battle windmills, whose sense of adventure led him into contact with people from all walks of life.

The book of Don Quixote

  • The radical message contained in Don Quixote, that a person's social status did not automatically determine their worth - that in fact, some people from the upper-class were downright scoundrels - must have greatly appealed to a social and political satirist like Daumier. The quest for adventure and meaning that pervades Don Quixote has been termed an apt metaphor for the dilemma of the modern man. Many of Daumier's artistic contemporaries were inspired by this tale.

    Don Quixote - Fantastic Variations On An Theme Of Knightly Character: Theme: Don Quixote, The Knight Of The Sorrowful Countenance

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