Don Quixote: Stages of Inquiry

I.  Grammar Stage Inquiry [The What]

What is the most important event in the book, in which the character(s) change?  I keep coming back to the final chapter of the second book when Don Quixote falls ill and unexpectedly comes to his senses that the books of chivalry and knight-errantry were nothing but foolishness and a sham.  The strongest supporting statement for me is when he says that his “sole regret is that the discovery comes too late to allow [him] to amend [his] ways by reading others that would enlighten [his] soul.”

However, at the start of the second book, Quixote and Sancho set out to meet Dulcinea, and with the aid of Sancho’s plotting, he convinces his master that she is enchanted, which now becomes the new concern and focus of Quixote throughout the second book: to see to the disenchantment of Dulcinea, whatever it takes.
II.  Logic Stage Inquiry [The Why and How]

Is this novel fable or chronicle?  Don Quixote is a chronicle because it takes place in the real world with real people who experience real consequences for their behavior; yet, I think within the personal world of Quixote he is living in a sub-world of fable, in which events are always explained away or described as enchanted.  What comes to mind is the cave of Montesninos, which we never will know the truth because we are dealing with a madman; also the example of the giants, which were very real to Quixote, were nothing but windmills or machines to those of us in our right mind. 

The author secures this novel as a chronicle through both physical and psychological specifies.  He uses continuous detail in the landscape of Spain from its countryside, mountains, and its beautiful city and ports of Barcelona to the lifestyles and culture of the people.  A constant theme for Cervantes is the emotional desire for love and honor between beautiful and youthful people and their tangled means of achieving relationships.

What does the central character(s) want? My first thought for Quixote is adventure, honor, and the esteem of the Lady Dulcinea, until the second part, his desire is more specific: for the disenchantment of Dulcinea; for Sancho it is a form of government or title until he is governor for a week and decides he prefers the simple life.

What is standing in their way?  Quite frankly I think reality and truth are standing in their way.  No one lives like this anymore as a knight seeking adventure and the honor of a lady, and we know that Dulcinea is simply not enchanted; and certainly Sancho’s way is not the way to earn a government or title.  The world looks at them as madmen because their means and goals seem unreasonable and irrational. 

What strategies does the character(s) use to overcome their difficulties?  Quixote and Sancho persevere through each and every adventure either by good luck or timing or by accepting the unexplainable or a defeat as an enchantment: the insults by the peasant wench “Dulcinea” were because she was enchanted; the destruction of the puppet show by Master Pedro was because Quixote was enchanted; the vanquished Knight of Mirrors was not Carrasco at all, but someone enchanted to look like him.

Who is telling the story?  Miguel De Cervantes is the narrator, and therefore, in this case, it is an omniscient point of view.  Cervantes can tell us what any character is doing, saying, thinking, and feeling.  When Sancho is a governor, Cervantes goes back and forth between the two central characters to tell us how it is with each. 

Beginning and Ending:  What draws you in?  What is the resolution in the end?  What is the logical exhaustion, which demonstrates a philosophy about human nature? What draws me in is Quixote’s love of books and his quest for adventures.  Who does not like new adventures, especially when you, as the reader, do not have to risk your own life for it?

The resolution in the end is that Quixote dies with his sanity.  The logical exhaustion is that the story of Quixote is complete; hence, no other historian can take Cervantes character and continue writing about him, as was done before book two was written.  In fact, Cervantes says, in the voice of his fictitious historian, Cide Hamete, that “For me alone Don Quixote was born, and I for him.  He knew how to act, and I knew how to write.  We two alone are as one…”  Cervantes was done writing about Quixote; hence, the life of Quixote was laid to rest.

III.  Rhetorical Stage of Inquiry [The So What?]

Do you sympathize with the characters?  Which one(s), and why?   Do I sympathize with Don Quixote because he is on a quest for adventure and honor, especially for the honor of someone else?  Sometimes it appears that he is just out to start trouble, such as he did when he challenged travelers on the road minding their own business or set prisoners free or demanded the lion cages to be opened.   Often I thought he deserved his misfortune as a result of his mischief. 

I can say that I found myself hoping he would be treated with honor, even if he behaved oddly and had a strange desire to be a knight when he was a little outdated.  For example, I do pity Don Quixote during the times when he became the subject of continuous pranks by the duke and duchess.  They knew of Quixote from book one, and they took complete advantage of his condition, be it naiveté or mental instability.  Quixote was very trusting of the duke and duchess, believing he had reached the pinnacle of knighthood and was only being treated accordingly.  Never once did they treat him as a decent human being.

As for Sancho, his desire for a title or government, and for what he thinks is a better life, was farfetched and ignorant; yet, I empathize with his gullibility in trusting Quixote who told him he could earn his governorship if he served as his squire for some time.   I think Quixote believed it, too, but the reader knows that it is improbable and that Sancho’s life will never change.

Did the writer’s times affect him?  Absolutely, the writer’s time did affect him.  Don Quixote was written during the Golden Age (1492-1695) in Spain when literature and art thrived.   This age is on the heels of the High Medieval period and deep into the European Renaissance.  Cervantes includes literary works of his time and influential works of the past, as well as poetry and sonnets; and his characters are well versed in story telling, as Europe begins passing on from oral tradition into printed works.

Cervantes included many of his own personal life experiences within the story of Don Quixote, such as his experience as a soldier and prisoner in Algiers; pirates on the Spanish coasts; and the exiled Moors;  many of these familiarities appear later in the short stories written about people not connected to Quixote.

Is there an argument in this book?  I have to come up with something, so for now I am choosing to consider this: the character, Don Quixote, is obsessed with the traditional, yet outdated, honorable code of chivalry to the point where it forms his reality and drives him mad.  It becomes his world.  At times Quixote is vain or prideful, and often that gets him into trouble.  He is so blinded by his obsession that he can never be wrong and, therefore, he or everyone else is enchanted.

How many times have we done this?  How many times have we become obsessed with someone, something, or some idea that it has becomes our whole world, our whole existence, and essentially drives us mad?  We become so blinded by our obsessions that we ignore truth and believe that everything that works against us is wrong. 

And have we ever been successful in convincing someone else that our mad world is a worthy reality?  The madness catches on, just as what happened to Sancho, or at least sometimes and when he was not more focused on his own gain. 

Do you agree?  Is this work true about the human experience?  YES!  Humans can easily become captive of their obsession for vain and prideful conquests.  Which is why I had to take up some rules for my own possible obsession with reading books!!!  (see intro)


  1. Nicely done! And congrats on finishing the finishing the Marathon of All Fiction. Pilgrim's Progress will seem like a walk in the park, no, wait - a trek to the Celestial City.

    I especially liked your answer to "What is standing in their way?" Truth does seem to be the major obstacle.

    When contemplating the "Who is telling the story?" question I always wondered why Cervantes chose to hide behind the veils of the psuedo-author and translators for his work. I still have no answer for it, but it always boggled me.

    Also, when you finish the themes and motifs section I would love to hear if you have a good explanation for his excessive use of the color green.

    1. Thanks!

      I, too, wonder why he added the fictitious author element, although I have been reading that this work was about the process of writing.

      I am really struggling with the metaphor part. I think for every reader there is something that sticks out. See, I did not even pick up on the color green. But I will look into it.

      So are you guys going through The Well-Educated Mind questions, too?

    2. Sorry I didn't reply sooner. Sometimes I get lost in blogland and forget what I'm doing and where I've commented.

      As Christine said below, yes, we answer all the questions together face to face and address some of them on the blog as well.

      As the first novel I wonder if the idea of themes and motifs was not yet really developed, therefore it's harder for us to identify any.

      Regardless, here's my post about the green motif in Don Quixote. http://classiccaseofmadness.wordpress.com/2011/06/12/it-isnt-easy/

  2. Cheers! You finished. Hooray! I hope you're planning to celebrate in some way.

    Yes, Those of us at Classic Case of Madness complete the WEM questions. We answer individually and then get together and share our responses. I'm always glad to get the questions finished. (sometimes I cheat and take a look at sparknotes. shhhh don't tell!)

    I enjoyed reading your responses.

  3. I just started reading Don Quixote this week. I hope to come back to your posts on DQ as I progress through the novel. Great job of blogging this.

    1. Thanks, Donna, and welcome to Classics Club. I enjoyed DQ immensely!

  4. Great examination! I hope to tackle this one day... but I am a bit intimidated as of yet. -Sarah

    1. You can do it! DQ is a huge book but the context is light! It really is entertaining more than anything. Today it is still one of my most enjoyable reads.

  5. Hey! As your blog was one of the reasons I got hooked up on TWEM, I'm now coming to read your stages of inquiry to compare them with mine :) It's amazing how in some cases we come to the same conclusions (like in What's standing in D.Q.'s way) and sometimes to the very opposite (I'm still kinda convinced that it's a fable, not a chronicle, but maybe I'm mistaken here, you make a strong case for the chronicle). I especially liked how you explained the logical exhaustion at the end with the quote of Cide Hamete. It's a powerful one! I also had trouble with choosing just one point of the book. I mean, it's big and the author touches on a lot of things! Anyway, great to read another point of view on the book, and your progress so far into the TWEM list is a great encouragement! Cheers!

    1. Hi, Ekaterina! Thanks!!! I'm so excited that you are reading through TWEM. I answered you over at your blog post on DQ, too.

      I think it can go either way s a chronicle or fable or both. That's DQ's world. He's definitely in and out of reality.

  6. Thank you for posting your responses! I have started the WEM book list this year and I really enjoyed being able to compare my thoughts with someone else. It’s also inspiring to see how you’ve kept this challenge up! Hopefully I’ll have as much determination as you!

    1. Hi, Randa,
      Good luck to you. It's a fantastic journey. There are some great books on the list that have stayed with me for a long time. I want to go back and reread them, but I also want to go forward and finish the list.

  7. I too did not pick up on the colour green! I just finished reading and summarizing DQ. I agree with pretty much everything that you have written and I have a few thoughts to add/suggest as well. First, is it possible the point of view is third person objective (film-maker's POV) rather than omniscient? I too thought omniscient at first, but as the book progressed it didn't seem as accurate.

    Second, in terms of an argument in this book - at first DQ is a (somewhat bored?) hidalgo, reading these romances...it makes me wonder if he set out to make a dent in the world, to be remembered for doing something big or important. Once part I was published, it was essentially achieved and encouraged them to continue.

    Thanks for such a great website!

    1. Hi, Kelly,

      I think you may be right about the third person, too. I'm rereading DQ right now, and I see how the book seems like it was written by a different author, so that the reader is left feeling confused about who the author of the story truly is. Is that what you mean?

      And now that I'm reading it this second time, I feel differently about the argument...that Cervantes was actually mocking the stories of chivalry and knights-errant. BUT, I'm so far from the ending, my opinion could change again. I'm not sure, yet.

      Did you read both parts I and II? The ending of part II is so different from the beginning of part I, so that when you begin, you are so sure that DQ is mad; but by the end of part II, it is as if he comes to his senses. ????