Soon after Quixote comes home, he contracts a fever. His friends try to cheer him up, but to no avail. The doctor judges that the cause of his illness is depression. Quixote sleeps a great deal for a few days. He wakes up with a start one day and declares that he has regained his sanity, which was occluded by his “detestable books of chivalry.” He thinks that he is about to die, and he does not want to be remembered as a madman. He calls in the priest and his other friends to make his last confession.
Why does the last part of Quixote’s transformation take place while he is asleep? Sleep is the place of dreams, of fantasies like the Cave of Montesinos. So perhaps his long sleep is his final farewell to his fantasies and his intricate inner life. Or maybe his sleep is his final yielding to Sancho’s healthy world of food and wine.
The three friends come in. Quixote tells them that he is not Don Quixote de la Mancha anymore – he is Alonso Quixano, and he has earned the nickname “the Good.” He tells them that he now hates all the famous knights errant, and admits that their histories have done him great harm. The friends assume that he has gone mad in some new way, and remind him that Dulcinea has finally been disenchanted, but he only calls for a confessor. His apparent sanity makes his friends believe that he is truly dying.
We have spoken here of Quixote’s “sanity” as a loss of self. But there are many ways to interpret this mysterious ending. Some might see it as heroic, a had-won triumph over a set of delusions. A reader’s interpretation of the ending will depend on her opinion of fantasy and introversion.
The priest takes his confession and announces his imminent death, and everyone starts crying. Quixote leaves part of his money to Sancho and apologizes to him for involving him in his madness. Sancho begs his master not to die, since dying for no reason is true madness. He reminds Quixote about the beautiful Dulcinea and takes the blame for all Quixote’s defeats. But Quixote pays no attention. He leaves his property to his niece and leaves the rest of his money to his housekeeper for back wages. He says that his niece must only marry a man who has never heard of chivalry books, or else she will forfeit her inheritance. He loses consciousness, and three days later he dies.
Yet, whatever we might think of sanity, Quixote dies of it. Sanity, then, is either a malignant presence, a corroder of imagination, or a fatal absence, a gap where personhood was. Quixote’s death is symbolic: it is the death of the fictional knight Don Quixote, dreamt up by Alonso Quixano. And it is Quixano’s own disenchantment, final and irreversible. The real death in the novel allows us to grieve fully for Quixote’s imagination, to feel the gravity of its loss from the world.
This concludes the history of Don Quixote de la Mancha. Cide Hamete says that no one else may describe Don Quixote, because “for me alone was Don Quixote born, and I for him.” The real Quixote lies in his grave. Cide Hamete is happy to have written a book that makes its readers hate absurd and untrue chivalry books, which pale in comparison to the true history of Don Quixote.
The author writes about his creation with great tenderness, and identifies with it very closely. Perhaps Alonso Quixano, a character at the barest edges of the novel, is Cervantes himself, who dreamt up Don Quixote and released him into the world as his own shadow.