Miguel de Cervantes and his characters from Don Quixote

by Victor Grigore, Webphoto.ro

For some, this monument of Spanish literature is the best novel ever written. Even for our days, this creation of Cervantes from 1605 is strikingly modern, with wit and irony. The book is a parody of chivalric novels, popular at the time, but can be read either as an adventure or a meditation on our illusions. Another great writer, Dostoevsky, considered Don Quixote the most tragic character ever invented, for the contrast between his world of dreams and reality. 

To love is to idealize and every man who was ever in love saw in his loved one a princess like Dulcineea. Which only Don Quixote de la Mancha could see in the plain aspect of a peasant, Aldonsa Lorenzo. To realize otherwise would be a fall in the depths of tragedy.

Miguel Cervantes

The main character of the novel is a learned man that lost his minds from reading too many adventure novels. Thus he takes the pompous and ridiculous name of Don Quixote de la Mancha. (From a garment used to cover thighs.) Quixote proceeds to roam the world in search of fixing injustice on an old crock horse, Rosinante. He is accompanied by a chubby peasant, Sancho Panza, riding a donkey, that acts as his squire.

Quixote tempts the simple neighbor with promises of making him governor of an island that has to be conquered. The lazy Sancho immediately starts to fantasize about putting to work all the people of his island. Though an extremely practical fellow, more preoccupied with eating and earning a buck, Sancho seems to be contaminated by his master’s idealism or foolishness. It’s as if being a dreamer is contagious.

The relationship between the two main characters may have started as business partnership, but it ends by turning into one of the most powerful symbols of friendship and loyalty.

Don Quijote Sancho Panza

Books get Quixote to be delusional, in a way that later media got generations disconnected from reality, whether it was radio, cinema, TV, social networks, video games, smart phones or virtual reality. This makes the over four centuries old book an odd message from the past. For our hero, the images from books ignite his idealism and make him see dragons where windmills are, royals in inn keepers, princesses in maids cleaning a brothel. Reality is cruel to him and commoners don’t spare him the ridicule. But in a twist of irony, this seer of visions, looking beyond reality, seems to see better than those who are short sighted by only seeing the appearance of things. 

One of the most modernist touches by Cervantes is that in the second volume, which appeared a decade after, characters already know about the fame of Don Quixote from reading the first volume. And they are eager to play pranks on the lunatic just as he is flattered by his celebrity. It is a way of bringing life to fiction but also bringing literature to life.


The real life of Cervantes was spectacular. He was wounded in the left arm in the battle of Lepanto, the largest naval battle of Europeans against Ottoman Turks. Later he was taken as a slave on a galley and worked at the building of a mosque in Istanbul. 

He was also jailed for taking part in a duel and petty crimes. He tried various state and private jobs, including tax collector, but was rather poor most of the time. He only found time to write in his sixties, when he laid down most of his works.

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