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Don Quixote is among the most influential novels ever written. It explores a myriad of imperative themes that profoundly effect human nature. Such gargantuan themes include the shifting boundaries of truth and illusion, how society views justice and morality, and the eternal quest for love. Yet, underling all of these paramount themes are the interactions and follies of two seemingly simple, yet sensationally labyrinthine characters. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are, perhaps, the most convoluted, and at the same time, lucid main characters within literature. Both of these characters are present in every one of us, we all posses the conflicting qualities found in Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra carefully constructs these two characters to personify both the basic human themes of idealism and realism, and has them underscore and epitomize the larger question of reality.
Cervantes makes evident the maturation and mutations of real life people, while satirizing chivalry and traditional epic form. Cervantes is able to take fairly basic situations, and elevate them to epic proportions with the use of Don Quixote’s imagination. These epic stories differ from the traditional epic stories of Homer and Virgil, in that, the heroes in this novel fail. In Virgil’s Aeneid, Aeneas is glorified throughout the epic. Cervantes strives to show that this glorious life is impossible for a real life human. Cervantes clearly displays his two heroes failing, occasionally succeeding, and more importantly, he shows them changing.
Don Quixote is an extremely complex character, emblematized by his skewed notions of reality?”the world as nothing he did prize” (Cervantes 939). Throughout the novel he sees the world only in the mirror of his beloved chivalric romances. He thinks that flocks of sheep are an enemy army, that seedy inns are if fact magnificent castles, that unattractive and overweight women are princesses, and that windmills are actually giants. However, through out all of his constructed actions he maintains an extremely high spirit and courage?regardless of how backwards it may be. Perhaps most consequentially, the Don is a fantastic idealist, who views all things within the clouded telescope of his very own magnanimous preconceptions. Perchance Don Quixote is insane? Yet Cervantes builds the Don to force the reader to constantly challenge what is real and what is just the dream of a senile old Spaniard.
Sancho Panza is Don Quixote’s fundamental opposite. In almost every regard, they are so unlike each other. Sancho serves as the Don’s squire. With his peasant wit, common sense, and proverbial speech?he is the antithesis of his irrational master. At first recognition it seems that Sancho is a simple man, illiterate and content with such simplicities as eating and drinking, yet still maintaining his sense of what is reality and what is fiction is. Even the physical appearances of the two counter each other?with Quixote tall and thin, and Sancho short and fat.
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza learn from each other throughout the novel. Quixote has the unrealistic visions of earlier epic heroes, while Sancho appears to be the pillar of sanity. However, Sancho is always quick to support any of Quixote’s visions. In fact, Quixote and Panza learn so much from each other that throughout the novel, both characters seem to be rubbing off?little by little, on each other. By the end of the novel the two characters, in effect, fuse into each other, with the Don spitting out proverbs, and Sancho obsessing over the chivalric code. A prime example of the two characters, and their primarily antagonistic interaction is clearly portrayed in chapter XXI of part I.
Don Quixote mistakes a barber and his basin for a sought after golden helmet. Sancho first thinks to tell Quixote the truth, but then resists, allowing Quixote to thrive in his “chivalrous and errant fancies” (Cervantes 162). “Why! That is Mambrinos helmet, said Don Quixote. ‘Stand aside and leave me to deal with him. You will see how, so as to save time, I shall complete this adventure without uttering a word, and the helmet I have so much desired will be mine” (Cervantes 161). Don Quixote views the world in which he resides as a continual adventure?with palaces, and armies, and maidens. This is a direct result of him attempting to pattern his life in accordance with the events of the chivalrous books that he was born out of.
When Sancho hears Quixote call the basin a golden helmet he began to laugh, knowing that Quixote’s imagination had taken over to a once again ridiculous state. Yet, when Don Quixote asks Sancho “at what are you laughing at?” (Cervantes 162), Sancho eloquently covers his error with the corrective excuse of:
“It makes me laugh”, he replied, “to think what a bighead that pagan must have had, who owned that head-piece. It’s like nothing so much as a barber’s basin. Just like it, it is” (Cervantes 162).
Don Quixote, fully aware that this basin was not actually a golden helmet, chooses to use his imagination to dream up an adventure. Much of this can be attributed to his previous readings of many chivalrous books, for he seeks a sort of refuge inside the imaginary world of these books. From this, it could be said that Don Quixote is quite mad. However, Quixote can not be judged like a regular human being, but rather as an irrational and delusional meta-individual (Rosenburg, lecture). In Quixote’s world, this basin truly is the lost golden helmet of Mambrino. This vision is as realistic to Quixote as the fact that the helmet is truly a barber’s basin is to Sancho. Sancho at fist, mildly mocks Quixote, but then decides to play along. Both of these characters personalities are antagonistic of each other; however, they serve to influence one another. It must be remembered that the two characters work as a unit and are constantly changing. Don Quixote views the world in which he resides as a continual adventure?with palaces, and armies, and maidens. This is a direct result of him attempting to pattern his life in accordance with the events of the chivalrous books that he was born out of. Sancho serves as the check to the fictitious persona of the Don. This is exemplified with another exchange within chapter XXI.
Upon obtaining the brass basin, Sancho Panza is considering taking the “dapple-grey steed that looks like a grey ass” (Cervantes 164). With this suggestion, Don Quixote immediately analyzes the situation in terms of the codes of chivalry:
‘It is not my custom’, said Don Quixote, ‘to plunder those who I conquer, nor is it the usage of chivalry to take their horses and leave them to go on foot, unless the victor has lost his own mount in the fight, in which case it is lawful for him to take the beaten knight’s as won in fair combat. Therfore, Sancho, leave the horse, or ass, or whatever you would have it to be… (Cervantes 164)
Sancho, of course, humors the Don after his speech, yet remains realistic in his desire to obtain a new ass, by again telling the Don that, “Really the laws of chivalry are very strict, if they don’t even stretch to letting one ass be swapped for another” (Cervantes 164). This interchange further illustrates the antagonistic, yet at the same time, symbiotic relationship of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. They are both dependent upon one another, yet in exactly converse fashions.
Later in the novel, Sancho Panza and Don Quixote adjust their mentalities so drastically, that in some instances they seem to switch personalities. Chapter LXXIV in part II of the novel seems to best elucidate this. In a stark transition from the beginning of the novel, and from the original characterization prescribed by Cervantes, Sancho Panza becomes the one thriving in “chivalrous and errant fancies” (Cervantes 162). Sancho becomes the ridiculous one by attempting to convince Don Quixote, while on his death bed, that he should continue to be a knight errant.
“Don’t be lazy, look you, but get out of bed, and let’s go out into the fields dressed as shepards, as we decided to do. Perhaps we shall find the lady Dulcinea behind some hedge, disenchanted and as pretty as a picture” (Cervantes 937)
This death scene displays Don Quixote’s change as well. Quixote leaves his fantastic world after realizing that his life had been a ridiculous one. He becomes frantic to prove, before his death, that he is now sane. He recognizes the fact that he has learned from his mistake of indulging too deep into the world of fantastic chivalry. Acknowledging this bitter truth about himself, Don Quixote denies his past madness in a final affirmation that life is a complete dream and that death is the moment of reality. Only then can the Don die completely. “Don Quixote, who admidst the compassionate tears of all present gave up the ghost?that is to say, died (Cervantes 939).
Through Cervantes’ construction and deconstruction of both Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, a newfound notion of what it is to be human is reached. With idealistic aspirations and visions, and realistic measures to keep them countered, it seems that anything is possible. The Don’s and Sancho’s recognition of these goals, as out of reach as some of them were, proved to be essential to their realization that to be human and not archetypes, it is imperative to change. Quixote and Sancho turn out to be real characters, their faults and actions resemble those of a real human. The process of learning, changing, and maturing is a realistic representation of every individual. Yet, as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza did?through each other? facilitates every individuals personal quest to find his own reality. This is, perhaps, the most significant human process of them all.
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