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, gallantry, and courage, and as an opportunity for social change on a large scale; Sancho sees a world filled with detail, with sounds, smells, and textures, and as an opportunity to eat well and sleep deeply. Quixote is tall and skinny, a stereotypical dreamer, while Sancho is squat and round, a bit of a glutton, a lover of earthly things. Quixote tries to fit the world into a set of pre-determined rules, while Sancho faces each event on its own terms.
In parallel with this philosophical scenario, the novel engages with notions of literary realism. The novel as a whole mocks the absurdities, omissions, and general failures of realism in chivalry novels, because its premise is a character who tries to live in the world as though chivalry novels were perfectly realistic. Quixote’s endless difficulties and humiliations can be traced to the failures of realism in chivalry tales. But though the narrator acknowledges that chivalry tales are unrealistic, he also makes fun of characters who believe that literature should be realistic exclusively. The priest, especially, is the target of this mockery. The priest’s conversations with the canon and with the innkeeper show that any one person’s attempt to define realism in literature will necessarily fail to be objective, and will instead reflect that person’s private vision of the world. The narrator’s disdain for the priest’s ideas of literary realism is also a rejection of philosophical realism. These realisms don’t take into account the one consistent truth of the novel – the idea that the world is a collection of different perspectives.
Yet the narrator does not come out squarely on one side or the other; the world he creates is tangled, and gives no easy answers. Like public and private truth, realism and idealism must ultimately be integrated, until the difference between them almost disappears. Quixote and Sancho do not remain stereotypes, with distinct sets of qualities: they grow out of their stereotypes into more complete human beings.
Literature, Realism, and Idealism ThemeTracker
Literature, Realism, and Idealism Quotes in Don Quixote
And to what can my barren and ill-cultivated mind give birth except the history of a dry, shriveled child, whimsical and full of extravagant fancies that nobody else has ever imagined – a child born, after all, in prison, where every discomfort has its seat and every dismal sound its habitation?
… from beginning to end [the book] is an invective against books of chivalry ... All that has to be done is to make the best use of imitation in what one writes.
In short, our hidalgo was soon so absorbed in these books that his nights were spent reading from dusk till dawn, and his days from dawn till dusk, until the lack of sleep the excess of reading withered his brain, and he went mad. … The idea that this whole fabric of famous fabrications was real so established itself in his mind that no history in the world was truer for him.
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.
But Don Quixote was so convinced that they were giants that he neither heard his squire Sancho’s shouts nor saw what stood in front of him.
… historians should and must be precise, truthful and unprejudiced, without allowing self-interest or fear, hostility or affection, to turn them away from the path of truth, whose mother is history.
… for in those very many [histories] that I have read, I have not found any mention of knights errant eating, except when it happened that some sumptuous banquet was held for them, but otherwise they used to live on next to nothing.
…wondering whether the beating was dishonorable or not doesn’t bother me in the slightest – all that does bother me is the pain of those staff-blows.
…Cide Mahamate Benengeli was a careful and meticulous historian, something that’s obvious enough, for he refused to pass in silence over the happenings related so far, even though they’re so petty and trivial.
And the poor hidalgo was so besotted that neither touch nor smell nor any of the good maiden’s other attributes could make him notice his mistake, even though they’d have made anyone but a muleteer vomit.
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.
What a string of absurdities you have come out with now, Sancho! What connection is there between what we are discussing and all those proverbs you have just threaded together?
…whatever I have done, am doing, and shall do is totally reasonable and in conformity with the rules of chivalry.
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.
That’s the kind of love… that I’ve heard in sermons we’re supposed to feel for our Lord – for his own sake, without being moved by hopes of glory or fears of punishment. Though I must say I’d prefer to love him for what he can do for me.
I don’t understand how that can be so, because to my mind there isn’t a better read anywhere in the world … at harvest time, you see, lots of the reapers come in here on rest-days, and there are always some who can read, and one of them picks up one of these books, and more than thirty of us gather around him, and we enjoy listening to it so much that it takes all our worries away.
A good woman is also like a mirror of clear, shining glass, but any breath that touches this mirror will cloud and dim it. She should be treated like a holy relic, adored but not touched.
This peace is the true goal of war.
It is possible that, since you have not been knighted, as I have, the enchantments in this place do not affect you, and that your understanding is unclouded, and that you can form judgments about the affairs of the castle as they really and truly are, rather than as they appeared to me.
But one man had been plunged into the deepest depths of despair, and that was the barber, whose basin, there before his very eyes, had turned into Mambrino’s helmet, and whose pack-saddle, he was very sure, was about to turn into the splendid caparisons of some handsome steed.
Yet maybe the chivalry and the enchanting of these times of ours follow different paths from those of earlier days.
And even though the main point of such books is to amuse, I don’t know how they can succeed when they’re full of so many monstrous absurdities, because the soul can only take delight in the beauty and harmony that it sees or contemplates in what the eyes or the imagination places before it, and nothing than contains ugliness or disorder can give any pleasure.
…whereas drama should, as Cicero puts it, be a mirror of human life, an exemplar of customs and an image of truth, there modern plays are just mirrors of absurdity, exemplars of folly and images of lewdness.
… enchantment can take many different forms, and it could be that these have changed in the course of time, so that what happens nowadays is that the enchanted do all the things that I do, even though formerly they did not. So one cannot either argue against the customs of the times, or draw any conclusions from them.
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.
We shall soon see where this great fabric of absurdities leaves this knight and this squire – anyone would think they’d been made in the same mold, and that the madness of the master wouldn’t be worth a farthing without the foolishness of the man.
… the envy that some evil enchanter must feel for all my affairs transforms all things that can give me pleasure into shapes quite unlike their real ones; and so I fear that if perchance the author of the history of my exploits that is said to be in print is some hostile sage, he has no doubt altered everything, mingling a thousand lies with one truth.
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.
Look here, you heretic: have I not told you over and over again that in all the days of my life I have never seen the peerless Dulcinea, and have never crossed the threshold of her palace, and am enamoured only by hearsay of her fame as a beautiful and intelligent lady?
On my faith as a knight errant… when I saw this cart I imagined that it heralded some great adventure, and now I do declare that appearances must be examined closely to discover the hidden truth.
[Knight-errantry] is a subject … that contains within itself all or most of the other subjects in the world.
…the ploy of these enchanters who pursue me is to place before my eyes things as they are, and then change them into what they want them to be.
An ass you are, an ass you will remain and an ass you will still be when you end your days on this earth, and it is my belief that when you come to breathe your last you still will not have grasped the fact that you are an animal.
Although they look like water-mils, that is not what they are: I have already told you that enchantments transfigure al things and deprive them of their natural forms. I don’t mean to say that they really convert them from one thing into another, but that it seems as if they do.
In this adventure two mighty enchanters must have clashed headlong, and one of them impedes whatever the other attempts: one provided me with the boat, the other knocked me out of it. May God send a remedy; for everything in this world is trickery, stage machinery, every part of it working against every other part. I have done all I can.
…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.
I consider it a good omen, my friends, to have seen what I have just seen, because these saintly knights professed, as I myself profess, the exercise of arms; but the difference between them and me is that they were saints, and fought in the manner of angels, and I am a sinner, and fight in the manner of men.
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.
I say it was an inn because that’s what Don Quixote called it, contrary to his habit of calling all inns castles.
And yet it seems to me that translating from one language into another, except from those queens of languages, Greek and Latin, is like viewing Flemish tapestries from the wrong side, when, although one can make out the figures, they are covered by threads that obscure them, and one cannot appreciate the smooth finish of the right side.
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.
… the treasures of knights errant are like fairy gold, false and illusory.
They dismounted at an inn, which Don Quixote recognized as such and not as a castle with its deep moat, towers, portcullises and drawbridge; because now that he’d been defeated his judgment on all subjects was sounder, as will soon be shown.
My mind has been restored to me, and it is now clear and free, without those gloomy shadows of ignorance cast over me by my wretched, obsessive reading of those detestable books of chivalry. Now I can recognize their absurdity and their deceitfulness, and my only regret is that this discovery has come so late that it leaves me no time to make amends by reading other books that might be a light for my soul.
You must congratulate me, my good sirs, because I am no longer Don Quixote de la Mancha but Alonso Quixano, for whom my way of life earned me the nickname of “the Good”. I am now the enemy of Amadis of Gaul and the whole infinite horde or his descendants; now all those profane histories of knight-errantry are odious to me; now I acknowledge my folly and the peril in which I was placed by reading them; now, by God’s mercy, having at long last learned my lesson, I abominate them all.