What are some examples of idealism vs. realism in Don Quixote?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Don Quixote is a well-loved and admired "classic" tale. The self-styled hero, Don Quixote, is close to madness, having "dried out his brain," and is of the belief that he is as good as any knight in serving and protecting his lady love and her honor. The details are not important to him and he is not discouraged by the less than ideal location of La Mancha, or circumstances or his romantic notions and, as the plot develops, he becomes certain that any misfortune is the work of a wizard by whom he is cursed. Don Quixote is is neither affected nor aware of his own insanity. Chivalry is all that is important in his quest. 

The best example of the idealism versus realism concept is Don Quixote and his squire, Sancho Panza and their unlikely relationship; it is at times destructive in nature and unfortunate but at other times reassuring. It is the combination of their different outlooks which drives the story and which makes both characters more believable. Sancho feels pain and has no intention of concealing this fact, regardless of what he sees Don Quixote do in the interests of bravery, feigned or real. The reader can appreciate Don Quixote's idealized version more readily when he accepts the need to view things from a different angle and a more positive perspective. Furthermore, the fact that the men know that they are characters in a story and that the story depends on their actions ensures that the reality becomes intermingled with the fantasy and the characters are not always sure which is which.

Don Quixote's "love" for Dulcinea, apart from being comical, adds to the subjectivity of any encounter or reality. To him, she is beautiful and mysterious, not remotely like the real peasant woman on whom he has based his illusion. There is a fine line between Quixote's appearance as a fool and his hero status as he immerses himself in his fantasies to avoid his dismal and discouraging reality. The fact that, towards the end, his madness will subside and his death will follow reveals that, for Don Quixote, the ideal gives him purpose and brings meaning to his life and, without it, there is no reality, only death. 

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Because Don Quixote finds the world around him to be lacking in honor and chivalry compared to the romances he is addicted to reading, he is driven to create his own reality. He manufactures an imaginative, ideal world for himself out of the more prosaic stuff of reality all around him. In his own mind, he is a knight errant, on a mission to protect and save society. This gives him an illusion of control sadly lacking in his life.

When he decides an inn is a castle, this idealization of the ordinary makes him happy, but the reality of the situation is that people think he is crazy and beat him up.

In his self-created, ideal world, the knight Don Quixote wanders the countryside of Spain so desperate for a cause, so in need of a fearsome enemy, that he mistakes windmills for giants. Feeling it is his mission to bravely and boldly protect those around him, he famously tilts at the windmills. Ideally, in doing so he is displaying his courage and fulfilling his duty as a knight. Realistically, he accomplishes nothing and brings physical pain to himself.

People have long debated this book and the relationship of the ideal to the real. What is the cost of attempting to create the ideal world we desire, of being the change we want to see? Is it worth the price? Where and when do we make our compromises with reality? 

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Idealism is the "ideal" perfect situation. Realism is "reality"--how the world really is.

One obvious example of idealism is how Don Quixote believes himself to be a knight.  In reality, he is a skinny old man riding a malnourished old horse around the countryside.

He also chooses a "lovely" young lady in whose name he does all his grand deeds.  In reality, she has no clue he's doing this.

He fights a "dragon" to rescue the damsel.  In reality, the dragon is a windmill.

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Don Quixote

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