Is Don Quixote an idealist or a realist?

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On almost every scale that others have applied to him, Quixote measures up as idealist. His very name has become synonymous with idealism, and even his delusional behavior of tilting at windmills has long been a metaphor for taking on impossible challenges.

Yet it seems worth considering Quixote's own perspective on his behavior. While the narrator dismisses him as mad and mocks his errors of vision and judgment, Quixote himself often conveys his awareness of his real surroundings and his motivations.

Quixote has been a military man and seen terrible things. He knows full well that the world is generally harsh and unforgiving—a fundamentally realist position. He knows, as well, the weight of mortality, with the severe limits aging places on people. One reason he set off is this awareness of his impending demise.

Quixote's frequently expressed awareness of the harshness of reality reveals him as a realist. His desire to help others as a path to improving his life confirm that realism —he...

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