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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...

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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 journey in search of adventure by promising to make Sancho governor of some island that Don Quixote expects to win in the practice of knight errantry. In their first adventure together, the two men hold boldly contrasting points of view. Don Quixote sees what he believes are a number of giants whom he must attack, while Sancho sees the objects for the windmills that they really are. Thus begins a series of encounters until finally Don Quixote is brought home again through the efforts of the priest and barber at the end of part 1.

In part 2, Don Quixote and Sancho depart once more after hearing that a book has been written about them. Now, because of their long association, there is a lesser contrast in the manner in which they view the numerous adventures that they experience on their second journey together. Meanwhile, Sampson Carrasco, a student from Don Quixote’s village, believes that the only way to cure Don Quixote’s madness and to keep him at home is to do so according to the laws of chivalry. Disguising himself as a knight errant, Sampson follows Don Quixote and challenges him to fight. Following an initial failure, Sampson finally defeats Don Quixote in Barcelona and makes him promise to return home and abandon knight errantry for a year. After returning home, Don Quixote falls asleep ill, awakens, calls himself cured of his madness, renounces his career as a knight errant, and calmly dies.

Places Discussed

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*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 Castilian society, from peasants like his fictional Sancho Panza to impoverished members of the hereditary orders of nobility, like Don Quixote himself.


*Montiel (mahn-teel). La Mancha district that encompasses numerous small communities of farmers and tradesmen. The Plain of Montiel is the site of Don Quixote’s first and second sallies. It is also a fitting place for an adventure to begin, as it was well known by contemporary Spaniards as the place where the legitimate king Don Pedro of Castile was killed by his illegitimate brother Henry in 1369. The region of Montiel is formidably hot in the summer, and generally windy. Cervantes makes use of these prevailing conditions in the novel. The circumstances of Don Quixote’s first sally into the plain underscore not only his resoluteness in becoming a knight-errant, but also his madness, for who but a resolute madman would wear a suit of armor, complete with helmet, all day through Montiel’s legendary July heat? In his second and most famous sally, Don Quixote takes on the famous group of windmills, perfectly natural features of the landscape for the local farmers and tradesmen, who used them to grind their grain.


Inns. Public hostelries figure prominently in the novel because of the centrality of travel to the narrative technique. Inns were important landmarks on all major Spanish thoroughfares or highways, and offered local inhabitants and travelers alike the opportunity to share and discuss local news, enjoy entertainment, encounter new perspectives, and take refreshment and rest. The dining, toilet, and stable areas in the inns of the day were shared by all guests, a feature that allowed Cervantes to bring Don Quixote and Sancho Panza into direct and intimate contact with a wide variety of other travelers without having to resort to contriving artificial or unrealistic situations.

Close interactions among guests in the novel sometimes lead to the sharing of stories, as in the episode with Dorothea and Cardenio, or the episode with the muleteer who tells the story of the Brayers. On occasions when other guests are coarse, vulgar, combative, sullen, or knavish, the interactions occasionally take less pleasant turns, as when Don Quixote is tied by the wrist to an inn’s window and left to dangle painfully until morning, or when Sancho is tossed in a blanket.

Inns also served as natural meeting or rendezvous sites for members of civil, military, or ecclesiastical service traveling on official business. Thus, Don Quixote and Sancho encounter members of the Brotherhood, whom Don Quixote attacks before realizing they are serving a warrant for his arrest, for freeing the galley slaves, among whom is Ginés da Pasamonte, whom Don Quixote sees again delivering his puppet show. Setting these encounters at an inn renders at least marginally credible meetings among the many disparate participants in this set of interrelated adventures.

*Sierra Morena

*Sierra Morena. Rough and sparsely inhabited mountain range in central Spain that is the site of Don Quixote’s penance. The location is appropriate because of its seclusion and harshness. Don Quixote and Sancho initially travel to Sierra Morena to throw off the pursuit by the Holy Brotherhood, which Sancho rightly fears will result from their freeing of galley slaves. The remoteness and roughness of the mountainous terrain are the same qualities that prompt the fugitive galley slaves to hide in the mountains, where they steal Sancho’s ass, Dapple. Its suitability as a place of penance also attracts Cardenio.


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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.

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Critical Essays