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 of Quixote’s madness – his rigid principles, his obsession with knighthood – are also peculiarities. The priest and the barber, who persecute Quixote in the guise of well-wishers trying to restore his sanity, are simply trying to stamp out his unsettling peculiarity. They are conducting a witch-hunt in the timeless manner of narrow-minded people threatened by strangeness.
Quixote’s madness is ambiguous and paradoxical, because he both and does not see; he sees the giants in his imagination, but he does not hallucinate giants in the world outside. His madness consists in his trusting his imagination over his perception, and his imagination is captivated by the values of chivalry books. His madness is a state of thrall to a coherent imagined world. But in the course of his adventures, that world loses its coherence: it is shaken by internal inconsistencies and by the world’s complications and contradictions. When Quixote declares on his deathbed that he is finally sane, he means that the imagined world has lost its grip on him, and he is left with a chilling blankness that cannot sustain him.
Madness and Sanity ThemeTracker
Madness and Sanity 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?
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.
And since whatever our adventurer thought, saw, or imagined seemed to him to be as it was in the books he’d read, as soon as he saw the inn he took it for a castle with its four towers and their spires of shining silver.
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.
…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.
…he sometimes thought [Quixote] sane and sometimes mad, because what he said was coherent, elegant and well expressed, and what he did was absurd, foolhardy and stupid.
I cannot bring myself to believe that everything recorded in this chapter happened to the brave Don Quixote exactly as described… Yet I can’t believe that Don Quixote was lying, because he was the most honest hidalgo and the noblest knight of his time: he couldn’t have told a lie to save himself from being executed. … so I merely record it, without affirming either that it is false or that it is true.
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.