February 28, 2017

Don Quixote by Cervantes: Grammar and Logic-Stage Reading

Yay, I've finished my first Well-Educated Mind title! What a huge thing it was, I'm really proud of myself. Although long, it turned out to be much less scary than I'd thought. I'd feared it would be primitive, repetitive and didactic, but instead, it was engaging, touching and sometimes (not in the intended places) even funny. Especially the second part impressed me by being a full-blown grown-up novel with character development and what not.

I didn't find it problematic to keep notes while reading, but answering the logic-stage questions felt a little awkward and a bit like high-school literature classes. However, I've made an effort to relax and not sweat about these answers too much. It's the first book, after all, I can't be a perfect critic yet) So here are my thoughts, and logic-stage analysis will follow in the next post. If you have some thoughts, please share :)

A Story of the Adventures and Mishaps of Don Quixote,

who, driven by a desire to revive the order of knights-errant, of which he's read so much and to honor his lady Dulcinea (a simple peasant girl not acquainted with him in reality), ventures out to battle evil together with his faithful and wordy squire Sancho Panza. After a series of unfortunate adventures and following a disappointing defeat, he comes to his senses and dies having renounced his "madness".

Is it a "fable" or a "chronicle"?

The novel is obviously a fable. First, Cervantes never hides that it's him behind the story, inserting his comments from time to time. Second, the coincidences in the story are so wild that nobody would believe they could really happen. Cervantes invents a chronicler, Cide Hamete, do deepen his make-belief, but it's for the reader's fun, no to enforce the plausibility. I think that Cervantes write in the fable style to underline parallels between the knightly romances and the adventures of D.Q., who is trying to imitate them. The similarity of both worlds helps deepen the contrast with reality, which hits D.Q. often and hard.

What does D.Q. want? What's in the way? What's he doing to overcome it?

D.Q. desperately wants to be part of the magical world that he finds in his books. His aspirations are doomed, first, because hey, reality! and second, because some of his friends plot to bring him home against his will in order to "cure" him. In his mind, however, all these obstacles take the form of the vague "magicians" that pester him and keep him from glory. To achieve his heart's desire, D.Q. keeps to all the rules of chivalry to a "t" and strives to always behave valiantly and to seek adventures.

Who is telling the story?

The story is told from the omniscient point of view. This allows the author to jump between the main characters and explain to the reader what these characters themselves don't understand, but totally undermines any pretense at a chronicle. Cervantes starts telling the story himself, then invents the Arabic historian who had put it all down and whose work Cervantes is only translating. Cervantes allows himself to comment in Cide and the book when he feels like it, and Cide adds his comments too. A lot of sub-stories are told by different side characters, also from the omniscient point of view.

Where is the story set?

In Cervantes's time Spain. Real events like the eviction of the Moriscos and wars are mentioned. The real world is cruel and unwelcoming towards D.Q., mostly because he denies it. Nature alone is kind and welcoming for the knight.

What style is it written in?

D.Q. is written in lengthy and windy sentences with a lot of clauses, providing a lot of details and embellishments. Dialogues are much better written than the descriptions, and main characters have very recognizable voices (D.Q.'s educated speech, Sancho's proverbs).

Images and metaphors

The magicians that are always pestering D.Q. (at least in his mind) stand for the real life that comes crushing all of D.Q.'s fantasies. The cave of Montesinos of a metaphor for the whole journey of D.Q. He asks repeatedly (the monkey and the stone head) if what he's witnessed in the cave is read or not, and the answer both times is that some of it was real and some of it not. As this one adventure, all of his adventures are an amalgam of reality and imagination. D.Q. and S.P. stand for different social classes and behave accordingly. Inns represent normality and society. S.P. is always for them (in spite of the thrashings) but D.Q. prefers to sleep in the forest. The famous windmills that D.Q. battled are also symbols of the dream-crushing reality.

Beginning and ending

The beginning introduces D.Q. as Alonso Quixana and in the end, he returns to positioning himself as such after his adventures are finished. It's as if he was reborn as Don Quixote the knight in the beginning of the novel and dies in the end because he loses his identity.

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