Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra was the son of a poor Spanish doctor. At a young age of 21, he enlisted in the army and fought several battles in water and in land. Pirates sold him to the Moors, and after three failed attempts to escape, he was finally ransomed to return to Spain and end almost 15 years of enslavement. It was only after the publication of the first volume of Don Quijote that Cervantes experienced financial success. His book received several local acclamations, and in fact had an unauthorized sequel by a writer known to be Avellaneda.
Cervantes was born in 1547 and died the following year after he published the second volume of Don Quijote in 1614. Several of Don Quijote’s incidents are reflected from Cervantes’ life itself. Some of these elements include the presence of pirates on the Spanish coasts, the exile of the Muslim enemy Moors, the death of the prisoners who tried to escape, and the disheartening battles between the Spanish and the Algiers, when it was obvious that Spain is eventually going to face defeat. Cervantes’ biases are prominent in the novel, as well, i. e. distrust for foreigners.
The novel also recounts several battles to which Cervantes participated. In this sense, Don Quijote can be viewed as historical and autobiographical. Getting past the author’s personal experiences, the novel well illustrates the era/s in which it was written. At that time, Spain was caught in between a new age, and Cervantes did a good job in creating the character of Don Quijote to discuss issues such as morality, human identity, art and chivalry in an ever-changing time. Although Renaissance new ideals in European humanism, contemporary literature at that time was still full stories which emphasized the code of chivalry.
Don Quijote is considered to be a novel. A novel is a narrative in prose format. A novella on the other hand, is shorter than a novel. Novellas were originally about news of country life repeated for amusement. It is quite hard to define a novel from a novella, but suffice it to say that novellas generally have a word count of 17,500 and 40,000. Anything more than that must be a novel. Before Don Quijote in 1605, the young Cervantes wrote a pastoral romance entitled La Galatea in prose and verse which bears a strong resemblance on Jorge de Montemayor’s Diana.
La Galatea tells the fortunes and misfortunes of several shepherds and shepherdesses in love. In between the release of the first and second volumes of Don Quijote, Cervantes published Novelas ejemplares which contains a dozen short stories which details Spain in terms of the historical, social and political problems it faces, as Cervantes sees it. After Cervantes’ death, Los trabajos was released. Los trabajos details the adventures of a couple in their search for a happy ending for their love. Don Quijote, a middle-aged gentleman decided to embark on an adventure to uphold chivalrous ideals he has prominently read about in books.
Don Quijote was blinded about knights in shining armor wandering about with their long lance and spear and ready to fight all wickedness. He was definitely obsesses with these chivalrous ideals that he has to set out on expeditions looking for opportunities to apply these values. Don Quijote convinced Sancho Panza, a middle-age peasant to be his squire and accompany him in his search for glory and adventure. In return for his services, Don Quijote assured Panza to make him governor of an aisle. Don Quijote did all that was chivalrous in the name of the peasant Dulcinea del Toboso whom he believes to be a princess.
In his ridiculous adventures, Don Quijote becomes more of a bandit than a knight in shining armour. His desire to help and defend what he perceives to be threats to his knighthood caused a lot of baffled and angry citizens. Panzo usually takes some of the punishments resulting from Don Quijote’s comic but infuriating behaviour. Don Quijote’s fantasies have gone out of hand and Panzo tried in vain to wake him up to reality. The second volume of Don Quijote narrates how a Duke and Duchess has taken advantage of Don Quijote’s fantasy and played tricks on him.
Believing that Dulcinea was transformed into a peasant by an evil enchantress, Don Quijot was convinced to hurt himself to undo Dulcinea’s curse. The Duke and Duchess took this make-believe further and even set Don Quijote and Panzo on dangerous tasks. What is a form of entertainment for both the Duke and the Duchess badly wounded both Don Quijote and his faithful squire. Sancho Panzo is the only person in the book who has had the interesting part to live inside and outside of Don Quijote’s fantasies.
Unlike other character who exploited Don Quijote’s madness, Panzo adored it, and even played along with it. Although he is ignorant, cowardly and illiterate, he has proved that lower class men as defined by society can also be wise and just, or even better rulers compared to those held in higher esteem. Sancho humanizes the overall novel and brings compassion and humor to the story. At the second volume Sancho Panzo subtlety changed. With all the misadventures he had with Don Quijote, he learned how to be somehow quite a gentleman and a good governor.
This second volume is different from the first as unlike the first one which just details Don Quijote’s adventures, or misadventures, the second volume somehow provides us with explanations on the identities and codes of conduct that Don Quijote and Panzo follows. The second volume makes an effort the changes of the literary, as well as social environment that Cervantes lived in. Don Quijote is one of those whom they call a Hidalgo. A hidalgo is a low-ranking nobility class, which specifically mean, son-of-something. They were exempted from paying taxes but may or may not own real property.
Don Quijote is trapped in his ridiculous fantasies. Sometime in the novel, Don Quijote is depicted to be someone who can’t distinguish what is real and what is not. He seems oblivious to the effects of his his actions. We can consider him crazy especially in certain parts of the novel, however, he seems really sane at the end. The story ends with a beaten Don Quijote , which makes him a tragic comedy figure, condemning all the chivalric ideals he believes to have fervently followed. It is not very clear if Don Quijote is indeed crazy or just ignoring the world and the disastrous consequences of his actions.
He seems unconscious of his surroundings. Throughout the book, Don Quijote remains to be a puzzle, with whom we cannot safely differentiate the split of his madness and sanity. However, at the end of the novel, we are led to believe that Don Quijote may have just feigned his madness in an effort to play out his fantasies. On the other hand, believing that Don Quijote may indeed be mentally deficient tells us that even the most intelligent of persons can fall for outmoded ideals such as chivalry. Cervantes wrote the book to provide a critique on the social and religious structure of Spain during Cervante’s era.
Cervantes satirically illustrates the arrogance of those in higher classes such as the Dukes and Duchesses. Cervantes wrote about ideas which are not observed anymore, and when practiced may become ridiculous. He was aware that knights are becoming extinct and chivalry is considered dead. The book is considered to be important in the history of literature as this shows a certain genre which borders within two different era. This not only entertains but also provides us with an idea of the ideologies of the people during that time.