sociocultural Relevance of ‘Don Quixote’
The novel “Don Quixote” discusses the adventures of Don Quixote, whose true name is Alonso Quixano. As Don Quixote, Alonso Quixano pursued his adventures of rescuing “princesses in distress” and in helping out the peasants and poor people of La Mancha. However, what is remarkable in the novel’s story is that instead of princesses, Don Quixote manages to save women that are far from the image of a princess, and he even sometimes helps people who are actually outlaws and thieves, which is actually a contradiction of his own concept of chivalry. In effect, Don Quixote is the anti-thesis of the usual image of chivalrous knights, and this is actually a point made by Cervantes, that is, that the common notion of chivalry and image of “knights in shining armor” are hardly the case in reality. Apart from this criticism of the romanticized, detached view of the world, Cervantes also gives a criticism of the social reality in the European society, particularly in the Spanish society, wherein social stratification is high, and there is a clear distinction between the higher and the lower classes of the society.
One good example of such criticism can be found in Chapters 69-71 of the Second Volume of “Don Quixote.” In the said chapters, Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza arrive at the court of the Duke and Duchess and bear witness to the funeral of Altisidora. Altisidora is said to be a female servant of the royal couple who loved Don Quixote so much, but this love was never reciprocated by Don Quixote, who loves Dulcinea (his imagined lover) so much. The Duke and Duchess declare that Altisidora will be spared from death, that is, she will live again, if and only if Don Quixote will allow Sancho Panza to be slapped and pricked by the Duchess’ female servants. Because of the great responsibility that was given to him, and amazed of the fact that Sancho Panza has the power to return the dead from the living again, he consented to the Duchess and Duke’s appeal after conferring and pleading with Sancho. However, all that had occurred in the Duke and Duchess’ court was only a deception and was conceived by the royal couple to fool and make fun of both Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. After the ‘required punishment’ was made to Sancho, Altisidora miraculously was brought back to life, illustrating the truth that she had been alive after all.
The Duke and Duchess’ deception of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza shows us the dichotomy between the higher (the royal couple) and the lower (Don Quixote and Sancho) class in their society. The fact that the royal couple fooled the two men into thinking that they are the cause of Altisidora’s death and they can bring her back to life only emphasizes that the royal couple (and in effect, the higher class) think that lower class people like Sancho and Alonso (Quixano) can be easily deceived because they know nothing better. Such a foolery act on the part of the royal couple reflects the social status of the lower class in the society: uneducated and foolish people, who are not deserving of the respect and honor that the royal couple are given, all because of their poverty and poor lineage. However, we as readers see far more than that; in fact, the ploy made by the royal couple is Cervantes’ criticism of the higher class of the society. Despite their noble lineage and education, they lack the honor and even the integrity to respect and treat other people, poor or rich, noble or peasant, fairly. These chapters show us that the present society Cervantes lives in can be used as an analogy to Don Quixote’s ‘insanity’ of his imaginary adventures: that the noble royal couple (higher class of the society) is a mockery and only an ‘illusion’ to their true selves, selfish and self- righteous people who look down on people (lower class of the society) whom they think of as fools only because they lacked the proper education and respect that they needed to achieve in their society in order to be honored and respected. The Parallelisms between the unreal adventures of Don Quixote can be compared in similarity with the somewhat unreal honor and integrity that the higher class of people in La Manchan society has. Thus, “Don Quixote” serves as a reflection of the Spanish society, and how the higher- and lower- class of the society treat each other, with a more condescending view of the higher class, who think that their social status is an excuse for them to abuse and make fun of the poor people in their society.
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