Idealism in Don Quixote

Published: 2021-06-20 22:50:05
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In the book Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes, the eponymous protagonist, Don Quixote, explains his reason for becoming a knight in the 16th century, saying “as time went on and wickedness increased, the order of knight-errantry was instituted to defend maidens, to protect widows, and to rescue orphans and distressed persons” (Cervantes 52). In the book, Quixote, moved by books of chivalry, dons his grandfather’s rusty knight armor and sallies on an adventure in Spain with his squire, Sancho Panza.
Throughout Spain, Quixote and Panza meet characters that hinder, help, and challenge the concept of chivalry in a modern world. Quixote epitomizes idealism by becoming a knight-errant when chivalry is considered an outdated moral code. Commentary by Cervantes is both biting and affectionate, but ultimately a criticism of idealism. Quixotism, a word derived from Don Quixote, is defined as the impractical pursuit of ideals. Quixote was once a gentleman from La Mancha, but books of chivalry have corrupted his mind, making him temporarily mad. In the book Don Quixote, Quixote’s misadventures are described in detail.
One of the first indicators of the depth of Quixote’s madness is his attempt to fight a field of windmills he mistakes for giants, declaring, “Do you see over yonder my friend Sancho Panza, thirty or more huge giants? ” (Cervantes 36). What ensues is a cartoonish, slapstick-ish battle where Quixote is knocked to the ground by a windmill’s turning sails, wounded, and nearly killed. In this scene and many scenes after this, Cervantes not only implies that idealism has the ability to make one look foolish, but that it is powerful enough to physically injure.
How Cervantes contrasts Quixote’s idealism might appear humorous to readers, as it comes in the form of the squire Sancho Panza. Panza is a simple man, whose modest intellect only highlights the reality Quixote gravely distorts. Many misadventures and grievances could have been avoided if Quixote had listened to Panza’s advice. After the duo’s adventuring seemed to have come to a conclusion in Part One, Quixote and Panza are spurred back into action when they hear about the false accounts of their adventures. Soon, Quixote and Panza meet a duke and duchess. The Duke and Duchess exploit and demean the oblivious Quixote and Panza.
The humiliation Quixote and Panza face in Part Two makes up the bulk of the story. While Part One plainly condemns idealism, Part Two almost pities it, serving as the inverse of Cervantes’s original intent. Cervantes’s personal experience as a penniless and jailed man after his service in the Spanish army, and an unhappy Christian during the Spanish Inquisition, made him a bitter and jaded man. These experiences affected and inspired his messages in Don Quixote. So just what is Cervantes trying to say about idealism and realism? That it is dangerous, often disappointing, but admirable.
Idealism will not and maybe cannot thrive in the presence of an ever-oppressive society. Chivalric romances are things of the past and are best left in the past. Even if realism is much better and much safer, the death of Quixote’s idealism is one full of grief. When the sanity of Don Quixote returns and he reverts into the gentleman Alonso Quixano, readers cannot help but feel a certain sorrow for his crushed spirit. It seems Cervantes had conflicting feelings over idealism and realism. At first, Don Quixote is clearly a criticism of chivalric romantic literature.
However, at the end of Don Quixote, Cervantes seems to mourn the death of Quixote’s idealism. In Samson Carrasco’s epitaph for Quixote, he writes that Quixote “had the fortune in his age to live a fool and die a sage” (Cervantes 527). This quote insinuates that Cervantes favored Quixote’s sane death over his brief but insane adventure. Regardless of Cervantes’s intention, many readers seem to view Don Quixote as a celebration of idealism. Instead of denouncing the messages of chivalric romanticism, readers are inspired by Don Quixote to fight giants, battle armies, and dream the impossible dream. Works Cited

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