August 5, 2017


Don Quixote: Saintly Knight (Brittany Guzman, 8/04/17, Imaginative Conservative)

Critics and fellow characters see Don Quixote as insane, but Don Quixote's "madness" actually follows Jesuit practices, which support the idea of his sainthood. As Don Quixote begins his transformation into a knight, the historian-narrator tells us that Don Quixote's avid reading and resultant lack of sleep cause Don Quixote "to lose his mind." Don Quixote clearly leaves the world of reality that the other characters inhabit, so he is easily identified as insane both by the book's characters and by many literary scholars. Henry W. Sullivan, for instance, subjects Don Quixote to modern psychoanalysis by using Lacanian diagnostics and determines that Don Quixote suffered a "psychotic break" due to a predisposed psychic structure.

However, readers must not forget that Don Quixote is not actually a patient but a complex literary character. The previously described characterization and diagnosis are not wholly accurate because they ignore a hagiographic reading. If the world were simply material, then Don Quixote would simply be insane. But, as a saint, Don Quixote would be aware of a spiritual realm to which others may not be attuned. St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote the Spiritual Exercises, a book that teaches his method of meditation and prayer, where imagination is used as a place to train the mind and soul in order to "see the face of evil and...recognize it in the outside world."[3] If the reader views Don Quixote's "madness" in the context of St. Ignatius's teachings, then it could be argued that Don Quixote's alternative world is really a spiritual training ground. Just as he educates himself in the ways of knight-errantry, Don Quixote prepares himself spiritually with St. Ignatius's practices. In this training, the Jesuit exercises give Don Quixote a new type of vision that allows him to see the world at a spiritual level. As a saint, Don Quixote ignores others' ridicule, and his "madness" allows him to recognize evil and see a deeper truth about sin that the other characters cannot.

For instance, Don Quixote is able to recognize evil where others cannot when he sees corruption within the Church. In one of his adventures, Don Quixote comes across a "procession of penitents" who are carrying "the holy image of the Blessed Virgin," but he perceives the group as a band of villains who have kidnapped "a noble lady" and accordingly ambushes them. At first, this appears to contradict the idea of Don Quixote as a saint because he is attacking a religious group. A saint follows Christ and the Church; he does not harm them. However, Don Quixote's attack does make sense if the reader views it as a criticism or an attack on a corrupt body of the Church. Once again, Frédéric Conrod provides insight; here he sheds light on the religious and political situation during Cervantes's life, especially during the period when Don Quixote was written. Cervantes held the reformist Jesuits in high regard during the Counter-Reformation, in contrast to the "obviously corrupted hierarchies of the Roman institution." [4] Don Quixote thus aligns himself with St. Ignatius of Loyola by exposing corrupt religious orders through insights gleaned through Jesuit spiritual exercises. Don Quixote's actions are justified in the scene described by the understanding that the penitents may actually represent incorrect Church teachings or corruption.

Further supporting this theory, Don Quixote commands the penitents to "release that beauteous lady [the image of Mary] whose tears and melancholy countenance are clear signs that [they] take her against her will, and have done her some notable wrong." In Don Quixote's mind, the penitents have offended the Virgin Mary to the point that she weeps profusely, and yet they continue to abuse her. By appropriating Mary, they could actually be seen as kidnapping Mary in order to use her for their own unholy purposes. Don Quixote does his duty as a saint by rescuing the Blessed Virgin from this corrupted procession. Through his "madness," or rather imaginative spiritual ability, Don Quixote recognizes the evil being committed and sets out to right it when no one else can see it.

Additionally, Don Quixote acts almost as a redeemer because he sees the inner good and potential in people who live sinfully. On his first adventure, Don Quixote meets two noble maidens waiting leisurely in front of a castle; they are actually two women of "easy virtue"--prostitutes--standing by an inn. Even though these women have a perverse occupation that leads others to sin, Don Quixote sees them as washed clean of their trespasses. Don Quixote treats them with respect, and through his actions, he attempts to remind the women of who they can be. With Christ, their sins can be forgiven, and they can find themselves once again clean. Despite their current state, the women could become, by faith, like maidens again. Despite their lowborn status--they are daughters "of a cobbler" and of a miller--Don Quixote's beautiful imagination allows them to transcend the barriers of reality and to achieve a status higher than what they actually could in this world. 

Inevitably, the Don is betrayed by those around him who repent when they realize what they have done.

Posted by at August 5, 2017 12:31 PM