Don Quixote

Don Quixote

Themes and Colors
Truth and Lies Theme Icon
Literature, Realism, and Idealism Theme Icon
Madness and Sanity Theme Icon
Intention and Consequence Theme Icon
Self-Invention, Class Identity, and Social Change Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Don Quixote, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

At the heart of Quixote’s disagreement with the world around him is the question of truth in chivalry books. His niece and housekeeper, his friends the barber and the priest, and most other people he encounters in his travels tell Quixote that chivalry romances are full of lies. Over and over again, Quixote struggles to defend the truthfulness of the stories he loves. In that struggle, he begins to redefine conventional notions…

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In the first half of the novel, Quixote and Sancho seem like caricatures of idealism and realism. Philosophical idealism holds that reality is primarily a set of ideas, private mental constructs; political idealism holds that ideas can meaningfully transform the human world. Philosophical realism holds that reality is primarily material, and that its qualities exist independently of human perception and interpretation. Quixote sees the world around him as a set of beliefs about honor, goodness…

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Quixote is considered insane because he “see[s] in his imagination what he didn’t see and what didn’t exist.” He has a set of chivalry-themed hallucinations. But then, they are not quite hallucinations, which by definition occur without any external stimulus. They are distorted perceptions of real objects and events. To see giants instead of windmills is, in a way, just a very peculiar interpretation of large, vaguely threatening objects in motion. And many other instances…

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For Quixote, gaps between intention and consequence mark the failures of the chivalric way of life. Quixote tries to help others by following the elaborate conventions outlined in chivalry novels, but his efforts often backfire – most obviously in the episode with the shepherd boy, who is beaten even more severely after Quixote intervenes. The first few times Quixote’s efforts backfire, he defends his actions by claiming, in effect, that intention is more important…

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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…

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