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Don Quixote | Study Guide

Miguel de Cervantes

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Don Quixote | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


How does The Story of the Man Who Couldn't Keep from Prying fit within the larger narrative of Don Quixote?

Cervantes includes several parables, or stories with lessons, in Part 1 of Don Quixote as a means of highlighting the various themes he wishes to impart to the reader. The Story of the Man Who Couldn't Keep from Prying shows what happens when one values honor over morality. A married man, Anselmo, convinces his best friend, Lothario, to seduce his wife, Camila. Lothario doesn't want to seduce Camila, but he eventually decides it is better to do the morally suspect act his friend requests than to have his honor questioned. All three characters meet tragic ends. This is what happens, Cervantes warns, when honor becomes more important than anything else. This message directly contradicts Don Quixote's reckless behavior in defending the honor of himself and his acquaintances. He is asleep when the story is told and misses out on a lesson that could have changed the course of his adventure. This story, like many of the other parables in Don Quixote, is told as a cautionary tale, not for the idealist main character but for the realists listening in the book and reading along at home.

What is the situational irony of Princess Micomicona's appearance in Part 1 of Don Quixote?

Pero Perez and Master Nicolas need a way to get Don Quixote back home, so they concoct a story about Princess Micomicona, whose rightful place on the throne is threatened by an evil giant. The situational irony here is that, though Pero Perez and Master Nicolas are critical of Don Quixote for his insistence on living in a fantasy world, they decide their best bet for saving him is to take the fantasy even further. Feeding him stories about damsels in distress and rogue giants doesn't do anything to cure him. On the contrary, giving him an additional quest to fulfill only adds fuel to his fire. They are trying to save him with the very thing that drives him mad in the first place.

In Don Quixote, how is the nature of Don Quixote's knighthood reflected in his interactions with Andrés?

Don Quixote's interactions with Andrés show that while Don Quixote has good intentions, his attempts to save others from harm usually result in disaster. His good intentions fall flat due to his complete divorce from reality. His eyes see Andrés being whipped by his employer, but his brain interprets it as a scene from one of his beloved chivalric stories. Don Quixote's defense of the young man isn't recognized as insanity by the farmer and is instead taken as a blatant insult. Andrés is punished even worse than before. Don Quixote's madness keeps him firmly fixated on being a hero. He never pauses to think about the consequences of his actions, which often leaves the subject of his aid even more damaged than before. As Andrés says in Part 1, Chapter 31, whatever others are doing to him "it couldn't be worse than what will happen if your grace helps."

In Don Quixote, how do the attitudes toward chivalry of Juan Palomeque and Don Quixote compare and contrast?

The innkeeper, Juan Palomeque, and Don Quixote both share a great love of chivalric romances. Juan Palomeque believes just as strongly as Don Quixote that the events in these books really happened. This worries Pero Perez, who wants to burn the innkeeper's stash of books just as he burned Don Quixote's. The key difference is that Don Quixote believes chivalry is alive and well, while Juan Palomeque takes the realistic point of view that modern society has evolved since the time period in which those stories are set. In his mind, there isn't a need for knights to defend the defenseless and uphold outdated customs. Don Quixote's ideas about chivalry in the modern setting of 17th-century Spain pose a threat to both society and himself. Juan Palomeque poses no such threat, as he sees no reason to take up the lance when chivalry no longer exists.

In Don Quixote, what is the importance of Don Quixote's speech about arms versus literature with regard to his madness in Part 1, Chapter 38?

Don Quixote's speech shows that most of his brain has remained untouched by insanity. His madness isn't complete, which is why he can speak wisely about many topics and formulate logical arguments, revealing moments of lucidity. The only time he actually sounds crazy is when the subject of knight-errantry is broached. This is one of the reasons why Pero Perez thinks Don Quixote can be cured. He can either be treated for the minor disruption in his brain, or, at the very least, he can be kept away from the books and journeys that trigger his fascination with knight-errantry. Episodes such as this beg the question as to whether Don Quixote is actually insane. His superior intellect shines in every subject save knight-errantry, and he proves himself to be more than capable of sustained rational thought. Perhaps he isn't insane at all but simply allowing himself to live his utmost fantasy, even for just a little while.

Why does so much of the action of Part 1 of Don Quixote take place in inns?

Inns were gathering places for 17th-century travelers, so it makes sense that Cervantes would use these locations as places where Sancho Panza and Don Quixote could meet people from different walks of life. Juan Palomeque's inn, in particular, functions as a miniature society, representing life in the greater world. There are policemen, thieves, a judge, a soldier, a refugee, a priest, a barber, servants, enemies, allies, and star-crossed lovers. The inn itself morphs to fit the needs of its inhabitants. It becomes a hospital when Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are injured, and it's a courtroom when the judge is deciding what to do with Don Luis. The innkeepers, as in other works, symbolize greed and corruption. The inn is also used to show how alienated Quixote is from social norms. Even though he is at the inn, he is not a part of or sometimes even aware of the events that are going on. Inns also function as the characters' home bases. Much of the story takes place on the road. The only established sense of place is in the inns, which are all generally the same. They take the place of home for Sancho Panza and Don Quixote, providing comfort and refuge in times of need.

What is the role of women as depicted in Part 1 of Don Quixote?

The women in the first part of Don Quixote play the traditional female roles found in classical texts. Most, like Dorotea, Luscinda, and Zoraida, are beautiful, virtuous women. Those who aren't—Don Quixote's niece, his housekeeper, and Juan Palomeque's wife—are sharp-tongued harpies who can't stop nagging the men in their lives. With the exception of Dorotea, the beautiful and virtuous women's only roles are to serve as the targets for a man's desire. In Part 1, Chapter 25, Don Quixote says women in literature are not real "flesh and blood women" but rather inventions so that poets have subjects for their verse "and so they can make people think they're great lovers and build their own reputations." Cervantes satirizes the traditional presentation of women in literature by molding his female characters into the very thing he's parodying. He wants the reader to realize that most female characters from literature of that time period were not treated as fully rounded humans but as objects to be desired or despised, with no gray area in between.

What role does the cathedral priest play in Part 1 of Don Quixote?

Cervantes uses the cathedral priest to further discredit the traditional chivalric story. This second priest is even more vehement in his disdain than his fellow member of the cloth, Pero Perez, pronouncing such works as "a danger to our country." His diatribes on the subject mirror Cervantes's own beliefs: chivalric romances are poorly written, unrealistic fantasies that set unattainable goals for regular men. He doesn't have a problem with fiction per se, but he despises fiction based on lies. Instead, writers should base their fictions on truth to show how the impossible can become possible, which will allow them to achieve the ultimate goal of "teach[ing] and delight[ing] at the same time." This is somewhat ironic, as the Bible, a book most revered by the cathedral priest, also sets unrealistically high expectations for mere mortals. The cathedral priest wouldn't view the Bible as a danger, though, because he believes it is entirely based on fact.

In Part 1 of Don Quixote, how do Pero Perez and Master Nicolas appeal to Don Quixote's rational side to ensure his safe return home?

Pero Perez and Master Nicolas launch a two-pronged attack to convince Don Quixote to get into the ox cart that will eventually take him home. They first appeal to the irrational part of his mind that believes he is actually a knight-errant. They speak in terms he recognizes from his beloved novels, assuring him that a friendly magician is helping him "speedily accomplish the adventure [his] great spirit has undertaken." More importantly, their impromptu skit addresses areas of Don Quixote's former life that may have been less than satisfactory. An aging bachelor, Don Quixote never married nor had children. As far as the narrator knows, Don Quixote, as Alonso Quixano, has never even been in love. His lack of a companion and desire for love may be the root of his obsession for knight-errantry. Master Nicolas picks up on this, assuring Don Quixote that he and Dulcinea will marry and have "fierce cubs whose claws will be modeled on those of their brave father." The promises of a family and future generations to carry on his name are what finally prompt the lunatic knight to get into the ox cart.

How does greed affect Sancho Panza's capacity for rational thought in Part 1 of Don Quixote?

Sancho Panza's greed overrules his good sense. He is far saner than his master, whose vivid imagination conjures giants out of windmills, but he isn't immune to the odd fantastical tale, particularly those connected with an opportunity for wealth. He believes wholeheartedly in Princess Micomicona's plight because, thanks to Don Quixote's offer of a governorship, he stands to benefit from it. Sancho Panza is tired of life in the lower class. He wants the power and money that comes with an important title, and he knows hard work alone isn't going to get him there. The class system in 17th-century Spain is rigid, and Sancho has neither the intelligence nor personal connections to weasel his way into the upper class. He attaches himself to Don Quixote as a means of improving his station in life, and the farther they get on their journey, the greedier he becomes. He's willing to believe just about anything that smells of a future windfall, and he is immediately suspicious of anyone and anything (including the "spirit" that lures Don Quixote into the ox cart that carries him home) that stands in his way.

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