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 of truth in ways that align closely with the philosophical trends of the Enlightenment.
An observation can be called ‘true’ in at least two ways. Its truthfulness can lie either in its correspondence to objective external reality, or in its correspondence to subjective inner experience. Most characters in the novel refer to the former version of truth, while Quixote and Sancho usually refer to the latter. The first kind of truth is a collective truth, validated by shared experience. If we all see and experience an object in the same way, then it is true that the object exists, and that it possesses the qualities we’ve all observed. The second kind of truth is more private, and it is validated only by its resonance with the observer’s imagination and worldview.
Cervantes satirizes the objective, collective kind of truth in the episode with barber 2, who comes to believe that his saddle and basin are something other than what he sees simply because the people around him have defined them otherwise. The episode shows that the supposedly objective collective reality is actually subject to strange, willful transformations. Cervantes also satirizes that sort of truth in his portrayals of narrow-minded characters with stubborn, myopic ideas. The alternative, imaginative kind of truth, which varies from person to person, finds its main spokesperson in Quixote. For Quixote, chivalry stories are true because people believe in them, not the reverse. He describes truth as something palpable and sustaining, a kind of imaginative warmth and brightness. And he believes that truth is something to aspire to, a vision of the world as it should be.
But the book doesn’t simply describe the victory of private truth over collective truth – it is much more ambivalent and complicated. The two kinds of truth create increasing tension in Quixote’s imagination, because he finds that living only by private truth is painful, inconvenient, and occasionally unethical. The breaking point, for Quixote, comes just after his encounter with the troupe of actors, when he admits to Sancho that one must look past appearance to find truth – this time, he means collective, objective truth. Quixote tries and fails to reconcile the two kinds of truth, and his failure leads to the novel’s tragic end.
Truth and Lies ThemeTracker
Truth and Lies Quotes in Don Quixote
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 not the responsibility of knights errant to discover whether the afflicted, the enchained, and the oppressed whom they encounter on the road are reduced to these circumstances and suffer their distress for the vices, or for their virtues: the knight’s sole responsibility is to succor them as people in need, having eyes only for their sufferings, not for their misdeeds.
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.
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.
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.
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.
…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.
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.