Example Of Thesis On Don Quixote's Madness And The Choice To Live In A World Of Fantasy
When reality becomes too cruel and difficult to accept, it may be easier to forget it, to wrap it in a wave of fantasy. This is what Miguel Cervantes' Don Quixote seems to be doing through his controlled, lucid madness. In order to escape a reality he does not treasure and come to terms with, Don Quixote de la Mancha gives in to his obsession for books of chivalry and makes the insane decision of exploring the world as a knight errant.
His adventure, spread with intentional comedic elements, offers a magical, distorted perception of reality that attracts and conquers the characters in the story and the readers alike. In Don Quixote, the line separating reality and fiction gets thinner and even vanishes as the story advances. Miguel Cervantes uses his protagonist as a tool to instill the idea that this insignificant line for Don Quixote and the other participants in his adventure is inconsequential for the readers as well (Gaffney, 9).
The knight errant exhibits signs of madness throughout the entire novel, but without ever losing complete grasp of reality, as the numerous moments of lucidity and brilliant lines the story is spread with prove. His madness is deliberate and convenient, allowing him to forge a reality of his own, preferable to that of the others, allowing him to act and think in a way that would otherwise be severely judged and maybe even punished by the society he lives in.
His madness stems from his desire to change his life, his condition. He is a mere "hidalgo" in the community of the village he inhabits, and this is less than what he wants for himself and from the world. He wants to improve his social status, to live in an alternate society, to be surrounded by different people. Unfortunately, the world he would like to live in, a world in which anything is possible, people are brave and just, and they only need to go on adventures in order to forge a name and reputation for themselves is one that no longer exists. This social discomfort represents the foundation of the character’s mental instability, which gives birth to different adventures (Stavis, 4).
Don Quixote does not want to spend his entire life in that anonymous La Mancha village, as a gentleman with a lot of free time that he dedicates to reading books of chivalry, with such passion that he even forgets to go hunting or take care of his estate (Cervantes, 364). He occupies the lowest rank in the nobility hierarchy, following the peasants, being responsible only for his estate and only having hunting as activity. He is above the age of marriage, “getting close to fifty” (364), so he does not share the responsibilities of other men of his standing.
This is not the life Alonso Quixano wants, and, affected by so much reading (which dried out his brain and caused him to lose sanity), he decides to become a knight errant and travel "all over the world with his horse and his weapons", in search of adventures (366). Alonso’s lifestyle, with his estate, niece and housekeeper is something Don Quixote barely acknowledges. He wants to be part of world that exists in the novels he reads, and idealizes that world to the point that he fails to admit that it no longer exists (Stavis, 5). Certain circumstances work in his favor, considering that he has inherited a suit of armor from his great-grandfather, the perfect symbol for the permanent retreat of the knightly order he wishes to join (Cervantes, 366).
Don Quijote's insane adventure
Don Quixote gives in to insanity in very first paragraphs of the novel. He has developed an obsession for medieval romances, which, combined with the lack of sleep and reading in excess, take possession of his mind. He sees battles, fights, wounds, enchantments, sweet nothings, impossible absurdities, love affairs and storms everywhere he looks (Cervantes 365). All of a sudden, his horse is named Rocinante, a peasant girl becomes lady Dulcinea, his sweetheart, and the brave knight pts on the inherited armor and sets out to conquer the world.
The setting of his first adventure, the inn, is seen as a castle, the wenches are perceived as fair maidens, and the innkeeper himself is the lord of the castle. Amused and entertained by Don Quixote's madness, the innkeeper and the wenches embrace the roles assigned to them. The innkeeper approves of the protagonist's decision to roam through the world in search of fame and adventure (372).
Instead of the dull place where men fall prey to their vices, women ruin their lives and others make money off their weaknesses, Don Quixote chooses to see a respectable community, ruled by a lord who watches over the safety and well being of his hard working people and animated by fair maidens waiting to be rescued and wed. This perspective is appealing to the innkeeper and the wenches as well, who prefer to humor him and only use their entertainment as a justification for their own choice to ignore reality. Quixote himself is amused by their decision to play along.
His madness puts him in control of those people, allows him to alter their reality and dress it up differently every moment, with their willing cooperation (Auerbach 351). Those who accept the protagonist's madness become an active part of it, causing the line between reality and fantasy to fade away and inherently eliminating eventual obstacles Quixote may have had to face on his first adventure. Their willingness to become characters in the knight's story and believe in its magic is a mere invitation for the reader to do the same.
On his return home, Don Quixote convinces Sancho Panza, his neighbor, to become his squire. On their quest for adventure, they face many challenges: giants (windmills), opposing armies (sheep) and bad omens (the fulling-mill). The adventurer is aware of the difference between what things really are and what they appear to be, and chooses to blame this difference on enchantments. The sage Freston, who could be a symbol for God or Destiny, a supreme force, is trying to prevent the hero from becoming victorious by turning the giants into windmills and stealing his books (Cervantes, 388). There are numerous other instances when Quixote claims sorcery, pointing to the idea that fiction can turn into reality in the eyes of its beholder, even when the latter recognizes the elements composing fiction (Alter, 26).
All of these transformations and excuses become a conversation subject in Book II. The knight and his squire meet Sanson Carrasco, who reveals that Don Quixote is one of the most famous knights to have existed or come into existence in the entire world. It is all due to the work of Cide Hamete Benengeli who took it upon himself to make the hero's great deeds known to people everywhere (Cervantes 448).
The encounter with Carrasco provides all the encouragement the knight could possibly need: his story has already been written and is surrounding the world, people of all ages are speaking of his acts of courage and saying his name with admiration. At the same time, it suggests that Don Quixote is nothing more than the product of the story with the same name that he has read (Alter 4-5), a mere fictional character. However, the fact that he speaks of his own character in the novel strengthens the reality he is portraying and gives him a certain degree of control over it. It is difficult to tell where reality starts and where literature stops in a world so profuse in mimicking the printed page, and Cervantes deepens this confusion even further (Alter 6).
Through this subterfuge, in Book II, Cervantes places his character in a real world, understanding the significant tension between acknowledging fiction as such and accepting it as reality, no matter how easy it may seem to remain aware of the two simultaneously (Alter 14-15). This is the best way to exemplify the fading line between the two existence spectrums: presenting a fictional character in parallel with a real person. The author defends his version of Book II and challenges his readers to take a stance of Don Quixote's realism (Gaffney, 13). During the discussion with Carrasco, the knight and his squire discover several errors in Cide's writing. Although with no real fundament, these errors are real for the characters and, through them, become real for the reader, challenging any perception boundaries.
Reality is diluted even further when Sancho Panza tricks Don Quixote in introducing him to the lovely lady Dulcinea. Aware that he will not be able to find the real Dulcinea, the squire comes up with a plan to make his master believe that a peasant girl is the lady they were looking for (Cervantes 456). He guides Don Quixote towards three peasant girls riding their donkeys in their direction, and he takes control of the fantasy. When the knight does not recognize his lady, Sancho pushes him to accept this perception and feeds his fantasy by exclaiming that he must be keeping his eyes at the back of his head if he fails to see the three ladies shining like the sun at noon (457). Don Quijote embraces the suggestion but cannot overlook the huge difference between the Dulcinea he has envisaged and the unfortunate woman he is presented with. As usual, the knight takes control: finding an explanation, claiming that his lovely Dulcinea has been enchanted to take this form is preferable to returning to reality.
This encounter with the false Dulcinea is the moment when his illusion and disillusionment reach climax. Reality is, one more, too cruel for him to accept it, so the knight forges one of himself, in which the beautiful fair maiden is under a spell and it is his duty to save her and break the spell, restoring her untainted beauty (Auerbach 339).
Lady Dulcinea is maybe the most fictitious, intangible and controversial character in the novel. She is a constant presence, an ideal of beauty and virtue that one never encounters. Her closest materialization is this unfortunate woman that Sancho introduces to Don Quixote, with no real connection to the real Dulcinea. Through her, Sancho feeds his master's fantasy and pushes him even further from reality. Don Quixote chooses to take the false Dulcinea for real, and her enchantment for a challenge he must face and win. His perception of her reminds the reader that the knight exists in a reality where the sweet Dulcinea must begin to appear like a purely verbal concoction (Alter, 27). She is just an ideal, the product of his imagination, a lavish and unbelievable woman that could never exist in real life, the exact opposite of her enchanted version introduced by Sancho.
The knight-errant sets on a quest to break the enchantment and runs into Carrasco again. This character seems to be the anchor to reality, especially since, on this occasion, he manages to trick Quixote to return home. Dressed up as a knight, he is originally defeated by Don Quixote, but then manages to defeat him, thus forcing him home. Instead of simply trying to force Don Quixote to accept reality, Carrasco turns to fantasy himself and participates in the former's madness.
In the final chapters, the protagonist gets ill and regains his mental health, cursing the very books of chivalry he was so in love with. The reader is brought into a state of disappointment and loss. At this point, Don Quixote's fantasy had already become the reality of the novel, preferable to actual reality, not only for the protagonist, but also for Carrasco and Sancho, who would rather return to fantasy. Those who made fun of the hero's madness want it back, and are disappointed to hear him claim his real name. They prefer the errant knight to Alonso Quixano, and Sancho even tries to bring him back, by urging his master to blame him for his defeat in battle (477). Those with a stronger grasp of the reality prefer fantasy, and those who have traded reality in exchange of dreams of greatness and ideals return to it.
Madness, control and medieval romance
Cervantes portrays his hero as a tall old man with a shabby old-fashioned armor, this picture being a beautiful expression of his madness, asceticism and fanatic pursuit of an ideal (Auerbach, 349). More than a comic, complex character, Don Quixote is the tool through which Cervantes warns his readers that there is no real, sure escape from reality. His entire story begins and ends with a confrontation with reality and, his ideals, no matter how noble and heroic, remain unattained. More than that, through his madness and crazy dreams of glory, the hero irreversibly affects the destiny of those around him. After being part of his fantasy and seeing the world through his eyes, Carrasco and Sancho Panza, and, with them, the reader, find it difficult to return to reality, to face the cruel and cold world they live in.
The fall into madness and the adventure that follows is rather an inner quest of the protagonist, his way of getting to know his own limits and accepting his life. Had it not been for this madness, the protagonist and his neighbor would have never left home, would have never learnt the things they did, would have never managed to understand themselves and their life as they did (Auerbach, 350).
Vladimir Nabokov describes the story of Don Quixote as alternating phases of lucidity with phases of vagueness, deliberate planning with sloppy vagueness, claims that the hero "was mad in patches”. The entire novel oscillates between clarity and ambiguity, between madness and narrative.
In Don Quixote, madness takes various manifestations, the one of the protagonist being the most complex and enabling the writer to weave a dense net of references to insanity that scholars have outlined throughout time.
Some critics have emphasized the relation of Quixote with Erasmus, since The Praise of Folly plays with numerous ironies and humorous ambiguities.
Many scholars have studied a possible connection with Huarte de San Juan's Examen de ingenious, analyzing complexities according to the predominant humor (phlegm, bile, blood and melancholia) and to the various characters approaching insanity due to their excessive creativeness. Cervantes' hero seems to be a quite believable insane person, in line with physiological theories of this period.
There are also critics who focus on carnival elements and their importance, studied in depth by Augustin Redondo. Obviously, the knight and his squire remind of the fat and the thin, of Don Carnal and Doña Cuaresma. Quixote, compared to Lent, is happy with some weeds, like other suffering knights, but Sancho dreams of meals like those served at Camacho's wedding. His surname is actually quite suggestive for his personality, "Panza" meaning "Belly". A strong contrast is noticed not only between the thin and read Don Quixote and the fat and slow-minded Sancho, but also between the former's skinny horse, Rocinante, and the latter's fat donkey.
The protagonist's insanity often makes one think of buffoons. In fact, Don Quixote and his squire are often perceived as mere buffoons, and others play this part throughout the story as well, like the buffoon shaking his bladders to scare the protagonists' horses away. Don Quixote's knighting ceremony at the inn is another grotesque parody that disqualifies him to be a real knight, depriving him of dignity (Arrellano, 69).
Don Quixote's madness takes many roles and shapes, too many to analyze here, but there is one important characteristic that needs to outlined - the protagonist is aware of this madness and controls it up to a certain degree. For example, he sees things as they really are, but chooses to consider them enchanted. Magic and spells are his way of controlling reality, are the elements that enable him to see the best in people and things and overlook their dark side. This idea is betrayed by the author himself. The protagonist "thinks" it is convenient and necessary to turn knight-errant, that by imitating the heroes he has read about he "might purchase ever lasting honour and renown" (Gaffney, 14). As Cervantes assures, not even physicians and notaries around the world could make a final accounting of his madness, as he is a "madman who has many lucid intervals” (p. 571).
Alonso Quixano could have chosen any other world to dress up his reality, but that described in the books of chivalry that he reads is the closest to his ideals. It is a world dominated by magic, bravery and untainted love, a world where everything is possible and a brave knight like himself can undertake whatever goal he sees fit, no matter how surreal or dangerous. The protagonist cannot adjust to the reality he lives in, and that medieval, romantic world he has come to know and love is the closest to his personality, needs and ideals. He can only escape reality in a world he knows, in which everything is possible, and an explanation can be found for everything (magic). In real world, a mere "hidalgo" like himself would stand no chance at greatness, but in his books, the very ones he ends up cursing upon his return to reality, any knight can pursue greatness and conquer hearts.
Don Quixote was not as mad as he may have seemed. As Bloom puts it, many of us are Cervantine figures, blends of the Quixotic and the Panzaesque living in the broad dimensions with which the human was reinvented by Shakespeare (158). Don Quixote faced the same difficulties encountered by the modern man, and his adventure is still lived by many, even though some choose other worlds to host their adventure instead of the ones described in the books of Chivalry.
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