Love is the major theme of the novel. It functions as the motivating force of knight-errantry. In the several real adventures (for example, Dorotea and Cardenio or Basilio and Quiteria), where there is a question of forced conjugation, love conquers all: "true love cannot be divided, but must be free and uninhibited." In each of these encounters, there are lessons about the nature of love. These lessons are spelled out in ABC fashion in "The Tale of Ill-Advised Curiosity." Love also allows forgiveness, even of murder—as is the case of Claudia and Don Vicente.
The theme of love never really involves the character of Don Quixote. He speaks favorably of true love and prevents a quarrel (as in the situation with Camacho the Rich), but because the theme of love deals with what is true in reality, Don Quixote plays no part in the many reunions that occur in the novel. In fact, in the case of Luscinda and Don Fernando, Don Quixote is asleep and dreaming when their tense reunion occurs.
War and Peace
"There are two roads … by which men can travel and reach wealth and honor: one is the way of letters, the other the way of arms." Don Quixote has chosen arms. In fact, he believes that fighting for what is right is as important as anything else. He is not a big believer in modern warfare; instead, he prefers the ancient, chivalric duels that pit one man against another.
There is also a desire for peace. Don Quixote, by his words and actions, prefers the Arcadian life. He admirably defends the art of poetry and in the end wishes to lead the simple life of a shepherd with no mention of revenging his honor. Sancho shows a preference for this quiet alternative when he questions the chase. The Duke tells us that all rulers partake in the exercise of the chase to keep their skills fresh, for "chase is the image of war." But Sancho wonders if it isn't a waste to always be at war "killing an animal that has done no harm to anyone." The same could be said about the other victims of Don Quixote's efforts to revive knight-errantry.
In the life of a knight-errant, fans, admirers, and squires often broach the topic of fear. Sancho is in constant fear for his own safety and for that of his master. However, as Sancho admits to his wife, such a life makes him happy. For whether he climbs an oak tree or runs away, Sancho is just happy to be a part of the action. And that adventure is the main thing; as both Don Quixote and Sancho believe, it is better to try and maybe fail than not to try at all.
At the height of his powers, right after defeating the Knight of the Mirrors, Don Quixote passes the ultimate test of courage. In the face of this test, Don Quixote reveals a truth about fear. "Fear ….. will make [danger] seem bigger by half." Subsequently, he faces and defeats the lion. Everyone is impressed by the feat, although the narrator downplays the event. It is Don Quixote's willingness to face up to his fears that is the true achievement.
(The entire section is 806 words.)