Don Quixote: Define Insane (Book Review)

quixote-picasso-lg_1Disclaimer: *Spoilers

“for there is no book so bad, as not to have something that’s good in it” (Cervantes)

Yeah, I’ve been putting this review off and I also couldn’t think of any proper way to write this review without mentioning the ending; it could have been done, but it would have been boring because although this exiting classic has many, many, great lessons in it, the ending completely changed the way I though of it.

When reading a book I, along with many other readers, often have trouble not emphasizing with the main character, which is usually the author’s main intent. In this story–one of the world’s first modern novels– written by Miguel de Cervantes (originally in Spanish), the reader follows a “mad” or “crazy” Don Quixote (his made-up knight name) on his knight-errantic adventures: “Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.” (Cervantes) We “know” he lacks sanity by his unexplainable actions: claiming inns are castles, hiring a simple farmer (named Sancho) to be his squire, claiming various things are enchanted, etc. (though there is some debate to whether Quixote was faking his insaneness or truly believed in his endeavors). We feel sympathy for him because we consider him to be naïve: he doesn’t know any better. But at the same time I think to myself, what makes him any less sane than anyone else? If anything he should be more sane for not letting any obstacle get in his way of protecting valiance.

Along Quixote and Sancho’s humorous journeys, Quixote eventually bribes his loyal “squire” with government of an isle–one he doesn’t even own–which I believe Sancho deserves, but is never exactly given to him by Quixote. Instead, later on in the book, Don Quixote literally whips his sleeping, loyal servant for the purpose of freeing his “love”, Dulcinea, from an (imagined) enchantment; Quixote was tricked into thinking Merlin himself prescribed the antidote of lashings. Though, Dulcinea is actually just an average peasant. Personally, through the majority of the story I empathized with Quixote more than I did with Sancho because Quixote’s goal is to live his life with chivalry–a cause rarely seen these days–while Sancho acts as his silly follow along, that is, until the end of the book.
Having just lost a joust against another, Quixote solemnly renounces his knighthood as he had promised he would if he lost–on top of his pride being wounded. Then, going with Sancho back to his town, he falls ill. In his near death illness he claims his insanity has cleared and he now sees he was wrong. He has renounced all that he had been living for, looking down on the values he once held high. Meanwhile, Sancho still holds onto and tries to restore his master’s faith of his earlier beliefs.

Now, after going though 1000 pages of his adventures in pursuit of constant gallantry, I’m thinking WHHHAAAAT? How could you possibly think this? How could you possibly look down upon your ideals? Unless of course, he truly is insane. Maybe the author’s purpose is to indirectly ask us what we think about Quixote’s ideals. Whether or not Cervantes meant for that to be the meaning, I think the meaning is to ask ourselves this: do we want to aimlessly go along and conform to what society tells us is normal or “sane”, or do we want to strongly fight against that, and stand for our values, even if people think we are crazy?

“They (stories of knight-errantry) are already going down, and I do not doubt but they will drop and fall altogether in good earnest, never to rise again.” (Cervantes)

Final Thoughts: All together it was an amazing–but slightly tedious–novel. It’s one you shouldn’t read with a sleepy brain, though it’s definitely a read that will make you laugh loudly at times, and make you reflect upon yourself and your actions.