Don Quixote Novel Epistolary Letter Exchange

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Characteristic of epistolary fiction, the psychological interiority of many of “Don Quixote’s” characters is directly transmitted to readers through a series of revealing letters in which men and women write about their thoughts, feelings, desires, and emotions, in specific and gripping terms.  Indeed, of the novel’s 17 missives—from Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, Teresa Panza, Cardenio, Luscinda, Camila, Anselmo, Lela Zoraida, Captain Viedma, the Duke of Aragon, and the Duchess of Aragon—readers are given a convincing portrait of what the novel’s characters think about the people, events, and happenings from the story.  

What, in your view, does Cervantes accomplish by presenting his character’s thoughts and feelings in this way?

Role Chivalry Satire Don Quixote (Censorship Buster)

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Chivalry, in Cervantes’s Don Quixote, is used as a satirical device designed to confuse the Holy Inquisition’s censors greatly, so that the author could slip-in a series of critical statements, under the radar, so to speak, without the authorities blocking his novel.  In other words, to trick the censors of his times, Cervantes hides a serious critical sting with a series of funny, light-hearted, jokes, so that the authorities could laugh at his book, and perhaps improve the overall culture, as opposed to being offended by his novel and punishing the author severely. 

Why, we must ask ourselves, does Cervantes make “Don Quixote” so hard to understand?  Is his “double vision,” or dual meaning, a tactical device; or is it merely a reflection of the spirit of his times?     

In my view, Cervantes intentional blurring of “Don Quixote” is a strategic ploy meant to obscure its’ meaning so that his book can be interpreted in a number of valid ways.  On the one hand, “Don Quixote” suited the defenders of the status quo just fine since conservatives could reason that it depicted, and reinforced, in a funny way, the theocratic Spanish state.  On the other hand, liberal democrats could
argue that Don Quixote depicted, in human and particular terms, the injustices of his times as a way of calling attention to them?  

Why, in your view, does Cervantes use talk around terms couched in sarcasm and irony and humor?  What other ploys does Cervantes use to disguise his meaning? What
is the net effect of Cervantes’s vagueness?    

 

Cannon Toledo (Character Description)

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Cannon of Toledo

General Description- The Cannon of Toledo first materializes on the road back to La Mancha when Don Quixote is encaged in an oxcart. Gripped by curiosity, the Cannon of Toledo asks the priest “why Don Quixote is being transported so rudely?”  Upon learning that he is imprisoned in an oxcart so that he does not do himself any harm, the Canon wonders why Don Quixote is so different than the normal sort of man.  After a brief conversation, the Cannon and the priest ride ahead of the others to discuss the cause of Don Quixote’s insanity, when it began, and what to do about it.  This talk leads to an action-plan to take him back home to cure his madness.  After the Cannon hears Don Quixote’s backstory, he says that “so-called” books of chivalry are prejudicial to the public good because they are absurd stories, depicting impossible events, without a clear relation between the parts and the whole.  Despite his strictures on tales of chivalry, however, the Cannon finds that “they provide subject matter with which a good intelligence can express itself, describing shipwrecks, storms, skirmishes and battles on a broad and spacious canvas on which the pen can wander freely.”  In fact the Cannon has written more than a hundred pages of his own chivalry book, which incorporates his ideas on what makes for verbal artistry.  As he sees it, since the state of literature in 17thcentury Spain is more fashionable than substantive, the verbal arts are in deep need of fundamental reform.  To correct this shortfall, the Cannon suggests that there should be some sensible person in Madrid to scrutinize all plays before they are performed so that good plays can be discovered and endorsed by the authorities.

Later on, the Cannon arranges for Don Quixote to be freed from his cage (provided that he does not try to escape) so that they can talk freely about life and literature, and what a gentlemen, like him, should, and should not, read.  While the Canon tries to convince Don Quixote to give-up chivalry novels in favor of devotional or historical books, Don Quixote tries to persuade the Cannon that reading about knight errantry is worthwhile because such stories are inspiring, amusing, and instructive.  At the end of their conversation, the Cannon asks the priest to keep him informed about whether Don Quixote recovers from his madness, or not, and if his mind continues to be deranged by chivalry.

Sancho Panza (Character Description)

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Appearance– Sancho Panza has a short body, a plump paunch, long shanks, and a thick, unkept, beard. 

Age– Sancho Panza is in his mid-thirties.   

Occupation– Sancho Panza is a poor country farmer who was a swineherd then a geese keeper later a steward and finally a country beadle.  During his later years, before he squires for Don Quixote, Sancho Panza is a farm laborer.

Family– Sancho Panza comes from a medium sized family consisting of an older brother, who is a priest, a wife, who runs his house, his two children, (Sanchico 15, Sanchita 14) his maternal grandmother, who he often quotes, as well as two wine-connoisseur forebears on his father’s side.  Thus, his nuclear family consists of four people, and his extended family consists of 3 people.  

Practicality– Sancho Panza has a practical sense of what it takes to live in hard-reality.  This is why he: eats out of his saddle-bags to avoid starvation; treats his injuries by mixing poultices; heals his wounds by fastening bandages; avoids jail by paying at inns; and earns money to take care of himself and his family.  What’s more, since Sancho Panza solicits a fixed salary from Don Quixote, and sells a hunting outfit he acquires, he is always looking for ways to make money.  This, in turn, signals his practicality, since it takes money to maintain his house, provide food and clothing for his family, and pay for his children’s education. In brief, Sancho Panza’s desire to earn money is definitely a sign of his practicality.

Glutton– Sancho Panza is prone to excessive eating and drinking binges.  From devouring pies by flowing rivers to stuffing himself with geese and hens at Basilio’s wedding, Sancho Panza eats like there is no tomorrow.  Sancho Panza also likes to drink a lot, since he takes swigs of wine from his leather bottle, sometimes drinking before breakfast.  Though he likes to eat and drink to excess, the Duchess puts Sancho Panza on a restraint enhancing diet during his governorship of Barataria, by assigning him a severe doctor to limit his food and liquid consumption.  Indeed, before taking office, Sancho Panza says that he has never drunk wine to get drunk, but rather drinks intoxicating beverages to not seem choosy, or rude, because, asks Sancho Panza, “what can be more hard hearted, if a friend drinks to your health and one does not drink to his back?”   

Don Quixote (Character Description)

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Appearance– Don Quixote is a tall man with a wrinkled face, long skinny arms, an eagle like nose that is somewhat hooked and graying.  He has a big black droopy mustache to disguise his bony underbite.  Typically, he has a dried-up face, a knotted and grizzled beard, and a brown, stretched neck. 

Age– Don Quixote is 49 years old, which, in the seventeneth century, is old, since the typical life-span back then was 40 years of age. 

Occupation– Since Don Quixote is a nobleman of the lowest rank he derives a small income from his acres of arable land.  Besides having a bit of ready money passed down from his forebears Don Quixote makes a small profit on his vineyards.  When he is not managing his property, which is most of the year, either he hunts boar, to while away the time, or reads chivalry books, as a leisure activity.

Sanity/Insanity– When Don Quixote is in his right mind he talks with good sense and a clear and balanced judgment, which makes people think he is clever, studious, and to the point.  But when he focuses his mind on chivalry he interlards sense and nonsense, reason and unreason, because what he says is coherent, elegant, and well-expressed, yet what he does is absurd, foolhardy, and stupid.  Since he performs mad actions in the worldbut speaks words that dissipate the effects of his deedsmost people think that he is mad, in streaks, complete with lucid intervals.  Unable to decide whether he is more sane than mad or more mad than sane, his examiners conclude that he is a sane man with madness in him, and a mad man with sane tendencies. 

Injuries– Don Quixote’s first injury comes when his ribs are bruised and battered by a muleteer who pounds him with a piece of his broken lance pummeling him until he is well-threshed like the finest chaff.  Then his shoulder is half-dislocated when a windmill’s sails yank him off his horse with enough force to send him rolling over the Montiel plain in a very sore predicament indeed.  Later, half his ear is lopped off by a Basque who sends a large part of his helmet, along with a bloody chunk of his ear, to the ground in hideous ruin. Next, a group of Yanguasian mule carriers pound him with their walking-staffs until he is knocked senseless.  Then a muleteer at a tavern delivers such a terrible punch to Don Quixote’s lantern jaws that his mouth is bathed in blood.  Not content with his opening blow, the muleteer climbs on top of Don Quixote’s ribs and trots up and down from one end to the other until he lays unconscious atop a ruined bed.  To top off his loss of blood, a peace-officer smashes an oil lantern on Don Quixote’s head leaving a good size dent there and raising two sizable lumps as well.  Later, a group of goatherds break two of Don Quixote’s ribs, smash three or four of his teeth, and crush two of his fingers in retaliation for their dead sheep.  Next, a group of convicts fire a hailstorm of rocks at Don Quixote hitting him with enough force to knock him to the ground. Once Don Quixote is down, a student outlaw snatches a barber’s basin from off his head and smashes it three or four times on Don Quixote’s back leaving him in a sorry state indeed. Afterwards, when Don Quixote hurls a loaf of bread at a goatherd’s face, the goatherd climbs on top of Don Quixote and flails away at his face until blood pours from our poor knight’s face. Later, a penitent delivers such a blow to Don Quixote’s sword arm that he smashes his shoulder to smithereens. Next, a snarling cat latches onto Don Quixote’s nose leaving his face riddled with holes.  Then Don Quixote is scorched and singed and hurled to the ground by an exploding wooden horse.  Finally, Don Quixote is stampeded into the mud by a herd of pigs.  Though Don Quixote’s injuries heal over a number of yearssometimes in his own bed and sometimes in the battle fieldit is a wonder that he musters the strength to continue after such numerous and extensive beatings.

Chivalric DelusionsDon Quixote mistakes: inns for castles; windmills for giants; sheeps for armies; wine-filled pigskins for headless giants; black-clad mourners for shadowy enchanters; copper basins for golden helmets; country barbers for warrior knights; simple farm girls for noble damsels; sweat smelling peasants for perfume smelling princesses; wooden horses for flying steeds; air pumping bellows for the earth’s natural wind; water mills for castle fortresses; dinghies for ships; and blanket tossers for enchanted ghosts, to name just a few of his chivalric delusions. 

Family Besides having a twenty two year old niece, Don Quixote has no blood relations to speak of.  

Marriage Don Quixote

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In Don Quixote there is a sharp contrast between two different types of marriage: arranged marriages where inheritance, money, property, and title are major constituents; and modern marriages based on a need for intellectual agreement, philosophic mutality, and emotional intimacy.  One model highlights the ability to freely choose one’s romantic partner according to their essential nature, while the

other model emphasizes birthright, social standing, and political power as decisional determinants.  One model values women as housekeepers, lust satisfiers, and child begetters, while the other model values a women for her inner being.  

Dramatized through a series of courtship and sexual tales where characters marry not by arrangement, as expected, but for romantic love, instead, Cervantes elevates modern love over traditional marriage arrangements.  First, there is Marcela who will not marry Grisostomo for his property, lands, or other monies.  Then there is Quiteria the Fair who favors Basilio the Poor over Camacho the Rich. Likewise, Leandra does not want to marry a future grandee of Spain called Don Fernando.  Instead she marries the much poorer and not as well connected Cardenio.  All of these women forgo “good catches” favoring their childhood sweethearts instead. 

Don Quixote’s Metafictionality

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Don Quixote is a unique novel because it discusses itself within the pages of itself.  For example, when an old notebook of the history of Don Quixote is found at a bazaar in Toledo a Catholic Cannon reminds us that chivalry books do not follow the rules of Aristotelian writing.  Also, when Cide Hamete El Benengeli, the book’s fictitious narrator, analyzes Don Quixote’s artistic genres he shows a concern for literature and language that signals Don Quixote’s Metafictionality.  Given Don Quixote’s self-reflexive nature the book’s author becomes a character in the story who steps in-and-out of the tale.  More largely, by referring to the author throughout the story, Cervantes does not let readers forget they are reading a fictional work.  For instance, during the Captive Captain’s tale, we are told that Miguel Cervantes was the only man who emerged unscathed from his slavery. Another feature that defines Don Quixote as a work of Metafiction is that it mentions several works of fiction. For example, during the inquisition of Don Quixote’s library, Cervantes’s Galatea is retained for its original style.  Later, when the innkeeper produces Rinconete and Cortadillo, another story by Cervantes, a local priest decides to read The Tale of Inappropriate Curiosity instead.  Finally, since Don Quixote tends to call attention to itself as a literary artifact characters within the story are acutely aware that they are in a work of fiction.  In brief, since Don Quixote self-consciously evaluates itself throughout its’ story-telling it is fiction about fiction, or Metafictional in nature.