Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 654

The success of Don Quixote de la Mancha is all the more remarkable considering that it was spawned by Miguel de Cervantes’ feelings of frustration and rejection. After returning wounded from military service and five years of captivity in North Africa, Cervantes found slight success as he began his literary...

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The success of Don Quixote de la Mancha is all the more remarkable considering that it was spawned by Miguel de Cervantes’ feelings of frustration and rejection. After returning wounded from military service and five years of captivity in North Africa, Cervantes found slight success as he began his literary career, especially in his attempt to write for the theater. His domestic life brought little happiness, and he was justly disappointed when the Spanish crown for which he had fought denied him the bureaucratic appointment he sought in Spain’s American colonies. Having to settle for a position as tax collector in Seville, he was arrested and imprisoned for performing his job improperly. According to legend, Cervantes began writing Don Quixote de la Mancha in jail.

In addition to his personal misfortunes, he saw his Spanish navy, the Armada, suffer a complete reversal of fate between 1571, when Cervantes helped defeat the Turks at Lepanto, and 1588, when the Armada was destroyed by the English navy. Don Quixote de la Mancha has the wistful tone that could only be produced by an almost-sixty-year-old author, remembering what it was like to have been a young, heroic dreamer, who has seen his own personal plans and those of his country fall through. The only fault of Cervantes—and of Don Quixote—is having dared to dream in the first place.

When Don Quixote sees windmills and imagines them to be giants, or when he sees two flocks of sheep and imagines them to be two armies converging in battle, his delusions of grandeur are a metaphor for the Spanish government’s refusal to face economic and political reality at the time that the novel was written. In Cervantes’ day, Spain was at the height of its imperial power. Nevertheless, all the gold that Spain garnered from its colonies in the Americas did not enrich the country. On the contrary, the gold passed through customs in Seville and continued on its way to finance Spain’s wars fought to maintain its imperial territories in northern Europe. Like Don Quixote’s knightly behavior and posturing, Spain’s power was an illusion with no basis in reality. Don Quixote de la Mancha and other Spanish literature of the time is said to belong to the “Golden Age,” a term that refers not only to the high quality of Spanish literature at the time but also to the misguided optimism inspired by the gold in Spanish America. It is ironic that this novel and other Spanish literary masterpieces were spawned by a period of economic depression and political decadence.

In addition to serving as a social and political commentary on Spain in the early seventeenth century, Don Quixote de la Mancha is considered modern because of the way in which Cervantes developed his characters. From the point of view of Freudian psychology, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are two halves of the same personality, id and ego. Although the hopeless dreamer and the crude pragmatist appear to have little in common, they need each other. In part 2, their divergent points of view gradually become less polarized until the two characters almost change places.

With the help of Sancho Panza, Don Quixote gradually develops a sense of humor as the novel progresses. At the beginning of the novel, Don Quixote is severe and somber. By the beginning of part 2, however, he is able to laugh at Sancho’s clumsy attempt to imitate Don Quixote’s language of chivalry. Soon thereafter, Don Quixote will be able to recognize the absurdity of his own inflated stance.

Sancho Panza also helps the reader laugh at Don Quixote and thereby understand him. If the reader witnessed Don Quixote’s adventures and illusions without also having the benefit of Sancho’s reaction, Don Quixote might be dismissed as a lunatic. Because of Sancho’s patience with Don Quixote, however, the reader is likewise sympathetic to the deluded knight.

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