One of the first scenes of the novel is Quixote’s self-naming. The scene is a little comical, like a child renaming herself after her favorite cartoon character, yet it’s also extraordinary. An aging, poor, frail man claims for himself the power to remake himself entirely, merely on the strength of his belief. He is blissfully indifferent to his own past, his capacities, or the constraints of his situation; he becomes what he wishes to be instantaneously, almost like a god.
Quixote believes that identities and societies are always in flux, always about to be changed by the force of ideals. He believes that each person should be valued on the strength of her character, not on the circumstances of her birth; he thinks that every person, rich or poor, nobleman or peasant, can become good, brave, and courteous, despite the social boundaries that fence us into various stereotypes and stations.
But Quixote’s ambitions as a knight are not restricted solely to his own achievements and personal transformations. He wants to bring chivalry and all its kindnesses and virtues to a world that has grown cynical, selfish, and unimaginative. So, just as he changes himself into what he wishes to be, he changes the world into what he wishes it to be. Since the new world he imagines differs a great deal from the real world that surrounds him, other people consider him insane. But it is a deeply honorable insanity – the sort of insanity that attends every major social change, every fight for justice. Though Quixote doesn’t survive his battle with reality, he achieves many small, unexpected victories, and his biggest victory by far is the popularity of the first half of the history. When people all over the world read The Ingenious Hidalgo, the idea of “quixotry” is born into the public imagination, and the world is changed just a little in Quixote’s image.
Self-Invention, Class Identity, and Social Change ThemeTracker
Self-Invention, Class Identity, and Social Change Quotes in Don Quixote
There is no reason why someone with a plebeian name should not be a knight, for every man is the child of his own deeds.
I know who I am … and I know that I can be not only all of those whom I have mentioned, but every one of the Twelve Peers of France, and every one of the Nine Worthies as well, because all the deeds performed by them both singly and together will be exceeded by mine.
… for of knight-errantry may be said what is said of love, that it makes all things equal.
Every minute of every hour of his imagination was filled with those battles, enchantments, adventures, loves, and challenges that books of chivalry recount, and everything he said, thought, or did was channeled into such affairs.
Let me add that when a painter wants to become famous for his art, he tries to copy originals by the finest artists he knows. And this same rule holds good for nearly all the trades and professions of importance that serve to adorn a society.
Is it possible that in all the time you have been with me you have failed to realize that all things appertaining to us knights errant seem like chimeras, follies, and nonsenses, because they have all been turned on their head? Not because that is their real state, but because we are always attended by a crew of enchanters.
…the poets themselves invent most of [their ladies], to have something to write their poetry about, and to make people think that they are in love and that they have it in them to be lovers.
I might be poor but I’m of old Christian stock, and I don’t owe anybody anything, and if I’m set on islands others are set on worse, and deeds make the man, and being as I am a man I can get to be pope let alone governor of an island. … You be careful what you say, mister barber, there are other things in life than shaving beards, and each man’s a little bit different from the next.
Speaking for myself, I can say that ever since I became a knight errant I have been courageous, polite, generous, well-bred, magnanimous, courteous, bold, gentle, patient and long-suffering in the face of toil, imprisonment, and enchantment.
O pride of your family, honour and glory of all La Mancha and all the world – now that you’ve gone from it, it’ll fill up with evil-doers who won’t be frightened of being punished for their wicked ways! ... O you who were humble to the haughty and haughty to the humble, tackler of dangers, taker of insults, in love without a cause, imitator of the good, scourge of the wicked, enemy of villains – in a word, knight errant, and that says it all!
I am merely striving to make the world understand the delusion under which it labours in not renewing within itself the happy days when the order of knight-errantry carried all before it. But these depraved times of ours do not deserve all those benefits enjoyed by the ages when knights errant accepted as their responsibility and took upon their shoulders the defense of kingdoms, the relief of damsels, the succour of orphans and wards, and chastisement of the arrogant and the rewarding of the humble.
It’s so very intelligible that it doesn’t pose any difficulties at all: children leaf through it, adolescents read it, grown men understand it and old men praise it, and, in short, it’s so well-thumbed and well-perused and well-known by all kinds of people that as soon as they see a skinny nag pass by they say: “Look, there goes Rocinante.” And the people who have most taken to it are the page-boys. There’s not a lord’s antechamber without its Quixote. … All in all, this history provides the most delightful and least harmful entertainment ever, because nowhere in it can one find the slightest suspicion of language that isn’t wholesome or thoughts that aren’t Catholic.
… there is a great confusion among lineages, and the only families who show themselves to be great and illustrious are those that display these qualities in the virtue, wealth and generosity of their paterfamilias. I say virtue, wealth and generosity because the great man who is sin-ridden can only be a great sinner, and the wealthy man who is not generous will be nothing but a miserly beggar. … The poor gentleman has no means of showing that he is a gentleman other than by his virtue: being affable, well-bred, courteous and considerate and solicitous; … and anybody who sees him adorned with these virtues of which I speak, even if he does not know him, cannot fail to consider that he is a man of good stock.
And so, O Sancho, our works must not stray beyond the limits imposed by the Christian religion that we profess. In slaying giants, we must slay pride; in our generosity and magnanimity, we must slay envy; in our tranquil demeanor and serene disposition, we must slay anger; in eating as little as we do and keeping vigil as much as we do, we must slay gluttony and somnolence; in our faithfulness to those whom we have made the mistresses of our thoughts, we must slay lewdness and lust; in wandering all over the world in search of opportunities to become famous knights as well as good Christians, we must slay sloth.
And do not imagine, sir, that by “vulgar crowd” I mean only the humble lower orders: everyone who is ignorant, even if he is a lord and a pillar of the community, can and should be considered one of the vulgar crowd.
…Don Quixote was amazed by what was happening; and that was the first day when he was fully convinced that he was a real knight errant, not a fantasy one, seeing himself treated in the same way as he’d read that such knights used to be treated in centuries past.
Yes, you eat up, friend Sancho … sustain life, which is of more interest to you than to me, and let me die at the hands of my thoughts and in the grasp of my misfortunes. I was born, Sancho, to live dying, and you were born to die eating.
What I can tell you is that there’s no such thing as fortune, and whatever happens in this world, good and bad, does not occur by chance, but by special providence of heaven; and for this reason it is often said that every man is the architect of his own fortune. And I have been the architect of mine, but not with the necessary prudence, and so my presumption has led to disaster.