The title character in the Miguel de Cervantes novel Don Quixote is a man who chooses to see the world through the lens of his ideals rather than settle for the mundane reality of country life.
Don Quixote immerses himself in books of chivalry, admiring the code of honor and bravery they describe. He becomes so preoccupied with the ideals the characters embody that he neglects his duties and his home in favor of contemplating and discussing chivalry. This fascination leads him to reject the reality of his life as an ordinary Spanish landholder and to perceive himself as the ideal knight, championing justice in a troubled world.
…he fancied it was right and requisite, as well for the support of his own honour as for the service of his country, that he should make a knight-errant of himself… righting every kind of wrong, and exposing himself to peril and danger from which, in the issue, he was to reap eternal renown and fame.
Don Quixote does not just transform himself; he reinvents those around him to fit into his ideal world. Because every knight needs a lady to dedicate his deeds to, Don Quixote chooses an attractive farm girl from a neighboring village, Aldonza Lorenzo, to be “Lady of his Thoughts.” He re-christens her with the beatific name Dulcinea del Toboso. The name reflects how he sees her as a saintly, gentle maiden who “is worthy to be lady of the whole universe.” But his neighbor Sancho, a staunch realist, has another view of the young woman.
“I know her well,” said Sancho, “and let me tell you she can fling a crowbar as well as the lustiest lad in all the town… the whoreson wench, what sting she has and what a voice! I can tell you one day she posted herself on the top of the belfry of the village to call some labourers of theirs that were in a ploughed field of her father’s, and though they were better than half a league off they heard her as well as if they were at the foot of the tower; and the best of her is that she is not a bit prudish…”
If Aldonza/Dulcinea is not the saint Don Quixote sees, Sancho also does not achieve the standard of perfect squire. He is not noble or educated, nor is he dedicated to serving his knight. He is a laborer on a nearby farm, who only agrees to accompany Don Quixote after being promised the position of governor over any islands they conquer in their adventures. Even Sancho’s appearance is ridiculous. Instead of a horse, he rides a donkey, the only animal he can procure.
… he meant to take also a very good ass he had, as he was not much given to going on foot. About the ass, Don Quixote hesitated a little, trying whether he could call to mind any knight-errant taking with him an esquire mounted on ass-back… For all that, however, he determined to take him, intending to furnish him with a more honourable mount when a chance of it presented itself, by appropriating the horse of the first discourteous knight he encountered.
Don Quixote’s hesitation over Sancho riding the donkey reveals that he is not completely divorced from reality. He knows that this picture is not right, but he does not allow that to dissuade him. He ignores reality, telling himself that he can soon elevate this coarse truth to his ideals. He chooses self-delusion in his perception of Sancho, in his view of Aldonza, and even in the self-image he insists on.