Idealism in Don Quixote

Good Essays
Nalani Kikuyama
Ms. Haina
English 12
4 April 2013
Fighting Giants
In the book Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes, the eponymous protagonist, Don Quixote, explains his reason for becoming a knight in the 16th century, saying “as time went on and wickedness increased, the order of knight-errantry was instituted to defend maidens, to protect widows, and to rescue orphans and distressed persons” (Cervantes 52). In the book, Quixote, moved by books of chivalry, dons his grandfather’s rusty knight armor and sallies on an adventure in Spain with his squire, Sancho Panza. Throughout Spain, Quixote and Panza meet characters that hinder, help, and challenge the concept of chivalry in a modern world. Quixote epitomizes idealism by becoming a knight-errant when chivalry is considered an outdated moral code. Commentary by Cervantes is both biting and affectionate, but ultimately a criticism of idealism.
Quixotism, a word derived from Don Quixote, is defined as the impractical pursuit of ideals. Quixote was once a gentleman from La Mancha, but books of chivalry have corrupted his mind, making him temporarily mad. In the book Don Quixote, Quixote’s misadventures are described in detail. One of the first indicators of the depth of Quixote’s madness is his attempt to fight a field of windmills he mistakes for giants, declaring, “Do you see over yonder my friend Sancho Panza, thirty or more huge giants?” (Cervantes 36). What ensues is a cartoonish, slapstick-ish battle where Quixote is knocked to the ground by a windmill’s turning sails, wounded, and nearly killed. In this scene and many scenes after this, Cervantes not only implies that idealism has the ability to make one look foolish, but that it is powerful enough to physically injure.
How Cervantes contrasts Quixote’s idealism might appear humorous to readers, as it comes in the form of the squire Sancho Panza. Panza is a simple man, whose modest intellect only highlights the reality Quixote gravely distorts. Many



Cited: XCervantes, Miguel. Don Quixote. Trans. Walter Starkie. New York: New American Library, 2003. Print.

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