The Duality Of Idealism And Realism In Don Quijote
In the search for truth different perspectives develop allowing for people to perceive things in a new light like never before. Personal justifications to each situation transform an objective approach to truth into a subjective one, and when truth is subjective it may also be deceptive. We all have our own truths, and when they encounter one another they create friction. When a person weighs their personal truth above that of others, they are often blinded from the whole, seeing only through particulars. As a result of this, what is believed as legitimate by one might not be by others. Fixated solely on one’s personal truth, that individual may be inclined to interpret the perspectives of others as invalid and inaccurate which begs the question; if truth is personalized, how can we be sure to distinguish reality from an internal opinion? At the heart of the novel, Don Quixote, is the struggle in the disparity between external appearance and subjectivity. The books of chivalry have left Don Quixote incapable of seeing “reality”, and caught in the blur between idealism vs reality, Don Quixote is not merely deluding himself, but he has subverted his physical senses leading him to believe his subjective truth is indeed, absolute.
The brains of Alonso Quijano dried up with too little sleep and too much reading, causing him to lose his mind. Immersing himself in the books of chivalry, his mind became so convinced of the truth of all the grandiloquent and false inventions he read that no history of the world was truer to him. Once Quijano’s mind was gone, he came up with an idea so strange that only a lunatic could come up with, and yet it was still rational and appropriate to him, “Both for the sake of his honor, and as a service to the nation, to become a knight errant and travel the world with his armor and his horse to seek adventures and engage in everything that he had read that knights engaged in, right all the manner of wrongs and, by seizing the opportunity and placing himself in danger and ending those wrongs, winning eternal renown and everlasting fame.” Alonso’s determination in becoming a knight errant was driven by his obsession with chivalry, the hopes of winning greater recognition and honour while serving the country, and righting wrongs to bring back The Golden Age; a time of peace, prosperity, and happiness. With the rise in destruction of harmony in this time period, the order of knights errant was instituted to defend maidens, protect widows, and come to the aid of orphans and those in need.
In choosing to partake in the famous history of chivalric knights, Don Quixote put his reading into practice and decided to establish a new identity as a knight errant. As he begun, Alonso Quijano first set out to obtain armour, and in cleaning that of which previously belonged to his great-grandfathers he was able to accomplish just that. Followed by this task, Alonso appointed the name Rocinante to his steed, as the name perfectly described a horse so intrinsically brilliant, noble, and sonorous. Having given his steed a name that appealed very much to his liking, Alonso decided to create one for himself and finally called himself Don Quixote. All that was left in the process of becoming a knight errant was to find a lady to love, “For the knight errant without a lady-love was a tree without leaves or fruit, a body without a soul.” Upon the discovery that in a nearby village resided a very attractive peasant girl with whom he was once in love, Aldonza Lorenzo, the gentleman Alonso Quijano now known as Don Quixote, designated her the name Dulcinea of Toboso, as he thought it was a good idea to declare her the lady of his thoughts. With these simple conditions being met to distinguish himself as a knight errant, Don Quixote embarked on his journey that would be dictated by suggestions of his active imagination. Already losing his sanity through the transition from reality into a fantasy world, Don Quixote saw through this imagination what he did not see and what did not exist.
As Don Quixote stumbled upon a modest inn shortly after commencing his trip, the first of many transformations of reality was revealed to the reader. The inn is not merely an inn for Quixote, but a splendid castle, and the innkeeper held the status of a lord. Quixote states, “I expected no less of thy great magnificence, my lord…That this night in the chapel of thy castle I will keep vigil over my armor.” Those who were perceived as monotonous and of little significance, were now recognized as remarkable individuals of great importance. A title of royalty was granted to the innkeeper, who even admitted himself that he has not had the most respectable past. Quixote even does so much as to recognize the prostitutes as women, something that in early 17th Spain was unheard of. The prostitutes themselves were in disbelief of being recognized as people, “The women looked at him, directing their eyes to his face, hidden by the imitation visor, but when they heard themselves called maidens, something so alien to their profession, they could not control their laughter.” The majority of characters in the novel refer to an objective truth, but Quixote takes a subjective truth, as it is Don Quixote whose physical senses have subverted him into believing things to be different from what they truly are. Losing his mind has interfered with Quixote’s ability to make clear observations, often leading to conclusions in extremes more often than not viewing things in a positive light. Despite the characters in the inn announcing themselves through a humble status, Don Quixote’s insistence of them pertaining to a higher social class than they are convinces them of his inability to make proper judgements, even more evident through his actions of attacking the muleteers for no justifiable reason.
When individuals hold their own truths, these truths collide and cause friction. In defining truth, one may turn their attention to truthfulness as corresponding to objective external reality or to subjective internal experience. Don Quixote from his first encounter with others in his quest to restoring The Golden Age, exhibits this duality of truth as he sees subjectively through his fantasies and not objectively as everybody else seems to. The freedom in what to believe in the novel raises concern in the discussion between the binary opposites of idealism vs reality. Presented the choice of what can be discerned as real or fake, the novel reveals multiple layers of possibilities that may hold truth; Don Quixote’s subjective truth, Sancho’s objective truth, both perspectives as true, or neither.
Dulcinea exists as a powerful fantasy in Don Quixote’s mind immersing him deeper into his idea of a present-day chivalric world. The lengths that Don Quixote goes to prove his faithfulness and adherence to Dulcinea is shown as he constantly finds himself in situations unnecessarily picking fights to guard her honour, “Halt, all of you, unless all of you confess that in the entire world there is no damsel more beauteous than the empress of La Mancha, the peerless Dulcinea of Toboso,” All these actions take place, despite the fact that Dulcinea never truly making an appearance in the novel. Dulcinea may represent everything a man may idealize in a woman, but she is not a real person, she is a romanticised version of Aldonza Lorenzo. As Quixote consistently talks of lady fair with high distinction, it is understandable how it takes Sancho Panza nearly half of the novel to realize Quixote perceives Aldonza and Dulcinea as the same person, as the girl whose, “Beauty is supernatural, for in it one finds the reality of all the impossible and chimerical aspects of beauty”, is the same person Sancho knows who, “Can throw a metal bar just as well as the brawniest lad in the village.” Dulcinea is the product of her distorted perceptions. She is respected and revered, but she can never achieve the standards of perfection which Don Quixote endowed on her. On one hand, Don Quixote’s love is perceived as a peasant girl, while on the other she is a beautiful princess blessed with every possible feminine virtue. While being existent and non-existent at the same time, Don Quixote is convinced enough that Dulcinea is real and beautiful simply through the fact that he depicts her to be so in his imagination. When Dulcinea’s identity is questioned, Don Quixote insists that it is the work of wicked enchanters that have transformed his picturesque woman into a peasant – he refuses to accept an absolute truth and relies on his subjective beliefs that have been altered by his insanity.
The transition from Book 1 to Book 2 in the novel, is one that moved from enchantment to disillusionment. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza’s actions are influenced by the knowledge of knowing their placement as characters within a book, and no longer is Quixote creating fantasy writing his own story, but the fantasy is created for him from his past experiences in Book 1. Quixote’s sally to the Cave of Montesinos is the first experience in which the reader cannot go on the adventure with him, placing heavy importance on trust as its unclear whether or not Quixote is dreaming or sleeping. In this underworld sequence, Don Quixote allows himself to explore his subconscious desires and motivations. In the progression toward disillusionment is a blur in distinguishing what is real and what is fake, as real life appears to be encroaching with fantasy. Don Quixote’s encounters with different people spent in the time adventuring through his subconscious led him to the search for an objective truth; as he began to become uncertain of what to believe. Quixote gets a reality check when Montesinos shows him the still-living Durandarte, whose dying wish was for Montesinos to deliver his heart as a present to his mistress Belerma, she is aged and not staying beautiful and her experience of menopause goes on to suggest her morality, “Her sallow complexion and deep circles arise not from the monthly distress common in women, because for many months, even years, she has not had it nor has it appeared at her portals.”
The heart having salt on it signified reality and fantasy being forged together, and issue of bodily decay since the fantasy world alone would not likely have the need for it to be preserved. Quixote’s encounter with Dulcinea allows for a moment in which he may compare his idealistic perceptions of her against the reality, “I spoke to hear, but she did not say a word to me; instead, she turned her back and ran away so quickly,” Proclaiming his good deeds in honour of Dulcinea as he ventured out to right all the wrongs in the world, his interaction with her did not meet his expectations. Quixote no longer has a firm standpoint in what he should believe. In this experience of the transformation of truth, external appearance is working to separate itself from subjectivity by the defying notions and signifiers in which Don Quixote formed his beliefs about the fantasy world.
Throughout the course of the novel, there is a “quixoitification” of Sancho and a “sanchofication” of Don Quixote. When time goes by Don Quixote begins to question an increasing number of things, and Sancho continues to believe in the world of the knights-errant. The duality of truth through means of idealism vs reality has completely shifted, as each of these two on the alternative lens to what they started off perceiving truth through. Through being “quixotified” Sancho has submerged into the realm of imagination and being “sanchofied”, Don Quixote has taken a central route approach to situations questioning the very nature in the way things are presented and exist. As the story concludes, the two are switching their positions and roles. Don Quixote becomes the realist who accepts as folly the things he has done, and Sancho becomes the idealistic one who seeks to persuade his master to return to fantasy. Their opposite natures have sourced their alterations of personality, but overall negatively affected them. The return to reality for Don Quixote and attempts to remain a knight by staying true to their values, causes him to die. Sancho is also the one adversely affected by proceeding back to reality. He could not comfortably reconcile his imaginary world with Don Quixote’s death; he lived with Don Quixote, and Don Quixote was an essential source to making the dream world one that portrayed itself as authentic.
Don Quixote is not just a novel about how Don Quixote perceives the world, but also about how other characters perceive Don Quixote. As we all hold our own truths, it is when thrusting them upon one another that friction is created, and disruption occurs. Don Quixote constrains those around him to make the choice to adapt to or oppose his imaginary world. Don Quixote finds that the world around him appears to lack honour and chivalry in comparison with the romances he is addicted to reading, and he is driven to create his own reality, his own truth. Don Quixote constructs an imaginative, ideal society for himself in the world around him. In the world of others, Don Quixote may just be insane, but in his own world, he is a knight errant on a mission to right all the wrongs in the world.
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