I posted a while ago about the death of Don Quixote, which I thought worthy of thought. Interestingly enough those who read and commented on the post tended to focus on Quixote’s life. In that regard, I struck out, though I can understand that Quixote’s life was wonderful and worth pondering in itself. The notion of Don Quixote, a middle-aged man garbed in make-shift armor riding through the Spanish countryside on a sway-back nag alongside the indomitable Sancho Panza — the idealist alongside the man of practical good sense — is fascinating, as are the adventures they encounter along the way.
The novel is interesting for so many reasons, and has so many possibilities, that it allows for a great many interpretations and has spoken to countless generations since its first appearance in the 17th century. But one thing seems assured, and that is that Cervantes was saying a sad good-bye to an age in which chivalry was alive, men worried about glory and honor, factories were aborning (though technically the first factory, a water-powered silk mill in Derby didn’t start up until a century after Cervantes’ death), and warfare was becoming mechanized. This last fact was a strong motivator for the novel, most critics insist, as Cervantes, while a soldier, was wounded in the arm by a bullet, an injury that rendered his arm nearly useless for the rest of his life. He seemed to prefer the notion that, as a soldier, the wounding and killing ought to be done man-to-man — not at distance. What would he think of the drones that are controlled thousands of miles away and kill hundreds of “enemies,” including innocent people, while the operator eats a Big Mac and an order of fries in his comfortable chair in Kansas somewhere manipulating joy sticks as he looks at a television screen?
In any event, the death of the idealist is the interesting thing I was asking my readers to ponder. What does it mean to the rest of us?
The Knight of the White Moon (Samson Carrasco) and Don Quixote agreed at the outset that the winner of a joust between the two of them would mean the the loser must acknowledge the greater beauty of the winner’s beloved. They also agreed that Don Quixote would give up the life of the knight errant for a year “or until whatever intervening date I may direct.” Upon being hurled from his nag by the Knight of the White Moon’s superior horse, Don Quixote refused to allow that Dulcinea was not the most beautiful women in the world and his victor allowed that concession because the real point was to make sure Don Quixote went home and settled down, leave off knight-hooding, as it were. This Quixote agreed to do. It is this sad event that is significant, which drew comments both within the novel and from people like Heine and Dostoevsky many years later.
The idealism of youth must always, it seems, give way to the common sense of middle-age and the cynicism of old age. Don Quixote steps aside in the Third Sally and watches as Sancho Panza, the embodiment of commonsense, governs his “island” — a small village he is sent to “govern” by the wealthy Don Antonio Morena as a joke. In doing this, Sancho exhibits the wisdom of Solomon and the good sense that Quixote obviously lacks. Sancho is becoming more like Quixote and vice versa. In any event, the idealism of Don Quixote affects those around him and when he is defeated the light goes out in the eyes of those who saw him as funny, to be sure, but also heroic in his blind determination to do the right thing.
Today’s heroes wear camouflage and go off to battle for the corporations, or they wear padding and smash heads with one another on a football field. They seldom exhibit the idealism that motivated Don Quixote in their determination to simply follow orders or struggle to increase their already obscene incomes. It is the death of idealism, the death of the joy the man finds in the world around him, the death of the imagination that can see in a barber’s basin the helmet of Mambrino, the death of a courage that stems from an adoration of beauty and goodness, it is these deaths that folks like Heine and Dostoevsky lament. It is the death of Don Quixote that should make us take stock and think again about what is and what is not truly important.
Your final paragraph is a beautiful one, Hugh, even if it’s a sobering one. I especially appreciated what started here: ” It is the death of idealism, the death of the joy the man finds in the world around him, the death ”
It must be particularly hard for you to witness the continued ‘crumbling’ of our society.
I also appreciated your opening statement, and that you ‘struck out.’ I chuckled just a bit when I read that!
May this week bring good news to all, and not so much of the negative kind.
Sometimes you write these things and they don’t seem to get across. When that happens I scratch my head and go back to the drawing board! Thanks for the comment and, yes, it is hard. Old folks like to think things were better “back in the day” and it’s a bit of a joke among the young. But it really was better back in the day. The inmates have left the asylum and are running the show!
That’s what I loved about Jama when I first arrived; it was like stepping back in time. People still did a lot of work ‘by hand’ – and ‘so what’ if it took all day to chisel precise ‘fittings’ in a slab of wood that would become part of the stairs? It cost little to meet basic needs, and at the end of each work day, one could look back and feel as if they accomplished a lot. Many people walked or rode bicycles, not for health – but because they had no other forms of transportation. They care about a stranger’s presence and are curious, ‘Where are you from? What do you find of interest here? Why here? ‘
Now that technology is catching up, more people have phones, televisions, etc, and they ‘see’ what they think is progress and want it. They see tourists with expensive shoes and fancy gadgets and they want them too – of course they do.. Now if you walk through town, people still have little and some have even less.. but they have phones and many times their faces are glued to the phone – and they often miss what’s happening six feet away from them. they haven’t lost that core goodness, but the times, they are a’changin…
Sad. But I suppose it is inevitable…
I do not believe that idealism is dead … it simply cannot be heard well over the racket of the voices of greed and corruption. And idealism fights battles today that are far uglier in nature than the one Quixote fought against the Knight of the White Moon. But idealism is still alive, and that is why there are some barriers between what our society is and one that is completely hedonistic. My thoughts only …
It may not be dead but it is dying. I once thought the new generations would show us the way, since idealism is the prerogative of the young. But a recent news clip of a student being interviewed after a night of partying on a Florida beach during Sp[ring Break made me wonder. He was asked who was going to clean up the mess they had left behind — spread out as far as the eye could see — because the tide was about to come in. His response was “It’s a large ocean.” Anecdote? Our typical?? I do wonder.
Well, if that student was typical of the upcoming generation(s), then we are indeed doomed. Do they not educate people in college anymore??? Perhaps you are right and it is dying. Sigh. But surely he is not representative of … or perhaps he is. The human race considers itself superior, but … I have to question that when I hear of things like that, as well as the many atrocities against man, animals, and the earth itself. 😥
There are notable counter-examples. You find them and write about them each week. But the data suggest that the “millennials” are all pretty much like that young man. They are wrapped up in themselves and busy seeking pleasure.
Hugh, thanks for revisiting this. I was one who focused on his life, not the metaphor of his death. Maybe it was because of my tendency to fight windmills when I know I cannot alter the outcome. Idealism is not dead, but it is so limited, we must celebrate it when we see it. The current Pope comes to mind. Yet, I don’t know if we need more than our hands to count them top of mind. The sadness of Quixote’s death resonates because of what you write.
Thanks again, Keith
You are right to focus on Quixote’s life. But his death was terribly sad and resonates in today’s world, it seems to me.