Don Quixote, how do I explain how much joy the privilege reading this work means to me? I ask you to have ‘Patience and shuffle the cards,’ while I explain.
Don Quixote is unique. One of the earliest novels written, it is for me the most inspiring book ever penned.
It has been embraced successfully by every facet of the arts. Opera, ballet, cinema, and novels and it is encompassed in contemporary palimpsest, all drawing on the crafting of this work. The message is timeless.
Cervantes writes of a frustrated man, out of place and time. A man of honour above all else. He tackles questions that were unspeakable in the 1600s.
‘Don Quixote’ addresses questions every writer wrestles with today. It speaks of class distinction, censorship and challenges time honoured beliefs. It tears at the very underpinnings of the fabric of society.
The paradigms created between the incompatible moralities of the high-born and the peasants, and the clash of imaginary worlds have set a blueprint for authors to follow throughout the centuries. Cervantes provides permission by precedent to question the status quo.
Don Quixote is the ‘package.’ It has everything a reader can want in a plot line. It embraces romance, intrigue, despair, questioning the norms of society and alienation of the main character from all that he strives for.
Long before professors lectured weary students about the importance of symbolism in the novel, Cervantes was filling his work with images. The horses are used to make a straightforward statement about the status of the individual. The inns are representative of the fractured worlds in which both we and our characters survive. They are essential to the traveller, a place to meet, to exchange ideas, to buy and sell information and goods. A place of safety, of devious intrigue. Inns are a paradox of place, where a man who would seek comfort and companionship, find nothing but disquiet when excluded and alienated from the happenings around him. This is Don Quixote’s fate, whereas Sancho, who is more grounded and connected understands the truth of the place, he is connected and it his reality.
The inns are the board rooms of the modern world, the Don Quixote’s of today have their minders who groom and fashion their charges for the jousting of day to day business. They protect and lead the vulnerable who cling to ideals and ethical behaviour to prevent them from being trampled by the bulls of commerce.
It is a plot line that can equally apply to the now, some five centuries after the novel was first published. The messages are as relevant to the world today as they were then. The characters are well developed and rounded, providing gravitas to the work. We are all acquainted with characters like Sancho, Don Quixote, and the Duchess. Each of us knows of the besotted but controlling partner who cannot accept their loved one is faithful and ultimately this leads to their death. We see this acted out daily in cases of domestic violence where no one is the winner.
Words, phrases, and images from this novel have survived translation and help demonstrate how the work has become one of the most widely read and loved books, written by a foreign writer. ‘To tilt at windmills’ or be ‘quixotic’ are two such examples of its influence on everyday speech.
The question is often asked, is the author enshrined in his character? The gallant, chivalrous, honour bound knight, or is he a pale reflection of the disaffected author who has taken a tilt at the contemporary mores of his time? There are as many opinions as there are answers to this question.
The desire to engage a discussion of this seminal work is my tilt at the windmill of life.
“And so, to sum it all up, I perceive everything I say as absolutely true, and deficient in nothing whatever, and paint it all in my mind exactly as I want it to be.” Volume 1, Chapter 25, pg. 157’