Go back to the Cervantes page for more texts and other resources.

Don Quixote -- Genre Essay

<I>Don Quixote</I>, one of the first novels ever written, was instrumental in the development of the modern novel.

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha is one of the first novels ever composed, written in 1604 by Miguel de Cervantes, a noted Spanish author. Don Quixote is a satirical picaresque romance that was written in response to the many exaggerated chivalric romances of Cervantes? time. It contains many insights into the human psyche, and the collective consciousness? reasonings. I feel that the main meaning in Don Quixote is society?s failure to accept a deviation from the norm. There are many reasons for my opinion on this, as shall be outlined below.

A romance is ?a fictional story in verse and prose that relates improbable adventures of idealized characters in some remote or enchanted setting?. This description of Romantic form fits Don Quixote like a glove. Peppered with verse every few chapters and telling the story of a Spanish nobleman (Don Quixote de la Mancha) who, because of reading too many tales of chivalry, comes to think that he is a knight who must combat the world's injustices. His imagination usually runs away with him, and he thinks that windmills are giants, flocks of sheep are enemy armies and roadside inns are castles.

Don Quixote is Cervantes? brilliant representation of whimsy and a free and open imagination, constantly at odds with the logic and cruelty of the real world. As a stereotype with such fancies and eccentricities, Don Quixote stands for the values of living free in your own fantasy world, and yet he is still such a well-rounded and individual character. The reader often sees into the psyche of the Don, and is often positioned to collude with Don Quixote?s ideals and values, making them their own.

Sancho Panza (Don Quixote?s squire) is the balance to Don Quixote in the story. He is the complete opposite of the Don, always prepared to sit down and think things out, and run away from a situation if necessary. His balancing force on Don Quixote (and the Don on him) saves them both from dangerous situations, and is an excellent depiction of the Yin/Yang relationship.

The fact that Don Quixote is a picaresque romance automatically determines the setting. With a picaresque story (originating in Spain in the 16th century and coming from the Spanish picaro, meaning rogue), the term lends itself to a plot where the bulk of the action takes place on the road, and on a journey, and in which eccentric and low-life characters appear. Picaresque stories (especially romances) such as Don Quixote allow a statement of man?s freedom and independence, but the picaro of the story often invokes a counter-balancing, restraining oppression of free society, as shown in Don Quixote. Cervantes has done well to show such values in such a short book as Don Quixote, satirizing the society in which he lived in early 17th century Spain. The setting of the road allows Cervantes to take Don Quixote out to places where he can experience remote and dangerous adventures? although he never actually does.

Cervantes holds a third person point of view for much of the book, breaking in occasionally into second person as the ?translator? of the story (from Moorish to Spanish) to inform the reader of certain things of which they should be aware. This combination of complete omniscience partnered with a translator popping in every so often creates a sense that the story really is absolutely true, and there really was an eccentric gentleman called Don Quixote running around Spain at the end of the 16th century. The reader is convinced by the irrepressible high spirit of the ?narrator? and the God-like perspective on the scene that the story is true, and therefore that the meanings and values of the story are true as well, because all angles of the story are given. The fact that various idioms and colloquialisms are inserted into the many conversations in the book but serve only to enhance the believability, and the chronological order of the chapters adds the icing to the already realistic cake.

Don Quixote is a romance, meaning it ?relates improbable adventures of idealized characters?. It sets improbable and idealized characters against the odds, making them battle the corruption and baseness of the world and the elements. The elements also play a key part in defining the genre and the meaning. Don Quixote is a picaresque romance, implying that it is set outdoors on the open road, once again making the characters (roguish picaros) battle the elements and the cruelty of the real world to survive. It challenges society?s failure to accept a deviation from the norm by having a character that invokes an animosity to society in the readers.

The fact that Don Quixote is a satirical picaresque romance adds to the meaning. All satires go to extremes to challenge the dominant cultural identity of the time, and Don Quixote is no exception, as it challenges society?s failure to accept a deviation from the norm. Finally, the complete omniscience coupled with varying degrees of 2nd person view adds realism.

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha is a novel that challenges society?s failure to accept a deviation from the norm, using a satirical picaresque romantic genre. People should always hold this meaning, as if we do not accept a deviation then we will never approve of anything. Don Quixote challenges failure to accept a deviation from the norm.

Authors | Quotes | Digests | Submit | Interact | Store

Copyright © Classics Network. Contact Us