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.
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.
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.
…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.
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.
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.
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.
…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.