The Details of Travels of Knight Don Quixote
If many people believe in a certain idea or story, so much so that few people remain to
contest its legitimacy, is it considered the truth? For many, the truth, and by extension, reality is only defined by what they choose to believe in, whether others believe it or not. Detailing the travels of an out-of-touch “knight” in 17th century Spain, Don Quixote explores how a character’s and author’s perspective can influence the telling of a story. Noted for its unique and innovative use of styles of narration and perspective, the novel addresses the themes of morality, idealism and realism, and irony. Through the titular character’s misadventures, the author, Miguel de Cervantes, offers the reader a look at the story through multiple lenses and effectively portrays a realistically crafted world filled with believable characters.
The story of Don Quixote follows a Spanish gentleman named Alonso Quixano, who changes his name to “Don Quixote” as he sets out from his home in La Mancha to revive chivalry and provide justice to the innocent. Cervantes claims he is translating the manuscript of another writer, Cide Benengeli, who supposedly originally documented the tale of Don Quixote. In his travels, Quixote stumbles upon many events and situations that, while mundane in reality, are depicted as fantastical in his delusional mind. One such instance occurred when Quixote and his enlisted squire, Sancho Panza, came across a field of windmills that Quixote believed to be evil “giants.” In a later encounter, Quixote noticed a large flock of sheep grazing in the plains and believed it to be an army of knights in battle. In both instances, he rode forth attacking the “giants” and “knights,” resulting in him being whacked in the face by the sail of a windmill, and assaulted by herdsmen, respectively. Despite this, and other similar events occurring throughout the first half of novel, Quixote insists that enchantresses are the cause of what others believe to
be his delusions, claiming that they casts spells to transform the “giants” into windmills, and the
enemy soldiers into sheep.
In the book’s second half, after having concluded their first set of adventures, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza set out again on a second adventure. Unlike the first part however, Cervantes employs a form of self-referential metafiction. Quixote and Panza encounter people who apparently read the first part of the novel itself, and know about the duo’s adventures, such as Sansó Carrasco, who read the first part and encouraged Quixote to resume his knightly journey. Within the second part, Quixote and Panza hear word that a false sequel to their tales had been published, which others have also read, and seek out revenge against Alvaro Tarfe, a character in the book. In typical fashion, Cervantes is referencing an actual publication, a fraudulent second part to the original Don Quixote that was published before his own second
Don Quixote serves as a commentary on the dangers of extreme idealism, as well as the state of the writing process at the time. Although I found it confusing initially, Cervantes’ use of metafiction turned out to be rather effective in conveying the theme. His claim that the book was originally authored by “Cide Hamete Benengeli,” his inclusion of the actual false second part of the novel within the story of the novel itself, and Quixote and Panza becoming actual characters in their world was a parody of sorts of authorship in his day. Many books of the time were the same style of chivalric romances that Quixote himself read. Cervantes’ intention in smearing the popularity of these “vain and empty books of chivalry” (Cervantes, 17) succeeds because he proves through Quixote’s adventures that the life of a romantic and idealistic knight are unrealistic in a modern age, and damaging to the modern psyche. His purposeful commentary of Benengeli’s potential historical inaccuracy pokes at the tendencies of writers at the time to embellish proper history, claiming that there may be some small historical error in their stories, while in truth, much of their tales are mostly, or completely false. Cervantes effectively demonstrates the perils of irrational chivalry and the necessity of writers to place more importance on doing research on the so-called ‘truthful’ stories they claim to write.
In writing Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes provides readers with both an entertaining romp, and a thought-provoking commentary on writing and fiction. Through the pursuits of Quixote and Panza, he shows that passionate idealism, no matter how noble, can lead to destructive tendencies, and that it is much more prudent to pursue realistic forms of “chivalry,” if at all. For readers craving a novel brimming with historical context, while at the same time employing themes applicable to modern society, Don Quixote is a classic that should not be glanced over.