Don Quixote de la Mancha

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 608

Alonso Quijana, a Spanish country gentleman, is crazed by his reading of medieval romances. He resolves to go forth to right the world’s wrongs and champion the downtrodden. Having himself “knighted” by an innkeeper who humors him, Alonso takes on a new name--Don Quixote de la Mancha--and a squire, the...

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Alonso Quijana, a Spanish country gentleman, is crazed by his reading of medieval romances. He resolves to go forth to right the world’s wrongs and champion the downtrodden. Having himself “knighted” by an innkeeper who humors him, Alonso takes on a new name--Don Quixote de la Mancha--and a squire, the peasant Sancho Panza.

Seeking adventure, Don Quixote interprets everything he sees in terms of his chivalric fantasy. As a would-be righter of wrongs, he challenges many ordinary men who he imagines are committing injustices. Though sometimes victorious, he receives many beatings in these encounters. Some people also take advantage of his illusion to make him the butt of cruel jokes.

Through all of these mishaps, Sancho occupies an unenviable position. He ministers to his master’s illusion while striving to protect him from its direst consequences. Sancho does not always succeed in this paradoxical role, but he does add cheer with his jokes and commonsense maxims.

A supreme challenge to three and a half centuries of readers has been how to interpret Quixote. Is he merely a ridiculous and pathetic victim of illusion, or a representative of all that was most noble in a bygone age? Another strong point of interest is the other characters’ reaction to Quixote’s madness. A few try to coax him out of his fantasies and back to the sensible, if dull, life of a country gentleman. Many more encourage him to continue, thus amusing them with his insane antics.

Some have called Don Quixote de la Mancha one of the world’s two or three greatest novels. Others rate it much lower, citing its haphazard construction. In any case, this novel has remained a highly influential classic whose protagonists have become household words. Don Quixote de la Mancha has stimulated the work of later authors as diverse as Fielding, Dickens, Stendhal, Flaubert, and Dostoevski.

Bibliography:

Allen, John J. Don Quixote, Hero or Fool? A Study in Narrative Technique. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1969. A sound starting place for students of postmodern criticism as it relates to the novel.

Coover, Robert. “The Last Quixote: Marginal Notes on the Gospel According to Samuel Beckett.” In In Praise of What Persists, edited by Stephen Berg. New York: Harper & Row, 1983. Coover, a postmodern writer who admires Beckett and Don Quixote, connects postmodernism to Cervantes’ work.

Entwistle, William J. Cervantes. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1969. Essays on Cervantes’ life and writing. The essay “The Hero as Pedant” addresses the reception of Cervantes’ masterpiece and its rise to the “rank of a work of art.” Indexed, with a brief biography and a chronological listing of his works.

Nelson, Lowry, Jr., ed. Cervantes: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969. Gathers the best available critical opinions on Cervantes’ work. Ten essays, one by Thomas Mann and another by W. H. Auden.

Ginés, Montserrat. The Southern Inheritors of Don Quixote. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 2000. An argument for the presence of Don Quixote, in spirit, in the literature of the American South.

Predmore, Richard L. The World of Don Quixote. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967. Provides a brief, clear exploration of the complex world of Cervantes’ great novel.

Presberg, Charles D. Adventures in Paradox: “Don Quixote” and the Western Tradition. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001. A study of paradox that spans the literary tradition, with a special focus on Don Quixote.

Watt, Ian. Myths of Modern Individualism: Faust, Don Quixote, Don Juan, Robinson Crusoe. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Ian Watt studies the origins and literary uses of Don Quixote, Don Juan, Faust, and Robinson Crusoe as pervasive myths of the modern individualist world.

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