by Erin Kim
About Don Quixote, his heroism and chivalry, and his lasting impact on the world.
Don Quixote: Forever a Hero
George Washington, Einstein, and Martin Luther King Jr.: everybody recognizes these names because they encourage the world to be positive, fearless, and lasting. They represent the righteousness of society and are the heroes of their time. A hero is “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities” (dictionary.com). Amongst all these leaders, there is Don Quixote, who is determined to save the world through chivalry as knights served humanity during medieval times. Heroes who are different are left to be amusement. People do not recognize Don Quixote as a hero because such honesty, courage, and bravery are no longer respected in the same way. The deterioration of society hides the true goodness of humanity.
Don Quixote’s visionary pursuit is misjudged by the changes in time and culture. On one of his first journeys, Quixote tries to save a servant boy from being tortured. He commands the farmer to stop flogging the boy in the name of knighthood and Quixote trusts that he will stop, but it is clear that the farmer is lying. Knowing this, the boy begs Don Quixote not to leave, but the knight assertively replies "[the farmer] will do nothing of the kind [because] he has sworn to me by the order of knighthood" (Cervantes 76). Quixote absolutely trusts in the name of chivalry and he thinks everyone else does, too. He does this to create justice like a true knight, but as Quixote rides off, the farmer ties the boy “again to the oak tree and [gives] him such a drubbing that he [leaves] him almost dead” (Cervantes 77). It seems Don Quixote’s efforts are circumvented. Later on, the boy comes back to Don Quixote saying “if you ever meet me again, though you may see them cutting me to pieces, give me no aid, but leave me to my misfortune, which will [be worse] by being helped by your worship” (Cervantes 489). After such an insult, Quixote has a rough start as reality impedes his far-fetched dreams of knighthood. His deeds seem to be worsening situations, but he is purely trying to save the world through the laws of chivalry. He means to defend the boy from being whipped, not to provoke it. If Quixote is living in the medieval times and commands the farmer to swear in the name of knighthood, the farmer would immediately obey him. However, during the present time, people make a joke out of Don Quixote because his obsolete logic does not make sense to them. Quixote is living in his own medieval world. When he meets an intelligent townsman, the townsman exclaims “What! Is it possible that there are knights-errant in the world these days?” (Cervantes 688) The man furthermore realizes that “the countless stories of fictitious knights-errant, so much to the injury of morality and the prejudice and discredit of good histories, [have been driven] into oblivion” (Cervantes 689). This townsman understands that moral corruption is forcing the beautiful and antique stories of knights-errantry to disappear. He is surprised by the intellect and eloquence of Don Quixote’s speech on the literature of chivalry, yet he underestimates the value of Quixote’s character because the knight’s knowledge is anachronous to his own present-day knowledge. Don Quixote may be living in the past, but the classic character of chivalry should be treasured forever. Quixote is not the only one that faces these misunderstandings. When Sancho is made governor of a fake city and solves all the town’s problems with his simple wit and wisdom, people “[can] not make up [their minds] whether to consider him a fool or a wise man” (Cervantes 847). As the people are trying to make a dunce out of him, they are utterly impressed by his genuine aptitude and justice. While “the whole court [is in] astonishment at their new governor’s judgments and decrees” (Cervantes 849), the Duke ridicules him and consider Sancho a fool nevertheless. The Duke is so oblivious that he cannot recognize true wisdom. When Sancho saves the citizens of his new country, the citizens underestimate his brainpower because of his peculiarity. Intelligence is scoffed upon by their ignorance. People only see the surface of Quixote and Sancho’s personalities, missing their inner beauty. Don Quixote tries to save the world according to the laws of chivalry and Sancho tries to be a wise governor, but no one recognizes their true intelligence because such culture of good judgment has diminished.
The virtuous life of chivalry and knighthood is not possible to be fulfilled and is left to be entertainment to spectators. Chivalry is “how a good knight should behave; treating women with respect, defending the weak and fighting fairly” (dictionary.com). During the beginning of Don Quixote’s journey, he goes up to an innkeeper and asks to be knighted “in quest of adventures on behalf of those in distress, as is the duty of chivalry and of knights-errant like myself” (Cervantes 68). He is sacrificing his life to become a knight, proving his passion and devotion to chivalry. The innkeeper has no idea what Quixote is speaking of, but because of his absolute persistence, he performs the task only to “make sport” (Cervantes 69) out of him. The innkeeper tells everyone in the inn about the “madness of his guest” (Cervantes 70). “They [are] astonished at such a strange kind of madness and [flock] to observe him from a distance” (Cervantes 70). The people do not understand Don Quixote’s courage in asking to be dubbed knight and they only hurry to laugh at him as if he were a comedy show. This moment of knighthood is a treasure to him, like one’s baptism or birthday, but spectators come to mock him, not to congratulate him. Quixote is in his own world with people watching from the outside. The innkeeper plays along and adds flamboyant language to get the most from this odd scenario, but Quixote is oblivious to everyone’s travesty. People, like the innkeeper, only see Quixote’s eccentricity and do not look beyond the surface of who he is. Who has the bravado to so diligently pursue the righteous life of a knight like Don Quixote? This blind mockery is evident in all characters. Don Quixote’s friends attempt to persuade him to return home, but because of Don Quixote’s allegiance to live his knights-errantry journey, they end up playing along with his enchantment. A young girl plays a damsel in distress and dramatically “throws herself on her knees before Don Quixote” (Cervantes 294) begging him to save her from a frightening giant. In efforts to make Don Quixote a fool, people become fools themselves. Quixote is enthralled by this terrifying giant. As he critically takes off to defend the lady, his friend “is trying his best to hide his laughter and prevent his beard from falling off” (Cervantes 295). Quixote is being a loyal knight by protecting the innocent woman from a harmful giant, but his sacrifice is found to be amusement. Not only is this tomfoolery evident in his shallow friends, but also in strangers. The Duke and the Duchess take advantage of Don Quixote’s innocence by lowering a bag of cats and bells to Don Quixote’s room window as he devotedly sings ballads for his love Dulcinea. As he is shocked by the commotion, the cats attack his face and “leave him all criss-crossed with scratches” (Cervantes 853). This causes him to be confined in his room for five days! Sincerely and unknowingly, Don Quixote “thanks [the Duke and Duchess] for their kindness in coming to his assistance” (Cervantes 854) although they actually cause him the trouble and the pain. Don Quixote is simply following the codes of chivalry by singing a ballad for his love, but onlookers do not understand his deep devotion and treat him as a toy for their self-amusement to the extent of causing him physical pain. No one respects Quixote’s genuine intelligence, bravery, or fidelity because they lack the acumen to see his inner beauty. As Don Quixote tries to reside in a life of chivalry, his existence becomes a puppet to his friends and strangers, and entertainment to bystanders.
Everyone can relate to Don Quixote’s heroic archetype and visionary pursuit. So many of culture’s advertisements tell people to “be different,” but few actually are. In one’s homogenous society, the people who separate from trends are the ones being mocked, but these people remain in history. Don Quixote is a classic model of breaking from one’s uniform culture to change the world. Thus, he will always be a hero. For one, Don Quixote is innocent. The youthfulness of a child is understood and admired in every generation. Quixote sees a simple flock of sheep as a grand army, a few windmills as massive giants, and an ugly servant girl as a noble lady. He never stops believing. Through this innocence, he makes his world a true adventure. Quixote’s “mind and heart express the archetype of hope to transform the world” (Byington 9). When someone sees a child rolling down a hill, laughing loudly, he/she does not mind, but when an adult does something “silly” like that, people consider him/her bizarre, maybe because they essentially admire his/her innocence. Innocence can be a characteristic at any age, and at any time, and Don Quixote has the audacity to actually have that quality. For many, adventures lessen as they grow older, but for Don Quixote, every moment is an odyssey. Secondly, Don Quixote encompasses the unyielding values of a tenacious warrior. An archetypal warrior is a “noble and relentless protector” (Joseph Campbell). Quixote is willing to sacrifice his life and fight an army for his lady-love Dulcinea although he never sees her. He attacks puppets during a puppet show in order to create justice in the story. He continues after his chivalric goal despite his thoughts about abandoning his knighthood. Because of Quixote’s chivalric personality, he is a hero. Everyone could use a little chivalry in his/her life. Lastly, in a hero’s journey, a hero’s “primary purpose is to separate from the ordinary world and sacrifice himself for the service of the Journey at hand” (Christopher Vogler). Don Quixote is willing to be different regardless of the circumstances. He has the funniest-looking horse and a fake knight outfit with a bucket for a helmet! Quixote doesn’t care about the jokes people make about him because he has an everlasting vision to make the world a better place through chivalry. This valiant perspective is evident today, possibly at the peak of heroic history, with Barack Obama’s Presidency. He comes from a low-income family of a humble background and despite the dominant racism that is still at hand, he is elected President of the United States of America. Regardless of Obama’s unpopular skin color and the trials he faces, he pursues his own hero’s journey. If an ordinary black man like President Obama can achieve such a dream, and a scrawny vagabond like Don Quixote can pursue to be such a hero, then anyone and everyone can be a hero. Quixote inspires many to believe in their dreams and be a hero by his/her simple existence and presence in someone’s life. Don Quixote is a part of every person because he is a child, a warrior, a visionary, and above all, an archetypal hero whether or not society will accept him.
Don Quixote’s adventures have and still do entertain readers. In 2002, the Norwegian Book Club held an election among the best writers from over 50 nations to vote on the best novel written, and these authors elected Don Quixote. Why was this novel chosen from so many of the other classic novels? Because Don Quixote’s inimitable and tenacious character lives in everyone. Anybody can relate to Quixote’s tribulations of being the object of derision. To this day, the word quixotic is frequently used meaning “the impractical pursuit of idealistic goals” (dictionary.com). Everyone should value this pursuit of true goodness despite the change in time. As Don Quixote paraphrases Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, “the way of vice, large and easy, ends in death; and that of virtue, narrow and tortuous, ends in life. Not in life that ends, but in life that never ends” (Byington 9).