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Don Quixote | Study Guide

Miguel de Cervantes

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Don Quixote | Symbols


Mambrino's Helmet

The brass basin Don Quixote takes from the nameless barber symbolizes Don Quixote's idealism and insanity. Everyone else sees a bowl used for shaving and bloodletting, but Don Quixote sees the magical helmet of a legendary knight. The barber's brass basin is a reminder of how different Don Quixote is from everyone around him.


Much of the action in Part 1 of Don Quixote takes place at inns, particularly one owned by Juan Palomeque. As structures, the inns mentioned in the book represent Don Quixote's state of mind. In Part 1, he thinks all inns are castles and that the people within are knights, kings, and princesses. As his journey comes to an end in Part 2, he starts recognizing the inns for what they really are. The more he becomes disillusioned with knight-errantry, the saner he becomes.

Inns are also symbolic in Don Quixote because of the people found within. Each inn is a microcosm that mirrors the society at large. There's the innkeeper, who serves as governor; his employees, who represent the peasants; and his customers, who for the most part are treated like nobility. As the customer base changes, so does the inn's purpose. When the captive Ruy Pérez de Viedma arrives at Juan Palomeque's inn with Zoraida, it is a safe haven. Upon the judge's arrival, the inn turns into a court of law where Don Luis's fate will be decided. Cervantes uses inns to explore the interactions among different factions of society.

Animals and Transportation

In Don Quixote, one indicator of a person's status is the animal he or she uses for transportation. Donkeys are for the lower class, and horses are for the middle and upper class. Sancho Panza rides a donkey; Don Quixote rides his horse Rocinante. People who don't use animals for transportation are either very poor and travel on foot or very wealthy and travel by carriage.

The relationship between the donkey and Rocinante symbolizes the relationship between Sancho and Don Quixote. The animals look different, serve different purposes, and have different temperaments, but they are best friends through thick and thin. The donkey "felt completely at a loss without [Rocinante]" just as Sancho is distraught; he had "never thought his lord would go without him ... for all the wages in the world" (Part 2, Chapter 28; Part 2, Chapter 7).

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