Research and Academic Writing
This section of the Blog will include excerpts and reflections from third-year Research Projects and postgraduate dissertations. Please do get in touch with other ideas as well!
When we consume literature, can we be so immersed in it that we end up being consumed? This question and more specifically its affirmative answer is the starting point of the story of Miguel de Cervantes’s “Don Quijote”. Among other things, the author addresses the theme of literature and plays with the negative consequences it can have on its consumers.
Don Quijote, a poor inhabitant of the countryside, is so immersed in his chivalric romances that he comes to construct his own reality based on these inspirations. Thus, he cannot distinguish the real world any more and all his interactions are centred around his new identity as a knight who has the duty to save his beloved and help poor people who have suffered under unjust conditions along the way. Spread across more than 1000 pages and two parts, the reader witnesses his three journeys filled with peculiar adventures.
Although Don Quijote is trapped in his made-up world, many of the people he encounters play along with his story and thus make him even more confident in his consciousness about reality. This comical element contributes to the fading of the lines between appearance and reality. The character of Don Quijote himself is another constant element of comic relief throughout the plot: he is an old, frail man riding on ‘Rocinante’, his even more fragile and bony horse, and he is accompanied by his friend Sancho Panza whose last name is a reference to his big belly. The latter rides on a small donkey and helps Don Quijote through the sometimes dangerous situations his master puts them in.
The novel was published in 1605 and the second part appeared ten years after the first one, following the initial success of Quijote’s story. In this second part, Cervantes uses a truly modern and revolutionizing narrative technique for his time: the characters that the protagonist encounters in the second half have read his story and thus know of him. Thus, the author deeply interferes with what the reader can interpret as the reality of the plot and what Don Quijote makes out to be his own reality: in a way, the fictional plot becomes real throughout the novel.
The entire story, in addition to its timeline and its narrator(s), is also a rather complex matter: the narrator of the first part addresses the fact that the text is translated from the Arabic and makes numerous references to its original author Cide Hamete Benengeli. Moreover, in the second part, Don Quijote and Sancho Panza make remarks about the accuracy and faults they judge in the novel which has been published about them. Here, Cervantes, again, adds another layer of meaning by making in-text comments about what it means to write about other people, as well as what the act of translation truly entails.
To judge the poor old adventurer as mad based on his crazy beliefs and actions would be too simple and naïve of an assumption to make. In fact, his odyssey deals with numerous other deeper questions about real everyday life that make an analysis of the story a deeply complex one. Apart from being the first “modern” novel using the beforementioned narrative techniques, as well as the most famous piece of literature in the Spanish canon, it also proves to be a very funny read, making numerous ironic references to Spanish traditions, life and State affairs. So, in conclusion, the tale of Don Quijote and his friend Sancho Panza are part of an exciting and fantastically rich piece of literature which I would recommend to anyone looking for a funny and unconventional longer read. And who knows, maybe you will find yourself just as consumed by this novel like I was and like Don Quijote himself is in the beginning?
Laura Ruiz Viejobueno