It's never too late to find out about Don Quijote: discover here why don Quijote is so universal and it is all about
Don Quixote of La Mancha. We all agree that it is a very important work from Spanish culture, but why? The cliché would say that it's because "today the work's themes are more valid than ever"; but in reality it is because its themes are truly universal.
Just think, what is Don Quixote if not a true idealist? In fact, some experts claim that the good Alonso Quijano wasn't crazy but that he pretended to be in order to be able to do justice in a world as depressing as 17th century Spain. Think about the chapter about the galley-slaves (Chapter XII), in which he frees a chain gang because he considers their sentences to be unfair.
And what is Don Quixote if not a great romantic? In every sense of the word. He falls in love with a simple girl who he ennobles, converting her into a Lady. He even writes at one point "If thy beauty despises me, if thy worth is not for me, if thy scorn is my affliction..."(Chapter XXV). Who has not fallen hopelessly in love with the prettiest girl in the class but at the same time realized that the story couldn’t go anywhere? We also speak of a romanticism that says one man's values can change the world. Another thing, which is very different of course, is whether it is actually possible.
Because, let's be honest, Don Quixote would be the first of those charming losers who are now so common in contemporary literature. He is an archetype born out of the negation of an archetype, the knight; something that makes this great work by Cervantes a real treatise on literature. Novels about chivalrous knights were the best-sellers of the time. The critics insulted them, as we can see in the episode of the scrutiny of the library by the priest, the barber and the niece: some end up in the fire and others saved. But everything has a certain ironic flavor. Didn't Cervantes contribute, just by mentioning them, to saving those books that were to be forgotten?
This may be the great theme of Don Quixote precisely: how irony gives shape to life. A rundown knight wants to be a hero and ends up being a joke; Sancho can breathe easy when he abandons government of la ínsula Barataria and feels free as a simple man unafraid of the conspiracies and poisons which threaten the life of a powerful man (Part Two, Chapter LIII). How often do we remember the moment our lives changed in a way we never could have imagined! And if we want to get transcendent we could even cite the great irony of a work published during a historical period in Spain when it was at once a great power but also plunged into bankruptcy after its many conquests and wars: one dreamed of Spain, with another true reality.
Dreams vs reality, another nice theme. A rich and fantastic world within, versus a dry and dusty world without. The perfect metaphor is the famous helmet of Mambrino. In the hands of a barber it was a simple washbasin, while on the head of our gentleman it was a legendary piece of armor making anyone who wore it immortal. It could be comparable to a modern day office clerk taking a simple video game console in his hands and changing into a member of a righteous order of assassins fighting against an evil secret society.
Don Quixote has as many themes as readers and as many versions as ages can find something they like about the work. It is a classic, more than because of its style, because everything on its pages invites us to become shining knights in a gray world without caring about the consequences. Could it be in fact, that Don Quixote did not take on that herd of sheep to prove he was crazy, but rather to tell us we should not all turn into sheep ourselves?