Don Quixote

Don Quixote

Don Quixote Part 2, Chapter 51 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On the second day of his governing, Sancho eats a meager breakfast and goes into the courtroom. A man comes in and begins to describe a dilemma. A river cuts a lord’s estate in two parts, and a bridge crosses over it. The owner of the river decreed that every person that wants to cross the bridge must state his purpose to several judges; if he tells the truth, he can cross, but if he lies, he must be hung. One man told the judges that his purpose is to be hung. If the judges allow him to cross, then his statement will have been a lie, and he should have been hung; if they hang him, then he told the truth, and he should have been allowed to cross. Sancho responds that this man deserves to live as much as he deserves to die, so it’s better to be merciful and let him live. Everyone is satisfied with the decision.
Sancho’s deliberation in this case outlines two kinds of legal thinking. One kind asserts that we must always follow our laws as precisely as possible; the more carefully we interpret the existing laws, the more just the decision. Another kind of legal thinking deals with justice in the abstract. It holds that, in every decision, one must compare common-sense justice to the approximate sketch of justice that is the legal system. The man in question did not commit any crime or harm anyone, so Sancho chooses to overlook the intricate law and invokes justice more abstractly: an innocent person does not deserve to die.
Themes
Truth and Lies Theme Icon
Literature, Realism, and Idealism Theme Icon
Intention and Consequence Theme Icon
Sancho eats a hearty lunch and then reads a letter from Don Quixote that contains more advice. Quixote tells Sancho to be clean, polite, ensure that his island has plenty of food, avoid creating too many laws, visit prisons and markets, and act virtuously. He alludes to his cat wounds and says that he wants to resume his travels shortly. Sancho dictates a reply in which he complains of exhaustion and hunger and describes some of his recent cases. After he finishes the letter, he spends the afternoon creating by-laws: he lowers the price of shoes, creates wage limits, establishes punishments for street noise, and creates many other laws that are still in use to this day.
Here, Sancho’s conduct as a governor is even better than Quixote’s advice. Sancho doesn’t simply content himself by resolving to be fair and create prosperity; he makes concrete and immediate changes. He tries to create greater equality in his community. And the novel commends him very highly for his efforts: his laws are considered so wise that they remain in effect, despite his illiteracy and the brevity of his term.
Themes
Literature, Realism, and Idealism Theme Icon
Intention and Consequence Theme Icon
Self-Invention, Class Identity, and Social Change Theme Icon