Don Quixote Summary

Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote

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Don Quixote Summary

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Insane and determined to destroy evil and defend the downtrodden, Alonso Quixano, calling himself Don Quixote of La Mancha (a region of central Spain), sets out to follow the heroic life he has read of in literature and with which he is obsessed. With the promise of future riches, he enlists a simple laborer, Sancho Panza, to be his squire. The two volumes of the episodic novel by Miguel de Cervantes were published in 1605 and 1615 respectively, and it is generally agreed that Don Quixote is the most important work of Spanish literature. It is among the texts that serve as a foundation for modern Western literature.

About fifty years old when the story begins, Alonso is a reasonable man afflicted only by lack of sleep caused by the amount of time he spends reading. Because of this, he is easily angered. He believes everything he reads in fiction that is concerned with chivalry to be real. Stepping into the role of a protagonist such as would be found in his beloved fiction, he decides he will become a knight-errant and go seeking adventure. He takes the name Don Quixote, names his old, run down horse Rocinante, obtains a suit of armor, and although she is unaware, he selects a nearby farm girl, Aldonza Lorenzo, to be his Lady, naming her Dulcinea del Toboso. He sets out and arrives at a “castle,” which in reality is an inn. The “ladies” he finds there are actually prostitutes and the “lord” the innkeeper. He requests that the lord dub him a knight. He spends the night and becomes embroiled in a fight with some mule drivers. In the morning, the innkeeper, in an effort of be rid of Don Quixote, feigns a knighting ceremony, and Quixote continues on his way.

His next adventure finds him defending a young boy who was being beaten by his master. Later, Quixote is beaten by traders whom he attacked thinking they had insulted the honor of Dulcinea. A local peasant returns him to his home. While he is recovering, but still unconscious, his niece and his housekeeper with whom he lives along with a couple of other locals destroy his chivalric books. This plot event allows for a subtle examination of censorship by the author Cervantes. A priest who is one of those destroying the books is focused upon in much of the narrative as he determines which books should be burned and which destroyed. Once the deed is done, the room where the library had been located is sealed, and Quixote is told that it was done by a wizard. Shortly thereafter, he brings Sancho Panza into his adventure, and the duo sets off at dawn.

The most famous portion of the novel occurs at the beginning of the journeys of Quixote and Panza with the self-proclaimed knight errant fighting what he perceives as dangerous giants and which in reality are windmills. As the quest continues, the pair comes upon a group of friars with a lady in a carriage. Quixote believes the friars are holding the lady against her will and a scuffle ensues. There is an aside story followed by the woman asking her travelling companions to give themselves up to Don Quixote. Presently, the “knight” and his “squire” meet some goat herders. The herders invite them to the funeral of Grisostomo, a student who turned into shepherd after reading pastoral novels, echoing Quixote’s reading of novels of chivalry. Ultimately, events result in another beating for the heroes. Their next stop is an inn, again presumed to be a castle, where Quixote believes a servant girl named Helen is a princess. He frightens her when he asks her to sit on his bed, and a muleteer comes to her defense, leading to yet another fight and more injuries for both Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

In the opening of the second part of the novel, strangers who encounter the two main characters know of their exploits. Some mock Quixote with practical jokes. Others devise “tests” to challenge his chivalry and his devotion to Dulcinea. When Sancho is unable to locate Dulcinea at Quixote’s request, he finds three peasant girls and tries to convince him that they are Dulcinea and her ladies in waiting. Quixote is not convinced they are anything but peasants, so Sancho tells him they look different due to a spell. After additional events, Quixote is defeated in battle by the Knight of the White Moon and, due to earlier agreed upon terms, must give up chivalry for a year, during which time it is possible that he will be cured of his madness. Upon his return to his village, he is struck with a serious illness, wakes up from a dream, and finds that he is once again sane. He reclaims Alonso Quixano as his name, and when he dies, Cervantes says that there are no further adventures to share and should any more books about Don Quixote appear, they would be illegitimate.