Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Alonso Quixano declares himself to be Don Quixote and, dressed in an old suit of armor and riding a feeble nag called Rocinante, secretly leaves the home that he shares with his niece and housekeeper. After riding all day, he stops at an inn, which he imagines to be a castle, and there has the innkeeper perform a ridiculous ceremony that, in Don Quixote’s mind, makes him a knight. Now he will be able to begin the work of knight errantry, serving his state by redressing wrongs and by participating in fabulous adventures that will bring him honor and fame. All his exploits he will dedicate to the lady of his fancies, Dulcinea del Toboso, a person loosely identified with Aldonza Lorenzo, a farm girl whom Don Quixote had admired at one time.

In Don Quixote’s first opportunity to perform a good deed, he interrupts the beating of a young boy, Andrew, by his master, Juan Haldudo. Proud of his accomplishment, Don Quixote departs without realizing that his intervention later causes Andrew to suffer even more severely at the hands of his master. Following another adventure, Don Quixote is discovered badly beaten by a neighbor, who brings him home. While Don Quixote is recuperating, his niece and housekeeper, along with his friends, the village priest and the barber, burn the books of chivalry that have produced Don Quixote’s madness, hoping thus to effect a cure.

Don Quixote recovers and entices his friend Sancho Panza to join him on a second...

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Spain. Foremost European military, political, and economic power at the end of the Renaissance—the time in which this novel is set. Spain was then politically unified as a nation but, from its days as a federation of allied kingdoms, it still retained many regional influences that are reflected in the novel. Spain’s importance as a center of trade, exploration, and conquest led it to become a watershed of diverse cultural and linguistic influences, in which Spanish, Arab, Basque, Italian, Portuguese, and French influences, among others, could be traced in the idioms, pronunciation, and customs of the inhabitants. These influences were responsible in part for the vigor and inventiveness of Cervantes’ satire.

The satirical focus of the novel is on the people of Spain—their values, attitudes, and prejudices. However, it is Cervantes’ narrative montage technique, original with him but widely emulated since, that permits him to scrutinize the entire spectrum of character types comprising Spanish society. This technique, referred to as picaresque, is largely a function of changes in place. As Don Quixote moves from place to place, he encounters new people and situations that reflect the exigencies of each location. As the layers of imagery accumulate, an overall impression of Spain emerges, and parallels among places and events become evident.

When Spain’s King Phillip II died in 1598, Spain’s cultural greatness was undeniable, and would become greater. However, his legacy also included a nearly bankrupt treasury, an exploited and disgruntled peasantry, a bigoted and privileged nobility, and a persecuting, intolerant religious faith. These attributes of Cervantes’ contemporary Spain were the objects of his criticism.

*La Mancha

*La Mancha. Autonomous region in central Spain that encompasses the village in which Don Quixote lives (identified by some sources as Argamarilla de Alba, about twenty miles west of the prison in which Cervantes may have conceived the novel). The area is near Toledo, Spain’s ancient capital, and Madrid, its capital in Cervantes’ day. Cervantes served as tax collector in La Mancha, where he came in direct contact with all levels of...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

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.

Close, Anthony. A Companion to Don Quixote. Woodgridge, Suffolk, England: Tamesis, 2008. A wonderful guide for those reading Don Quixote for the first time. This work does a good job of analyzing several aspects of the text and includes a biography of Cervantes that covers his life and career. Also contains a useful guide to further reading.

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.

Mancing, Howard. Cervantes’ “Don Quixote”: A Reference Guide. Greenwood, 2006. An excellent companion for the undergraduate student and for general readers. Individual chapters explore themes, criticism, language and style, publishing history, and other topics. Select bibliographies make this an important resource.

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.