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Don Quixote | Study Guide

Miguel de Cervantes

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Don Quixote | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In Don Quixote, why is Don Quixote so eager to return society to the Golden Age?

Don Quixote's tendency to look upon the past with fondness isn't unusual. It's human nature to focus on the bad in the present but remember only the good from the past. This is true even today. People who grew up in the 1950s may talk about how life was better back then, conveniently forgetting about racial and gender inequalities as well as the constant threat of war with the Soviet Union. Don Quixote falls into this same trap. He wishes to return to the Golden Age, an era that began in the early 16th century, because (at least in Don Quixote's mind) it was the age of chivalry. Knights protected women, orphans, and the poor; today's knights care more about their appearance than actually helping anyone else. He mourns the fact that "sloth triumphs over exertion, laziness over labor, vice over virtue, arrogance over bravery." He believes that social changes have not been for the better, and he is searching for a kind of chivalric utopia where knights and honor reign supreme. He'll never find it, though, because it only existed in the pages of fantasy stories.

In Don Quixote, how is Sancho Panza's manner with his wife in Part 2, Chapter 5, different from the way he acts around Don Quixote?

Sancho Panza is the subordinate in his relationship with Don Quixote, his social superior and his employer. When Sancho Panza speaks to Don Quixote, he comes across as a bumbling idiot who often mixes up words that sound alike, something that irks Don Quixote to no end. Sancho Panza's position changes when he is with his wife. As a man and the primary breadwinner, he is the person with all the power in the relationship. He takes Don Quixote's place and lectures Teresa about her own grammar: "You've got to say resolved, woman, not revolved," he tells her at the end of the chapter before calling her the same disparaging names that his own master calls him. The narrator notes that such speech is out of character for Sancho Panza and "far beyond his limited abilities," but Cervantes includes it to show how Sancho Panza's personality changes depending on how much authority he has over his conversational partner. He is much more confident when he's the person in charge, and he borrows mannerisms and vexations from the person who is always in the power of position over him, Don Quixote.

What is ironic about Sancho Panza's remark that the impoverished "have to be satisfied with where they find themselves, not go asking for the moon" in Don Quixote?

This remark is an example of situational irony because what Sancho Panza says directly contrasts with his current situation. Sancho is still a peasant traveling by donkey when he says poor people shouldn't go asking for the moon, but he's acting as if his fortune has already changed. Rising through the social ranks in 16th- and 17th-century Spain wasn't easy. Land was owned by the middle and upper classes, and peasant farmers, like Sancho, had to rent the land or work for someone else. Many farmers had difficulty even feeding their families. Sancho Panza views his alliance with Don Quixote as his ticket to a better life, and as their journey wears on he begins to act as if he has already received his promised governorship. By the time master and squire arrive at the wedding of Camacho the Rich and Quiteria the Beautiful, Sancho Panza is convinced there's a spot waiting for him in the upper class. Sancho Panza, more than anyone else in Don Quixote, is desperate to improve his station in life. He is tired of being poor and being treated as if he doesn't matter. The longer he with is Don Quixote and listens to the lunatic knight's idealistic ramblings, the more he believes this change is actually possible.

In Don Quixote, how do Don Quixote's ideas about love contrast with Sancho Panza's?

Love is a frequent topic of discussion in Don Quixote, and Don Quixote and Sancho Panza have vastly different views on the subject. Don Quixote believes in the passionate, all-encompassing love that is depicted in romance novels, the kind of love that can overcome all odds, even power-hungry giants. He thinks that a "marriage of true lovers" is the "best of all possible endings." Sancho Panza, on the other hand, focuses on the realities of love. "All of this stuff about people dying for love just makes me laugh," he tells Don Quixote and a scorned Altisidora. Unlike Don Quixote, he can easily identify the flaws in his own ladylove. He also thinks that love isn't the last word in having a successful relationship. There are other things to consider, namely money. In his eyes, it is often better to marry for money than for love because with money, you will at least always have food on the table and a place to sleep. Neither man completely understands the ever-changing nature of love, and their viewpoints reflect how they view the world. Don Quixote paints a picture of idealistic love, with no problems or worries. Sancho has the more realistic outlook but tends to focus on the negative. Cervantes himself lands somewhere in between, showcasing relationships that fall on both sides of the scale.

In Don Quixote, how do the donkey and Rocinante symbolize the relationship between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza?

The donkey and Rocinante represent their respective masters. Sancho is the donkey—short, rotund, and slow, but he's also a pack animal, carrying the heaviest loads for his master. Donkeys are stubborn and often the butt of the joke. Don Quixote is Rocinante, an elderly, skinny horse who often ignores his physical limitations. Horses are faster and sleeker than donkeys, but the donkey is best for work. Like Rocinante and the donkey, who "automatically followed in Rocinante's tracks, for he felt completely at a loss without him," Don Quixote and Sancho Panza dislike being apart. Don Quixote shuts himself in his room at the Duke and Duchess's castle after Sancho leaves for his governorship, "aware of pangs of loneliness" and wishing he could take away Sancho's new position. Sancho Panza is equally eager to get back to Don Quixote after leaving Barataria Island, foregoing a chance to earn some money so he can see his master as soon as possible. Despite their differences, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are truly best friends, just like their trusty steeds.

In Don Quixote, why does Sancho Panza stay with Don Quixote throughout his second and third journeys?

Despite the rough conditions, the lack of food, and the sense that something isn't quite right with his master, Sancho Panza stays with Don Quixote through the very end of his adventures. He initially remained with Don Quixote because of the promise that he would become a governor. That didn't pan out during the first adventure together (Don Quixote's second time on the road), but Sancho Panza did go home with a bag of 100 gold pieces. That gold is the reason why he joined Don Quixote on the lunatic knight's third adventure. As he tells the Knight of the Mirrors's squire, "I always think the very next step I'm going to have [the gold] in my hands." As Sancho Panza starts to realize that there's no windfall coming his way, he stays out of loyalty. He loves Don Quixote with "all [his] soul," so he "can't talk myself into leaving him, no matter what nonsense he gets himself involved in." Sancho Panza's wavering reasons for staying with Don Quixote show that vices and virtue are not constant. They are influenced by a person's changing circumstances and beliefs.

In Don Quixote, why does Cervantes have Sancho Panza and Don Quixote become aware of the publication of their recent adventures?

Cervantes introduces Part 1 of Don Quixote as part of the plot in Part 2 for four reasons: First and foremost, Cervantes needed to disavow the publication of the "false Quixote." The best way for him to do this was to have the very characters that were stolen speak in his defense. His introduction of the story-within-the-story subplot allows Don Quixote and Sancho Panza to examine Part 1 and proclaim its validity, then denounce the unauthorized sequel by Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda. The "book-within-the-book" framework allows Cervantes to make it clear that Don Quixote is a work of fiction. This meta, or self-referential, commentary is quite possibly the first of its kind, making Don Quixote simultaneously the first realistic novel and the first example of metafiction, which is essentially fiction about fiction. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza aren't just characters in a book by Cervantes; they are also characters in a book by Sidi Hamid Benengeli, which Cervantes's Don Quixote and Sancho Panza hear all about. This draws the reader's attention to the fact that Don Quixote is a novel, not a history. Cervantes also uses Don Quixote's and Sancho Panza's knowledge of Part 1 to address inconsistencies in the first volume of the text, such as when the donkey was stolen and returned and what Sancho did with the gold coins he took from Cardenio's suitcase. Cervantes places the blame for these errors on the printer, which clears up his reputation as a writer. From a plot standpoint, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza's notoriety after the publication of Part 1 allows them to have more challenging and dramatic adventures than those in the previous volume. The general public is well aware of the lunatic knight's madness. Instead of pitying him, as most everyone is Part 1 tends to do, the characters of Part 2 want to use it to their advantage. Cervantes is able to show the uglier side of Spanish society, particularly the nobility.

Which character in Don Quixote is best characterized by the line, "The wisest character in a play is the fool"?

This quotation represents two characters in Don Quixote: Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Don Quixote may be a madman, but he manages to earn the respect of nearly every person he meets. Despite initial appearances, he's actually extremely intelligent. He knows about a great many subjects, and he enjoys speaking about them at length, combining philosophy with sound logic. Sancho Panza comes across as an uneducated idiot who has more proverbs than brains, but he actually has an abundance of common sense. He surprises everyone on Barataria Island when he proves to be an effective and just governor. Even more importantly, he has the intelligence necessary to keep Don Quixote safe during their adventures without ever belittling him or making him feel like he's crazy. He may not know how to read or write, but he definitely knows how to handle people and get what he wants. The words of the wise fools of Don Quixote aren't just fodder for comedy; they relate serious truths about life, love, and honor. At Camacho's wedding, a squabble about Sancho Panza's talkativeness turns to a sound discourse on death. In true Sancho style, it's full of metaphors and garbled imagery, but even Don Quixote can't deny what Sancho Panza said, in his own "rustic language," "is all that any good preacher could say." Don Quixote and Sancho Panza may seem like the dimmest characters in Don Quixote, but they actually impart more wisdom than anyone else.

What is remarkable about Sancho Panza's use of proverbs in Don Quixote, and why?

Sancho Panza has a tendency to speak in proverbs, an affliction that only gets worse as the story progresses. Instead of just sprinkling them here and there in conversation, he blasts through four in a row in the same sentence without a second thought. "I don't own anything else, not a blessed thing except proverbs and more proverbs," he tells his master. Don Quixote, for his part, far prefers lengthy explanations to proverbs, which are "compressed wisdom, drawn from the thought and experience of our old wise men." Sancho Panza's mishmash of cliches makes him sound uneducated and reflects poorly on his master, which particularly worries Don Quixote on the eve of Sancho's governorship. Sancho's proverbs disguise his good sense and wisdom, while Don Quixote's lengthy orations don't impart nearly as much wisdom as he thinks. The lesson here is that the man who sounds intelligent may not be the wisest in the room, and he who comes across as a simpleton might actually have the best answer. Class and education do not equal wisdom.

In Don Quixote, what is the difference between how people treat Don Quixote in Part 1 contrasted with how they treat him in Part 2?

Society's treatment of Don Quixote changes as the perception of his persona changes. When he was still unknown, he was considered to be a delusional gentleman, and his adventures and mishaps throughout the countryside elicited pity. Once his exploits are published, however, he becomes a famous lunatic, which causes him to be thought of as less of a real person and more as an amusement. His madness is misunderstood, and his commitment to chivalry and honor is wholly overlooked. He becomes a sideshow for the amusement of others. It should also be noted that those who treat Don Quixote kindly (and have not known him for his entire life) are generally of the middle and lower classes. Dorotea, Doña Rodríguez, and Cardenio are respectful of Don Quixote and sympathetic to his plight. Nobility, including the Duke and Duchess, Don Fernando, and Don Antonio, feel no shame when it comes to making Don Quixote the butt of the joke. Their lack of empathy for the beleaguered knight is a biting commentary on the social failings of the upper class.

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