In my buddy read of Don Quixote with Emma of Words and Peace, we’ve not kept up with the chapter a day pace, but that’s okay; we’re determined to keep going anyway. I’ve made it to chapter 37 of 74, halfway through Part II, so it seems like a good time for a check-in.
When I started I had wondered whether this half of the book — really Book Two of a two-book series — would stay focused on the adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, or wander into multiple digressions and interpolated tales like Part One. So far, there have been no such interruptions, and that makes for quite a different reading experience. In fact, this part is even more strongly centered on Quixote, as it is based on the premise that the first part of his adventures was published and now he is a famous character. Many of the people he meets know about him and his madness, and either react with compassionate tolerance or with a less kind wish to use him for their own amusement.
This gives a new layer to Cervantes’s commentary on human nature, its folly and its cruelty as well as the possible potential for true nobility. It highlights even more the importance of the stories we tell ourselves, and the relationship between life and narrative. I can see why this novel is considered the foundation of modern literature, which has moved us toward a more complex understanding of self and world than in past ages, frequently leaving us in a state of confusion. In his playing with perspective, consciousness, and multiple realities, Cervantes challenges us to find a new standpoint from which to evaluate our experience. That’s the real “knightly quest,” I feel.
At the point I’ve reached now, we’re in the middle of an elaborate deception perpetrated by a lord Quixote has met along the way. He’s encouraging the self-anointed knight errant in his whims and creating illusory enchantments to egg him on. Particularly, there is the promise that Quixote’s beloved Dulcinea will be released from the spell making her an ugly peasant woman — if Sancho will beat himself to a pulp.
Since Sancho himself encouraged Quixote to believe in this spell, is this perhaps a just punishment? He could break up the whole deception by simply telling the truth, but the lure of his promised governorship keeps him caught in the trap of his own making, and increasingly unsure what is real and what isn’t. The web of untruth and self-interest is growing ever more tangled, and one wonders if there can ever be a way out. But the journey shall continue…
6 thoughts on “Don Quixote, Part II: Halfway through”
So good to get an update! You’re spot on, the second half is a lot more focused than the first, and I loved the meta way that Cervantes actually referenced that in the opening passages. I know everyone comes to this book for the humour, but I actually found it really heartbreaking the way that Quixote was received – here’s a man with a delusional disorder, and probably some other mental health issues going on, and everyone in his life just kind of… humours him? Even his best friend barely tries to help. 😥 But loving seeing your progress, keep going! You can do it!
I know, their treatment of him is unbelievably cruel sometimes. But he can be very selfish and inconsiderate as well! It’s all about the mess of being human, I think, and how noble ideals come into conflict with reality. Anyway, thanks for the support, we are getting there. 🙂
I’m really impressed that you are not only sticking with this read but able to write such an insightful, thoughtful post and not just slogging through. I really don’t know that I could read it without a buddy and a blog. My hat is off to you, and you’re inspiring me to maybe reconsider scratching it off my TBR list.
Thanks! I don’t think I would have gotten through without a blog either. The encouragement really helps.
Awesome post, with super analysis. Here are my humble notes and reflections:
On Chapters 21-37
Sancho Panza’s character strikes me more and more. He can now openly show his feelings. He is vexed and dejected at the end of Chapter 21.
And he can be very plain about what he thinks: “I hold my master Don Quixote to be stark mad” (chapter 33).
This makes his relationship with his master sometimes more tenses. DQ even gets mad at him in chapter 28.
He can also very realist, like here in chapter 28:
“I would do a great deal better, I say, to go home to my wife and children and support them and bring them up on what God may please to give me, instead of following your worship along roads that lead nowhere and paths that are none at all, with little to drink and less to eat.” But will he ever act on it?
Sancho sometimes shows to be very smart, and some of his plays with words can reveal stupidity or real craft. I love this thing on Ptolemy: “putrid Dolly something transmogrified” (chapter 29). Kudos to the translator!!
I found chapter 21 to be totally hilarious, with the long discourse of one on the point of dying, the trick, the acceptance of the bridegroom, and the disappointment of Sancho for the festivities he missed!
I enjoy some snippets of wisdom, even though some readers may think this is just over the top and just plain hilarious or ridiculous. For instance:
“it was the opinion of a certain sage, I know not whom, that there was not more than one good woman in the whole world; and his advice was that each one should think and believe that this one good woman was his own wife, and in this way he would live happy” (Chapter 22).
I’m not too sure what to make of Chapter 23. A mix with Roncevaux and Merlin? sounds almost like Gulliver’s adventures. What’ s the point? It’s not presented as if DQ was making it up. Like a trance? A religious experience?
I’d like to go back to my question, what’s the point? The more I read this book, the more I’m confused about its deep meaning. I can see how funny it is, but I also feel I’m missing what’s really the goal of the author. So it sounds I sure also read some deeper studies on the work to fully appreciate it. Thanks Lory, for commenting on these chapters at a deeper level, and shading great light, as if you had read my questions ahead!
There are definitely passages criticizing the rulers, like this one in chapter 32: “there are a hundred round about us that scarcely know how to read, and govern like gerfalcons”.
In this same chapter 23, we are reaching some point beyond return for DQ: he is now so deluded that he even thinks he sees and touches what has been nourishing his imagination. His delusion is not just mental, it has invaded his very senses. Though chapter 24 gives a special light on this evolution, by adding, “though certain it is they say that at the time of his death he retracted, and said he had invented it, thinking it matched and tallied with the adventures he had read of in his histories.”
And in chapter 31: “this was the first time that he thoroughly felt and believed himself to be a knight-errant in reality.” Though he also admits living it to the extreme: “everything or almost everything that happens me transcends the ordinary limits of what happens to other knights-errant” (chapter 32)
Reflecting the interest of the times in Europe, there’s a good amount of presence of ‘exotic animals’. We had a lion, a bear, and now an ape (chapter 25).
All along, we have DQ seeing no difference between the novels he read and his own life as a knight. He crosses the border between literature and life even further in chapter 26, as he forgets what he sees is not for real, but a play: “Don Quixote, however, seeing such a swarm of Moors and hearing such a din, thought it would be right to aid the fugitives, and standing up he exclaimed in a loud voice…”
As usual, the explanation he gives later about it is of having been fooled by enchantments.
The end of chapter 26 shows DQ as being very generous, and rich. Indeed, how was able to stay away, and what does he live on? I forgot, does the author ever explain where DQ’s wealth is coming from? Is there a critique here of how rich people of his time are living in useless purposes, far from reality?
“Heart of butter-past” (chapter 29): I should have made the list of all the hilarious insults!
I noticed that statement about this being the first time DQ thought he was really a knight errant and it puzzled me. What was he doing before? Was he only semi-deluded and now he’s become completely mad?
The question “What’s the point?” has also occurred to me. As I said in my post about Part I, I do not think that Cervantes is great at consciously shaping his narrative in the way I’ve become accustomed to in novels. He’s always throwing in red herrings, twists or incidents he then seems to get bored of and abandon. It would be good to read what others have said, but to me the book is like a big mess of interesting, provocative material that could use more editing. I can see how it was groundbreaking and influential, and hilarious at times, but artistically there are lots of other novels I find more satisfying.
However, I love Sancho! By the part I’ve gotten to now, I find him the real hero of the story. Let’s talk about why next time.