• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #78: Don Quixote


He's the Man of La Mancha

Cervantes' masterwork is a dense, complicated book. Often regarded as the first modern novel, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha is equal parts tragedy and comedy. There are endless expositions on the literary style and value of the book, which I am not qualified to discuss. For me, Don Quixote at its heart is about a man in his middleyears, so dissatisfied with the unromantic and unfulfilling world in which he exists that he creates a new one from his beloved books, inventing a life for himself of chivalrous heroism. The world mocks him and treats him cruelly, as it does with all those who do not conform to the narrow definitions of sanity that constrain us all.

Quixote wants desperately to believe there's something more, something worth fighting for. It's as compelling now as it was four centuries ago, the idea that the world is weary and empty and devoid of adventure, and that to perceive it otherwise is the act of a madman. He can also be interpreted as a comic conservative, desperate to overlay outdated social systems on a world that has left them - and him - behind in its sprint to modernity. The true tragedy is that by the end of the cycle, Quixote comes to his senses, is relieved of his illusions, and joins the humdrum herd of humanity in the cult of the real. Cervantes' enduring artful allegory is that the world will defeat us all, no matter how ardently we cling to our impossible dreams.

I'd like to think there are still windmills at which to tilt. And maybe, just maybe, some real giants, too.

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