I have tried reading Don Quixote on several occasions. I’ve just never been able to get through it. I love the story, but part of my problem is the wordiness and part is are the diversions into unrelated stories. I’m sure that these diversions and flowery wordiness is parodying stories of chivalry around the time of Cervantes. However, that doesn’t make it any more amusing for me to get through. I think this is part of a parody that simply doesn’t translate well to modern literature. I think I will take a break from Don Quixote, and read a much lighter book for a while. Hopefully I’ll be able to pick up where I left off with more excitement than I’m currently feeling.
This is not a review, it is notes and an analysis of Don Quixote. Therefore, it will contain spoilers.
So far, there are two issues that make me cringe about Don Quixote. They are: the book burning *shudder, and the way the characters treat a mentally ill man. We’ll start with a discussion of the book burning.
The prologue makes fun of writers of the day – how they are pedantic and (Cervantes claims) list off references in their works of fiction in alphabetical order from Aristotle to Xenophon. It would also appear from the prologue that the purpose of Don Quixote was to make the readers laugh by satirizing chivalric works of the time.
After Don Quixote’s first sally forth, his friends (who in the past encouraged the old man’s interest in works of chivalry) decided to burn his books and wall off the library, so that even the room where his madness overtook him could no longer be accessed by the erstwhile knight errant. I was a little confused by this book burning at first. Surely Cervantes felt the pain of destroying something so valuable as that library? So what was his point? Then I realized that he was making fun of the completely arbitrary way Don Quixote’s friends chose which books would be burned and which saved. They would look at a book, rattle off some preposterous monologue about whether the story were worth saving, and then decide whether to burn it. Then, they got really lazy, and just burned the rest. This is not the act of a caring friend, but someone who wants to solve a problem quickly, despite what damage he may incur.
Then, they walled off the library, and told the madman that an evil wizard had whisked it away to spite Don Quixote. Really? They’re encouraging the madness? These are his friends. At this point it seems like they care more about appearances (keeping Don Quixote from indulging in his madness) than about the actual health of their friend/uncle. But this is not the only terrible way he had been treated in the story. It seems that everyone he runs into, except for Sancho, is cruel. They mock him and encourage the madness. At the moment, I wonder whether Cervantes was also making a social statement about having compassion for the mentally ill, but that may be a bit forward thinking in the early 1600s. I will make a more educated guess as I proceed with the book.