Category Archives: Individualism in Don Quixote

How is Don Quixote a Novel about Individual Self-Fashioning?

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The genesis of “Don Quixote” is an act of “self-invention” by a forty-nine-year-old man.  Contrary to the popular view that at age 49 your identity is set (i.e. you are who you are) Don Quixote creates himself anew.  “He leaves home in search of substance and meaning and individuality to his life.  He is concerned with the nature of the self.  His own self.”[1]  This is why Don Quixote engages in a path of self-discovery through which he discovers that his own worth is the result of what he does rather than what his forebears did. 

  

Besides his twenty-two-year-old niece readers do not learn anything about Don Quixote’s family.  He has no parents, no siblings, no extended family to speak of.  With no close family ties influencing him one way or the other, Don Quixote is free to reimagine himself, to reinvent himself, without all the normal social pressures we associate with family relations or birth circumstances.  Rather than being a socially determined creature as most of his contemporaries were, Don Quixote creates himself beyond his family birth.  His will is the determining factor in his behavior and he is ready for the imprint of his own volition. 

Since Don Quixote “knows who [he] may be if he chooses” he stresses that each individual, through the exercise of his own will, determines what kind of person he will be.  Instead of being a creature of circumstance buffeted to-and-frough by social forces beyond his control, Don Quixote designs his own fortune by enacting his own self-trajectory.  

Since Cervantes is a romantic writer, he is aware of how one’s nature effects his actions.  He recognizes, at least at some level, that human virtue, human well-being, and human prosperity can be developed by choosing a proper life for oneself.  The view of man presented in Don Quixote is that he is capable of goodness, he is capable of prowess, he is capable of courage, he is capable of all these moral values.  There is no presentation of the view that the individual is a helpless victim crushed beneath the weight of social forces.  Don Quixote applies individual choice to literature to determine how far he goes in life and in what way.  This is how Cervantes shows his readers that they are not what society makes them but what they make 

themselves.  That by choosing to actively pursue their values they have control over the make-up and quality of their lives. 


[1] Dr. Roberto Gonzalez Eschevarria, Sterling Professor of Hispanic and Comparative Literature, Yale University.