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…