The tales of chivalry have so captivated Don Quixote that he decides to become a knight errant himself. His exploits blossom in all kinds of wonderful ways with the help of his faithful squire, Sancho Panza.
Quixote’s fancy often leads him astray-he tilts at windmills, thinking they are giants-whereas Sancho acquires cunning and a certain level of sagacity. Both sane madmen and wise fools, they roam the world together-and together they have haunted readers’ imaginations for nearly four centuries.
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Table of Contents
A Spanish gentleman, imagining himself to be a knight, sets out on a series of adventures to rescue damsels in distress and to right the wrongs of the world.
Part 1, Chapters 1–24
It is the early 1600s, and Alonso Quixano, a middle-aged country gentleman in the Spanish province of La Mancha, spends every waking moment reading “novels of chivalry” about the romantic era of knight-errantry (i.e., stories of knights traveling in search of adventure and rescuing damsels in distress).
One day, he decides that he, too, can roam through the world with his horse and armor, searching out chivalrous adventures. His behavior puzzles his two friends, Master Nicholas, the village barber, and Pedro Pérez, the curate (i.e., local priest), as well as Quixano’s housekeeper and teenage niece, Antonia, who live with him.
Quixano gives the lofty name Rocinante to his old, skinny horse, and eight days later gives himself the chivalric name Don Quixote de la Mancha.
Since any self-respecting knight must have a “lady” to love and serve, Don Quixote chooses as his ideal lady Aldonza Lorenzo, a country girl from the nearby town of El Toboso whom he has loved from afar, but who does not know he exists. He calls her Dulcinea del Toboso, a name that befits a lady of the stature he imagines her to have.
For his first adventure, Quixote, dressed in armor, sallies forth alone on his horse and comes to an inn at dusk. He imagines the inn to be an enchanted castle, and the two prostitutes who serve him food, to be beautiful ladies.
The innkeeper, who has also read many novels of chivalry and who is bemused by Quixote’s madness, plays along with him by formally knighting Quixote after the latter formally stands guard over his own armor for the night. Quixote proudly sets out in the morning and sees a master flogging his 15-year-old shepherd boy who has carelessly lost some of his master’s sheep.
An indignant Quixote demands that the master release the boy and pay him full wages. The master agrees, but after Quixote rides away, the master beats the boy almost to death.
Quixote next tells a group of traders from Toledo, who are on their way to buy silk in Murcia, to confess that the peerless Dulcinea del Toboso is the fairest maiden in the world. When one of the traders challenges him, Quixote tries to attack.
But his nag, Rocinante, stumbles, and Quixote crashes to the ground, whereupon a trader beats him mercilessly. Quixote is discovered later by one of his neighbors, who takes him home to bed. When his housekeeper, niece, and friends ask what has happened, Quixote replies that he has done battle with 10 giants. Horrified, they blame the “accursed” novels of chivalry for Quixote’s madness.
Hoping to cure Quixote’s madness, the curate and barber hold an “inquisition” on Quixote’s books, during which they decide which ones to burn. The housekeeper, believing all the books to be sinful, wants the men to burn all of Quixote’s books.
But the curate insists on examining them one by one to see if any of them should be spared. The first one he examines is Amadis of Gaul, a chivalric novel that he wishes to burn, since it was the first chivalric novel to be printed in Spain, and since all the rest owe their origin to it.
The barber, however, argues successfully that Amadis ought to be spared, since it is unrivaled in style and is superior to the chivalric novels that followed it. The men save a few of Quixote’s books, but instruct the housekeeper to burn the rest.
She does so that evening, then has the entrance to the library walled shut. When Quixote rises from his bed two days later, he is puzzled by the disappearance of his books and library. His niece tells him that an enchanter has made them vanish.
Quixote remains peacefully at home for two weeks, but soon begins thinking of chivalric adventures. He convinces his neighbor, the honest but dull-witted peasant Sancho Panza, to become his squire, promising that Sancho will become governor of his own island one day. An excited Sancho decides to leave behind his wife, Teresa Panza (whom Cervantes also calls Juana Gutiérrez), his sons, and daughter, Mari, in search of power and wealth.
After leaving their village, Quixote and Sancho come across 30 or 40 large windmills in an open field. Though Sancho sees that they are windmills, Quixote believes they are giants who have been enchanted by the evil wizard Frestón, who he believes destroyed his books and library, and who has changed the giants into windmills “to deprive [Quixote] of the glory of victory.”
He attacks one of the windmills with his lance but gets caught up in the sail, which rolls him over and over on the ground. Sancho, dumbfounded by Quixote’s madness, rushes to assist him.
The next morning, they meet two Benedictine friars traveling with mounted horsemen and a woman in a coach, who Quixote believes is a princess being held against her will. Quixote attacks one of the friars, then informs the woman that she must now go to El Toboso and tell Dulcinea how he has liberated her. Sancho, meanwhile, is beaten by her squire.
Quixote and Sancho spend the night with some friendly goatherds, and Quixote gives an elegant speech about the Golden Age of civilization, a time when humans were in communion with nature. He asserts that people became violent and corrupt after losing their purity, and that knighthood was established to eliminate some of this violence.
The next day, they come to a shabby inn, which Quixote thinks is a castle. Believing that the innkeeper’s servant girl, Maritones, is attracted to him, Quixote whispers to her that he is firmly attached to Dulcinea. A jealous muleteer strikes Quixote, and a violent brawl breaks out, waking the innkeeper.
Quixote escapes the inn without paying, but Sancho is held back when he refuses to pay. Some men wrap him up in a blanket and merrily toss him several times into the air as punishment for not paying.
They then release the poor squire after keeping his saddlebags as payment. A tired Sancho reluctantly joins his master. Quixote sees a cloud of dust on the horizon and concludes that it is a medieval battle in progress. In reality, it is the dust left by two flocks of sheep scrambling to escape Quixote.
To punish Quixote for disturbing their sheep, the angry shepherds pelt Quixote and Sancho with rocks. Later, the two companions encounter 20 white-robed priests carrying a corpse by torchlight.
Quixote believes them to be enchanters carrying the body of a wounded knight, and attacks them with his sword. When Sancho sees the weary, toothless Quixote by torchlight, he calls his master “the Knight of the Sad Countenance.” (Note: Some translations refer to him as the “Knight of the Rueful Figure.”)
Quixote and Sancho then meet a chain gang of 12 prisoners being led by the king’s guards to serve as galley slaves. Declaring his allegiance to liberty and mercy for all, Quixote beats the guards and frees the criminals, who repay his valor by stoning him mercilessly. Quixote and Sancho flee to safety in the Sierra Morena mountains, where a master of disguises is also hiding.
There they meet a man, Cardenio, who tells them the story of his unrequited love for the beautiful Lucinda, whose father is forcing her to marry Cardenio’s wealthy friend, Don Ferdinand.
When Quixote demands that Sancho take a love letter to Dulcinea, Sancho is surprised to learn of Dulcinea’s true identity (i.e., that she is merely a country girl, not a lofty damsel). Nonetheless, he sets out for El Toboso, leaving Quixote in the mountains.
En route, Sancho meets the barber and curate at an inn, and they convince him to partake in a plan to lure Quixote out of the wilderness. The barber disguises himself as a damsel in distress, and the curate as “her” squire.
Together, they follow Sancho up to the mountain hiding spot, where Sancho gives Quixote a message supposedly from Dulcinea, but which the curate and barber have contrived, requesting Quixote’s presence at her side immediately.
Quixote agrees to accompany them. The group arrives at the inn where Sancho had been tossed in a blanket, and the innkeeper confesses that he, too, is a lover of chivalric novels. For amusement, the curate reads aloud The Tale of Ill-Advised Curiosity, a story about a well-born gentleman named Anselmo, whose desire to test his wife’s faithfulness leads to his tragic death.
Some troopers arrive to arrest Quixote for having freed the galley slaves, but when the curate explains Quixote’s crazed state of mind, they drop the charges. The excitement at the inn has temporarily sidetracked Quixote from his goal of returning to Dulcinea, and in order to get him home, his friends disguise themselves as enchanters, kidnap him, bind him inside a cage, and promise that he will marry Dulcinea when he returns.
Six days later, the group reaches Quixote’s village, where Sancho tells his wife of his glorious and exciting adventures as squire to the great Don Quixote de la Mancha.
Part 2, Chapters 1–27
Quixote has been home for a month, and the curate and barber decide to test his recovery from madness by telling him tales of knights. Quixote astutely laments that the 17th century is not an age for knight-errantry, but he does not doubt that knight-errantry existed in the past.
Sancho, who is now more serious and articulate than in Part 1, announces that a book has been written about their great adventures, and that Sampson Carrasco, a neighbor’s 24-year-old son and a college graduate, can tell Quixote about the book’s contents. Carrasco, who is “mischievous and a joker,” decides to have fun with Quixote by asking him about details that the writer, Cide Hamete Benengeli, an Arabian historian, omitted.
Quixote, excited by Carrasco’s interest in him, is motivated to venture forth on a third round of adventures. Sancho is ready to go, too, for he still longs to be governor of his own island. His wife, however, warns him not to be overly ambitious: she is not sure she will be comfortable in the role of gentlewoman, since she has been a peasant all her life.
Before departing. Quixote insists on paying respect to Dulcinea. As they ride to her village, Quixote confesses to Sancho that he has never met Dulcinea. This astounds Sancho, who volunteers to go in to El Toboso and find Dulcinea.
Leaving Quixote in the woods, he decides to tell his master that Dulcinea has been turned into a peasant woman by some evil enchanter. When he sees three peasant women approaching on donkeys, he announces to Quixote that one of them is Dulcinea—but that she has been transformed into an ugly peasant woman by an evil wizard.
A perplexed Quixote drops to his knees in front of her and calls her Dulcinea, but the woman thinks he is making fun of her and rides off. Devastated by her abrupt departure, Quixote asks Sancho to describe Dulcinea’s former beauty and fancy clothing, which the evil wizards have deprived him of seeing.
Quixote and Sancho spend the night in the forest, where they are awakened by two newcomers—another knight and his squire. The conversation between Quixote and the Knight of the Mirrors is pleasant until the latter boasts that he has defeated Don Quixote de la Mancha in battle, and that he has made Quixote confess that Dulcinea is not as beautiful as his own fair maiden, Casildea of Vandalia.
An enraged Quixote challenges the knight to a duel, and defeats him; but when he removes the knight’s helmet to see if he is dead, he discovers that the knight is none other than Sampson Carrasco.
At the suggestion of the curate and the barber, Carrasco had set out to defeat Quixote in battle, with the intention of ordering him to return to his village for two years. Defeated, he is now determined to beat Quixote in a future match. Quixote, however, concludes that enchanters are once again at work and that the knight is not really Carrasco.
Bolstered by his victory, Quixote notices a cart with flags approaching. It carries a pair of caged lions that are a gift to the king from the general of Oran, but Quixote sees this as yet another chance to prove his bravery. He orders the lion-keeper to release the lions from their cage, but when the cage is opened, the lions simply yawn, then lie down.
Quixote and Sancho then meet up with some farmers and students who invite them to the lavish wedding of Comacho and the lovely Quiteria, with whom the poor Basil is also in love. Moments before the wedding, Basil sets in motion a clever ruse and succeeds in marrying Quiteria, who also loves him.
When a fight breaks out, Quixote defends the happy newly-weds. He then asks Basil for a guide to take him to the cave of Montesinos, about which he has heard many wonderful things. When Quixote and Sancho arrive there, Sancho lowers him by a rope into the dark cave, and half an hour later pulls him up. Quixote reports that he has had visions of enchanted knights and crystal palaces, and that he spoke to one of Dulcinea’s attendants. When Sancho hears this, he concludes that Quixote is truly mad.
At a nearby inn, Quixote and Sancho meet a puppeteer, Master Pedro, who is accompanied by his ape. During a show in which Pedro presents one puppet who is cruel to another, Quixote, provoked by the cruelty, pulls out his sword and fights the puppet, cutting its strings and nearly injuring the puppeteer, who is none other than Gines de Pasamonte in disguise.
In the forest, Quixote and Sancho meet a huntress who takes them to the castle of her lady, the duchess, a bored aristocrat who has read Part 1 of Don Quixote de la Mancha and who hopes to amuse herself and her husband, the duke, at Quixote’s expense.
At an extravagant ceremony that they plan for disenchanting Dulcinea (i.e., releasing her from the spell), “Merlin,” the magician, announces that Dulcinea can be disenchanted only if Sancho lashes himself 3,300 times with a whip. Sancho agrees to cooperate, but only because the duke—who has promised him the governorship of an island—says that Sancho can have the governorship only if he agrees to whip himself.
Quixote and Sancho are then blindfolded and placed on a magical horse, Clavileño, which they are led to believe “flies through the air,” while, in reality, the duke’s servants create this flying sensation by blowing air on the two with bellows.
The duke, granting Sancho the governorship, sends him to rule one of his villages on the isle of Barataria. To everyone’s surprise, Sancho proves to be a wise and compassionate leader. But a week later the duke ends the game by staging an attack on the village, thus forcing Sancho to leave.
The wanderers stop at an inn on their way to Saragossa. There they overhear two men talking about a false Book 2 of Don Quixote, an unauthorized sequel by Alonso Fernéndez de Avellaneda, in which Quixote betrays Dulcinea. Furious, Quixote vows to undo the false Quixote’s acts by going to Barcelona rather than Saragossa, as the book says.
In Barcelona, they are greeted by Don Antonio Moreno, who takes them on a tour of a royal ship. The ship suddenly pulls out to sea in pursuit of pirates, and the ensuing battle terrifies Sancho.
In Quixote’s last major adventure, he once again encounters Sampson Carrasco, this time disguised as the Knight of the White Moon. Carrasco has followed Quixote to Barcelona in hopes of taking him home. He challenges Quixote to battle, and the tired, elderly Quixote loses.
Aware of his physical defeat, Quixote wearily agrees to return home for one year. Upon arrival in his village, Quixote gives thought to becoming a shepherd. But he falls ill with a fever, and when he awakens, he no longer believes himself to be Don Quixote de la Mancha, only Alonso Quixano the Good. Having fulfilled his dreams to be a knight-errant, the goodhearted Quixote gives up his fantasies and dies peacefully.
Don Quixote: a thin, melancholy gentleman (in Spanish, hidalgo) from an unspecified village in La Mancha. He is obsessed with reading romances of chivalry and, at the beginning of the novel, is 50 years old. He rarely eats and assumes the role of a knight-errant to “redress wrongs and injuries”. Don Quixote is devoted to his fair lady, Dulcinea del Toboso. After his first expedition, he takes Sancho Panza as his squire. It is not clear whether Don Quixote’s real name is Quixano, Quixana, or Quesada, as the narrator leaves this vague to reinforce the idea of Don Quixote’s changing identities. The word “quixotic” in modern English describes any act or idea that is idealistic to an impractical or eccentric degree.
Sancho Panza: a peasant who is Don Quixote’s neighbor and later becomes his squire. He is short and has a large belly (panza is Spanish for “belly”). Sancho Panza is illiterate, practical, and sometimes greedy. He accompanies Don Quixote in the hope of gaining power and wealth. Sancho Panza is devoted to food, wine, and his donkey (Dapple). His fantasy of becoming the governor of an island comes true when a duke gives him one of his villages to govern. Sancho proves to be a merciful and effective ruler during his one week in power. He is involved in the “enchanting” of Dulcinea (fabricating the idea that a wizard has turned her into an ugly woman) and in her “disenchanting” (by giving himself 3,300 lashes with a whip).
Dulcinea del Toboso: an invented name that Don Quixote gives to Aldonza Lorenzo, a peasant girl in the neighboring town of El Toboso. She is Don Quixote’s ideal lady and the driving force behind all that he does, but she does not actually appear in the novel.
Themes and Ideas
1. Attack on Chivalric Novels
In Cervantes’s time, “chivalric” novels, which featured heroic knights like King Arthur and their incredible adventures, were the most popular form of literature. The best example of this genre was Amadis of Gaul, which was published in the early 1500s and considered a masterpiece of literature.
However, many poorly written imitations of Amadis followed, written by hack writers who wanted to capitalize on its success. It was these inferior novels that Cervantes despised, and he wrote Don Quixote with the goal of destroying their influence.
He believed that people were taking these novels too seriously and actually believed in their reality, often trying to imitate chivalric events in their own lives, especially those involving honor, glory, and service to their country. Quixote’s madness stems from taking the language of these novels too literally and believing he can do anything he reads.
2. Appearance vs. Reality
Cervantes wants readers to be active and thoughtful in interpreting his novel, encouraging them to question accepted views of reality. He presents many possible interpretations of objects and situations, such as an inn that could also be seen as a castle, or windmills that could be giants. This blurs the boundary between illusion and reality and shows that external reality is not always trustworthy.
Sancho becomes the governor of a village in an illusion, but he actually does a good job of governing people in reality. Quixote’s fervent belief in his chivalric project is contagious, and others become involved in his fiction. As the novel progresses, Sancho becomes more idealistic, while Quixote becomes more realistic, slowly abandoning his chivalric project as he realizes it can never succeed in 17th-century Spain.
3. Madness vs. Sanity
Some critics argue that Quixote is insane and a danger to others, citing his obsession with enchantment and wizards who disrupt his plans, and the instances where he makes matters worse for those he is trying to help.
Others argue that his mental problems are limited to certain situations, that his speech is often logical and wise, and that he consciously plays a part he has chosen. Cervantes suggests that sanity is relative to surrounding circumstances, that unconventional behavior can be appealing, and that certain forms of madness may be necessary for exploring alternatives.
Quixote dreams of a perfect society, which he calls the “Golden Age.” Although this society no longer exists, he believes it can be restored through the virtues of knight-errantry. He sees himself as a protector of justice and the rights of the helpless, freeing galley slaves because he is concerned with their suffering and not their misdeeds.
He believes that good government should be based on compassion and mercy. Cervantes asserts that good government and social institutions are necessary, but individuals should have the freedom to explore different roles and create their own lives.
1. The Layers of Depth
What initially appears to be a simple story of a man driven mad by his chivalry readings turns out to be a groundbreaking exploration of modernity and the nature of literature itself.
Cervantes uses meta themes to explore the human condition and create a new art form in the process. The novel’s complexity and depth are a testament to Cervantes’ genius and make the book a favorite for authors like Dostoevsky and Faulkner.
2. The Exploration of Identity
Don Quixote delves into the idea of self-identity and the struggle against outside perceptions and expectations. As a black male in an American culture that tries to define my identity and capabilities, I found this aspect of the novel particularly resonant.
In my second reading, the novel’s exploration of culture, religion, and race, as well as the humor and subtlety in Cervantes’ writing, stood out even more.
3. The Blend of Humor and Tragedy
Don Quixote is not just a serious work of literature, but also a hilarious and engaging read. With its blend of fantasy, reality, crude humor, and violence, the novel is reminiscent of modern comedies like Nacho Libre and Galaxy Quest.
Cervantes masterfully balances the humor with a sense of tragedy, making for a rich and multidimensional reading experience. If you haven’t read the Edith Grossman translation, I highly recommend it for its accessibility and faithfulness to the original text.
1. The Tedious Progression
While some may enjoy Cervantes’ writing, others might find the story tedious and lacking in excitement, especially when compared to the works of Verne, Doyle, and Hemingway.
It can be difficult to immerse oneself in the book if the pace and content don’t align with one’s personal taste. In fact, some readers might find themselves unable to finish the novel because it simply doesn’t resonate with them.
2. The Dated Themes and Context
As a 17th-century novel, Don Quixote’s themes and context can sometimes feel dated to contemporary readers. Cervantes’ novel was a groundbreaking exploration of class distinctions and societal roles in his time, but some of these issues might seem simplistic or commonplace to 21st-century readers.
The book’s impact may be diminished for those who cannot fully appreciate the historical and cultural context in which it was written. Moreover, readers unfamiliar with chivalric literature may not fully grasp the satire and may struggle to connect with the story on a deeper level.
3. Repetition and Length
With over 1,000 pages (or 1,300 on a Kindle), Don Quixote is a lengthy novel that can feel repetitive at times. While the satire and humor might be entertaining, the lack of a central storyline can make the book feel like a never-ending series of events.
The repetitive nature of the novel might not be as impactful for modern readers who are unfamiliar with the chivalric literature that Cervantes satirizes.
Don Quixote is undoubtedly a timeless classic that has captivated readers for centuries. Ranking among my all-time favorites alongside works like Paradise Lost and The Divine Comedy, this novel offers a simple yet engaging story that avoids the complexity and poetry that can deter some readers. Its universal appeal makes it the perfect gift for loved ones, like my 80-year-old grandmother, who will undoubtedly devour this 1,000-page masterpiece in no time.
Cervantes’ satirical take on chivalric literature elicits laughter and amusement throughout the novel. His evident disdain for the genre leads to many comedic situations for the delusional Don Quixote. Beyond the main story, Cervantes’ masterful storytelling abilities shine through in the various subplots and digressive tales woven into the narrative. These captivating episodes further demonstrate the author’s talent for crafting memorable characters and engaging stories.
So, if you’re looking to dive into classic literature that is both accessible and enjoyable, Don Quixote is undoubtedly a must-read. Its blend of humor, adventure, and eloquent storytelling will keep you entertained, offering a rich and rewarding literary experience.
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, born in 1547 in Alcalá de Henares, Spain, is often known as the “father of the modern novel.” He fought in the battle of Lepanto in 1571, where he lost the use of his left hand. Later, he was taken prisoner by the Turkish fleet and was held captive for five years in Algeria.
Upon his release in 1580, he returned to Spain and got married in 1584. He held minor government positions while living in Seville from 1587 to around 1600. In Madrid, Cervantes tried his hand at writing plays but was unsuccessful.
However, his first novel, Don Quixote de la Mancha, was an instant hit when it was published. He also wrote other works such as La Galatea (1585), Exemplary Novels (1613), and Voyage to Parnassus (1614). The Broadway musical Man of La Mancha was based on Don Quixote.
Buy The Book: Don Quixote
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