Cervantes Publishes Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Spanish Golden Age writer Miguel de Cervantes’ major work, Don Quixote de la Mancha, is considered the first modern novel.

Summary of Event

Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes’ El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha (pb. 1605, 1615; The History of the Valorous and Wittie Knight-Errant, Don Quixote of the Mancha, 1612-1620; better known as Don Quixote de la Mancha) is one the most influential works of world literature Literature;Spain and one of the most widely translated books. Most literary historians consider it to be the very first modern novel, a claim that remains prevalent despite some disagreements. Critic Lionel Trilling, in The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent (2000), asserts that “all prose fiction is a variation on the theme of Don Quixote.” Novel;Spain [kw]Cervantes Publishes Don Quixote de La Mancha [kw]Don Quixote de La Mancha [kw]Publishes Don Quixote de La Mancha Literature;1605 and 1615: Cervantes Publishes Don Quixote de La Mancha Cultural and intellectual history;1605 and 1615: Cervantes Publishes Don Quixote de La Mancha Spain;1605 and 1615: Cervantes Publishes Don Quixote de La Mancha Don Quixote de la Mancha (Cervantes) Cervantes, Miguel de

Cervantes wrote Don Quixote de la Mancha in two parts. The first part became an instant best-seller after its publication in 1605, so naturally there was a demand for a second part. However, it was not until another writer, using the pseudonym Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda, published a spurious second part in 1614 that Cervantes decided, one year later, to publish the anticipated sequel.

Set at the beginning of the 1600’, Don Quixote de la Mancha is a novel about an aging country gentleman, Alonso Quijano, who is an obsessive reader of books of chivalry. The heroes of these books were valiant warriors with supernatural powers who could defeat any adversary in defense of truth and justice. Quijano identifies with these heroes so closely that he deludes himself into believing that he is also a chivalric knight. He abandons his home, dons rusty old armor, and sets out to save the world from evil. He finds a more impressive alias for himself, Don Quixote de la Mancha. Don Quixote then convinces a simpleminded peasant, Sancho Panza, to join him in his adventures. In broad terms, the novel is built upon two characters’ sharply differing attitudes toward life: Don Quixote’s romantic idealism and Sancho’s down-to-earth pragmatism.

Don Quixote de la Mancha is considered a valuable work not only to literature buffs but also to those interested in understanding what life was like in Spain during the reigns of Kings Philip II Philip II (king of Spain) and Philip III Philip III (king of Spain) . The novel is a compendium of fictional accounts of social, political, and economic issues of the time. Among these, two topics are developed at length: the Spaniards’ growing obsession with purity of religion and ethnic blood, and the emergence of a social order ruled by money.

Miguel de Cervantes.

(Library of Congress)

The society to which Don Quixote de la Mancha belongs was obsessed with ethnic and religious purity. Before 1492, Spain did not have an official language and religion. The Iberian Peninsula was composed mainly of a number of Muslim and Christian territories. When the Catholic monarchs unified the peninsula and established the Spanish Empire at the end of the fifteenth century, they imposed Roman Catholicism as the official religion. All Jews and Muslims had the choice either to convert or to leave Spain. The conversos Conversos (descendants of Jews) and Moriscos Moriscos, expulsion from Spain (descendants of Moors, or Muslims) who converted became known as the New Christians, and those who came from Christian lineage were called Old Christians. The Old Christian majority controlled all the centers of political power and took official measures to ensure that the New Christians remained members of the underclass. Spain’s obsession with purity of blood culminated with the expulsion of all of the Moriscos in 1609. Jews;Spain Islam;Spain Spain;Jews

Although Cervantes was a devout Catholic and a strong supporter of the Spanish Empire, in his novel he exposed the tragic consequences of an absolutist and intolerant regime. Many of his New Christian characters are shown as true followers of the Christian faith, and they cannot be distinguished from Old Christians other than by their physical appearance. For instance, in part 2 of the novel, Cervantes tells the moving story of what happens to a Morisco named Ricote and his daughter Ana Félix after they are expelled from Spain. Ironically, these two characters are presented as Christian exemplars who, even after their expulsion, question neither their belief in the Catholic faith nor their loyalty to the Spanish king. Some literary historians believe that Cervantes was particularly interested in the topic of purity of blood because he, too, was a converso, a claim that has not been definitely confirmed.

Cervantes also exposes in Don Quixote de la Mancha the impact of the changing economic landscape on the common person. Traditionally, Spain had been a rural society whose economy had depended on agriculture, but this started to change toward the end of the seventeenth century. With the imminent development of a capitalistic system, more and more peasants who owned lands moved out of their farms and became employees of rich lords. They became seasonal laborers or artisan manufacturers, went to the New World, or, like Don Quixote de la Mancha’s character Sancho, joined the service sector.

Sancho is a poor and illiterate peasant who decides to leave his village and become a squire because he can no longer survive only on the work of his land. Sancho is representative of the lowest social rank (about 80 percent of the population) that comprised mainly poor peasants. At first, Sancho agrees to be Don Quixote’s squire because of the salary he is promised. Sancho does not think that Don Quixote is crazy when he makes promises of great riches, which supposedly would come from his master’s victorious battles against evil. For the naïve Sancho, his master’s discourse sounds just like the propaganda about New World riches used for recruiting people to go to the Americas.

Currency’s importance is a topic that arises throughout the book. Don Quixote’s idealism prevents him from understanding the need for money. He does not understand why he needs money to survive because money is never mentioned by the knights he reads about in books. It is ironic that when Don Quixote manages to escape difficult situations for which he needs money, it is often because Sancho has some coins in his pocket to rescue him. In fact, the greatest disappointment for Don Quixote occurs when, in what looks like a dream, he finally faces his muse, Dulcinea. Dulcinea is interested only in borrowing six reales (Spanish currency). Don Quixote has only four reales, which were earned earlier by Sancho, and gives those to her. This episode serves to show that Don Quixote’s ideals cannot have victory over a world in which money is lord. Thus, we could say that the real enemy of Don Quixote is a growing social order ruled by money.

After his encounter with a debased Dulcinea, Don Quixote’s behavior is marked by a pessimistic attitude, which culminates in a defeat in a duel with the Knight of the Mirrors (a disguised neighbor). Don Quixote, disillusioned and humiliated, returns home, quickly recovers his sanity, but then dies. Critics generally agree that within the logic of the novel, the death of the main character was inevitable because Don Quixote’s existence was possible only in an ideal world. Some also believe that Cervantes killed his protagonist to ensure that no one could write another unauthorized sequel to the novel.


Don Quixote de la Mancha, a model for subsequent modern novels, addresses important, sometimes controversial, issues in their historical context from more than one perspective. In Don Quixote de la Mancha, Cervantes almost always allows his reader to interpret the episodes from different points of view. In this way, he differs radically from writers of his time, who favored moralistic and authoritarian stances. Through irony and ambiguity, Cervantes never makes clear to his audience the nature of his own position on any particular issue. Cervantes’ relativistic approach to writing is one of his greatest achievements, leading many to believe that relativism is the most important element defining the modern novel. It is quite possible, however, that Cervantes approached his work through a relativistic lens as the way to avoid censure by the Spanish Inquisition. Because of its relativistic focus, Don Quixote de la Mancha could be considered a novel that either supports or subverts dominant ideology, or the status quo, but it is Cervantes’ modern readers who are entrusted with the last word.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Anderson, James M. Daily Life During the Spanish Inquisition. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002. Anderson surveys the effects of the Inquisition on every aspect of mundane existence, from the royal court to rural farming communities, from military life to the daily experience of students. Includes illustrations, bibliographic references, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bloom, Harold, ed. Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2000. A collection of essays by renowned writers, including Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Vladimir Nabokov, and Jorge Luis Borges.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cascardi, Anthony, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Cervantes. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. This work provides good historical, political, and cultural context for understanding Cervantes’ life and most important works. Written by leading scholars in the field.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cervantes, Miguel de. Don Quixote. Translated by Edith Grossman. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. An updated translation of the novel that is more accessible to the general reader than are earlier translations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fuentes, Carlos. Introduction to The Adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986. This introduction by Mexico’s leading novelist discusses the influence of Desiderius Erasmus on Cervantes and the duality of realism and imagination in Don Quixote de la Mancha. Argues that the novel can be considered the beginning of a modern way of looking at the world.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hart, Thomas R. Cervantes’ Exemplary Fictions: A Study of the “Novelas Ejemplares.” Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1994. A reading of Cervantes’ stories in the context of the knowledge of everyday life and literary conventions shared by Cervantes’ contemporaries.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McCrory, Donald P. No Ordinary Man: The Life and Times of Miguel de Cervantes. Chester Springs, Pa.: Peter Owen, 2002. A thorough biography of Cervantes. Includes bibliographical references and an index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Quint, David. Cervantes’ Novel of Modern Times: A New Reading of Don Quijote. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003. Quint focuses on how Don Quixote de la Mancha reflects the political, social, and economic changes that Spain was experiencing in the sixteenth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Williamson, Edwin, ed. Cervantes and the Modernists: The Question of Influence. London: Tamesis, 1994. Williamson explores the novelist’s impact on such twentieth century writers as Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann, Primo Levi, Carlos Fuentes, and Gabriel García Márquez. No index or bibliography.
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