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Don Quixote | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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What is the role of magicians throughout Don Quixote?

Magicians and their enchantments come up every time something bad happens to Don Quixote. He blames magicians when he gets beat up by the muledriver at Juan Palomeque's inn, and he says it's the work of a magician when Sancho Panza tricks him into thinking that a peasant girl is his beloved Dulcinea del Toboso. Even his journey home in the wooden crate is attributed to an enchantment. His belief in magicians and enchantments stems from his obsession with chivalric romances in which a knight's most formidable foe is a master of illusion. He can't accept that his own personality or luck would lead to unfortunate events, and instead blames the wizards who hounded his favorite heroes. The situational irony here is that Don Quixote's life is an illusion. He is pretending to be someone he's not. His dislike of the illusions created by imaginary magicians is a direct contrast to his belief in his own brand of magic. His addled mind is unable to separate his imagination from his reality.

What is Sidi Hamid Benengeli's role in Don Quixote?

Sidi Hamid Benengeli is the fictitious author of both parts about Don Quixote and his squire. Cervantes's anonymous narrator (perhaps Cervantes himself) tells the first part of the story from legend, then acquires Benengeli's manuscripts at a market. The concept is that Benengeli, a Moor, wrote in Arabic, and this book's narrator has those manuscripts translated into Spanish. This method of storytelling allows Cervantes to present the tale of Don Quixote as truth. Situations and events that are particularly unbelievable, or even outright ignored, are blamed on Benengeli. Cervantes can even skip the more uninteresting parts "since they don't comport well with the main themes of this history," such as the description of Don Diego's house in Part 2, Chapter 18. Benengeli's Moorish background is important to his telling of Don Quixote's story, and it's a deliberate choice on Cervantes's part. As a Muslim, he is familiar with both the Moorish culture and with the intolerance espoused by the Catholic Church during the 16th and 17th centuries. He can relate The Captive's Tale with authority, as he supposedly has "firsthand" knowledge of life in Algiers. He can also speak with experience about the way Moors, such as Sancho's friend Ricote, were treated in Spain. Cervantes uses Benengeli's background to bridge the ever-widening gap between Christians and Muslims by showing the Moors' great contributions to Spanish history and literature. It is his way of showing that, despite differences, people are all inherently alike.

What is the viewpoint of the narrator in the opening of Don Quixote?

The third-person, omniscient narrator of Don Quixote has a distinctive voice that is lighthearted and firmly tongue-in-cheek. He dithers about the spelling of Alonso Quixano's last name, concluding that although it may not affect the tale, "it's just important to tell things as faithfully as you can." The narrator knows the story he is telling is to be recorded for posterity, and he presents its events as pleasantly amusing fact. The narrator treats Don Quixote and Sancho Panza with different levels of respect. He does not pity Don Quixote's madness; on the contrary, it is looked upon with wonder at times. The narrator may portray the story's hero in an unfavorable light, as when he calls him "a humbug" in Chapter 2, but he never belittles or demeans him. It's a different story with Sancho, however. The narrator introduces him as "not being very well endowed from the neck up" and continues to make fun of him from then on. Cervantes does this purposefully. Thanks to his loyalty, his humor, and his humble beginnings, Sancho Panza is a naturally sympathetic character—the narrator doesn't have to work hard to make people like him. Don Quixote, on the other hand, is more difficult for a reader to identify with. The narrator's attitude toward Sancho's stupidity makes Don Quixote's quirks seem endearing in comparison.

How does Don Quixote's grasp of reality affect both him and those around him in Don Quixote?

Don Quixote's less-than-realistic view of the world often ends in disaster for the people around him. Sancho Panza, in particular, bears the brunt of Don Quixote's rampant idealism. He is beaten (by both himself and others), he is nearly poisoned, and he is tossed on a blanket like a child's plaything. He is not the only character who suffers: Andrés, Tosilos, and Doña Rodríguez are all worse off after having met the lunatic knight. It seems that almost no one is left untouched by Don Quixote's madness except Don Quixote himself. His madness causes problems for everyone else, but it acts as a shield for him. His knight-errant alter ego brims with confidence and optimism, which deflects the severity of any hardships that come his way. Unlike Sancho, he feels no ill effects of Fierabras's Balm because he is convinced of its effectiveness. There is no doubt in his mind that it will cure him. Don Quixote's sheer force of will protects him from nearly all ill side effects of knight-errantry. This near-invincibility disappears after his defeat at the hands of the Knight of the White Moon. No longer a knight-errant, he returns home full of doubt and despair. Days later, his body succumbs to a fatal illness.

In what ways is Don Quixote a parody?

A parody is an imitation of a particular writer or genre, usually with the intent of being funny. Don Quixote parodies traditional chivalric romances popular during the Middle Ages by exaggerating the events, themes, and characters found in the original texts. Chivalric stories are based on the idea of chivalry, an unspoken code of conduct that idealized honor, bravery, and the careful treatment of women. Knights in these stories dedicated themselves to helping those who have been wronged regain their honor. Don Quixote takes this three steps too far by freeing a chain gang of galley slaves because their freedom has been taken away. All knights in chivalric stories are brave. Cervantes shows the lunacy of Don Quixote's bravery by having him challenge a lion to a fight. Nearly all chivalric romances are built around the premise of a heroic knight risking everything in the name of his one true ladylove. In Cervantes's parody, Don Quixote risks everything for a woman to whom he has never spoken, nor even met. The Knight of the White Moon refers to his own lady as "whoever she may be." Chivalric stories all follow a "quest" narrative structure, wherein the hero goes on a journey, either literal or figurative, to achieve a goal. Don Quixote goes on a literal journey, but he has no idea what he's looking for besides honor and glory.

What is the significance of fictional stories in Don Quixote?

Fictional stories are a recurring motif in Don Quixote. From the very first page, the reader is aware that a fictional story is being told. The hero of the book, Don Quixote, is obsessed with a particular type of fictional story; other characters believe the only way to cure him is through the use of another fictional story. There are even characters whose goals can only be met with the help of a fictional story. The fictional stories created and told throughout Don Quixote are all a means of reinvention. Anna Félix creates a false backstory so she can rescue her beloved, while Samson Carrasco comes up with the stories of the Knight of the Mirrors and the Knight of the White Moon to first rescue, then punish, Don Quixote. Don Quixote himself is the master of reinvention via fiction. Wanting to break free from his humdrum life, he throws together the bare necessities and embarks on a journey rooted in his own imagination. Though Cervantes advocates a healthy skepticism of fiction presented as truth, he also believes in the power of the imagination to better one's circumstances.

Who prevails in Don Quixote: the idealists or the realists?

In Don Quixote realism, the practice of accepting a situation as it is, overcomes idealism, the pursuit of a perfect outcome. Don Quixote is, for the most part, the only true idealist in the book. He believes Spanish society can be saved only through a return to chivalric ideals of honor, bravery, and fairness—all things that work in fiction but never actually took root in reality. Don Quixote's belief in the impossible insulates him from strife and harm until he is faced with failure. His defeat at the hand of the Knight of the White Moon is his complete undoing. Giving up the one thing that had sustained him for so long—an undying belief in chivalry and knight- errantry—forces Don Quixote to face the reality of his situation. By the time he is on his deathbed, he fully understands what the realists in his life have been trying to tell him all along about such stories' "stupidity and their deceptions." Don Quixote starts his adventure as an idealist but dies a realist. It is an unhappy ending for a man who found such joy in the promise of an ideal world.

What is the moral of Don Quixote?

Don Quixote shows the dangers of believing everything that you read. The idealistic Don Quixote and thousands of his countrymen believed far-fetched fictional stories as fact. After all, as Juan Palomeque says, the Royal Council licenses the publication of these books, "as if they were people who'd let a pack of lies get put into print." Cervantes wants people to realize that believing in such an idealized version of life is actually dangerous. It creates unrealistic expectations in love, work, and wealth. This lesson can be applied outside the realm of literature, which was Cervantes's hope. The nobility of 17th-century Spain didn't work and didn't pay taxes; their main contribution to society were the plots of land they rented to peasant farmers. This idyllic lifestyle of leisure was, naturally, universally appealing. Not working for a living seemed like a great idea. The nontitled moneyed class invested in land so they wouldn't have to work, and thousands of people avoided labor-intensive jobs by pursuing careers in academia. Membership in the clergy increased dramatically. This left the peasants with the brunt of society's work and taxes. Cervantes could see that this economic structure was going to end in disaster, and he hoped readers would heed Don Quixote's lessons about the dangers of idealism before it was too late.

What messages about love does Miguel de Cervantes impart in Don Quixote?

The love stories in Don Quixote are fraught with difficulty. Lovers are kept apart by class, wealth, and religion; unreciprocated love often ends in death. Cervantes seems to think love is more trouble than it's worth, which he shows in the story of Eugenio who becomes a shepherd after the woman he loved ran away with another man. In the end, Eugenio decides it is easier to "criticize the fickleness of women, their inconstancy, their double dealing" than to find a woman who returns his affections. Cervantes's exploration of love also shows that women don't get much say in the matter. It's quite common for a man, even many men, to go to great lengths to show a woman how much he loves her, and true offense is taken if she doesn't accept his offer. In the instances where women are doing the pursuing, it is only because the men have taken the one thing that is prized above all else: the woman's virtue. Several women in Don Quixote don't marry for love but rather to protect their own reputations or to tie themselves to someone of greater social status. Cervantes shows all of this because he wants readers to know that the depictions of love in chivalric romances aren't real. Real love is messy and often heartbreaking. Those who pursue it need to be realistic about its outcome.

In Don Quixote, in what ways is Don Quixote both sane and insane?

Cervantes doesn't give a clear answer to whether his knight-errant is truly insane or not, instead leaving this decision up to the reader. The case in favor of insanity begins with Don Quixote's unshakable belief that he is truly a knight- errant, and that he thinks all of the stories about chivalrous knights are true. He sees things that other people don't—giants, castles, and fictional knights. Yet, a closer reading of the text indicates that Don Quixote might be more sane than he seems. After Sancho Panza describes what he saw while they "rode" the wooden horse at the Duke and Duchess's castle, Don Quixote takes him aside. Don Quixote says that if Sancho Panza wants him to believe in Sancho's vision of a flying horse, "you've got to believe what I think I saw in Montesinos's Cave." Don Quixote knows that Sancho is lying about what he claims to have seen, but bringing it up shows that maybe he isn't telling the whole truth about Montesinos's Cave either. Perhaps Don Quixote is just much better at playing pretend than everyone realizes. In the end, it doesn't matter whether Don Quixote is insane or not. What matters is that his belief system, for the most part, does not significantly alter the beliefs of those around him. Don Quixote's "otherness" and his interactions with a wide variety of characters is Cervantes's way of showing that there is room in the world, and in Spain, for more than one belief system.

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