Don Quixote Book Summary - Don Quixote Book explained in key points
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Don Quixote summary

Miguel de Cervantes

The Spanish Epic Novel on the Human Condition and Death

4.4 (266 ratings)
18 mins

Brief summary

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes is a classic tale of a man who becomes obsessed with chivalry and sets out on absurd adventures with his loyal squire, Sancho Panza. Along the way, they encounter many mishaps and misunderstandings.

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    Don Quixote
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    The making of a knight-errant

    Our story takes place in central Spain in the territory called La Mancha – a flat, featureless ocean of stubbly wheat fields and sun-bleached plains under a vast, perpetually blue sky.

    In this sea of umber, ochre, and beige, there are islands of dazzling white: the clustered lime-washed houses in which Manchegans live and the windmills in which they grind corn.

    In the sixteenth century, a curious man – the hero of our tale – lived in one of these villages full of white houses. He was around 50 years old and called Alonso Quijada or possibly Quijano – the chronicler of our story isn’t sure on this point. He was a hidalgo – a gentleman belonging to the lowest rung of the Spanish nobility. His estate was modest and the modest income it generated was just about large enough to put food on his table, pay an irritable housekeeper, and feed the sorry-looking horse he kept in his stable.

    Like all gentlemen, he was a man of leisure, albeit a penniless one. But he didn’t need money to do what he liked doing best, which was reading about the chivalrous knights of old and their many quarrels, battles, love affairs, adventures, and misfortunes. As our chronicler says, these books – of which he devoured countless volumes – were full of “impossible nonsense.” But the more our hidalgo read about this enchanted world, the more he came to believe that such books weren’t fictions but authentic histories of a happier and nobler age.

    In short, Alonso Quijada or Quijano, a man generally known for his good sense, filled his head with so much nonsense about wandering knights that he slowly but surely lost his mind. If he’d done so locked away in his library, he wouldn’t have needed a chronicler because there wouldn’t have been much of a story to tell. But this hidalgo dreamt up a strange plan to roam the world on horseback in search of monsters to slay, wrongs to right, and distressed maidens to rescue. He decided, in a word, to become a knight and revive that happier and nobler age.

    And so he got to work. He scrubbed and polished a very old and moldy suit of armor which had belonged to one of his ancestors. The rusty helmet he found to go with it didn’t have a visor, so he fashioned one out of cardboard. Testing its durability with a sword, he destroyed what had taken him weeks to make with a single swipe. The second papier-mâché visor he crafted was fitted without further testing: God, our hidalgo trusted, would ensure its battle-worthiness. A leather shield and worm-eaten lance completed the outfit. The next step was to find an appropriate name for himself and his horse. The latter, a skinny and tottering animal, he called Rocinante – a name that, in Spanish, means as much as “noble steed that was formerly a humble horse.” For himself, he chose a name that harked back to the knights of yesteryear who added place names to their titles: Don Quixote de la Mancha.

    Having prepared his armor and given himself and his horse fitting names, he decided that he needed a lady to whom he could dedicate his heroic deeds. A knight who isn’t in love, after all, is like a tree without leaves or fruit – all his books said as much. When he defeated some terrible ogre or evil wizard, he’d gallantly spare their lives on one condition: that they present themselves to his beloved, fall on their knees, and meekly recount how they were vanquished by the great and insufficiently praised Don Quixote de la Mancha.

    In a nearby village, there was a pretty peasant girl called Aldonza Lorenzo. Our hidalgo had never exchanged a word with her, but he decided to make her the object of his chivalrous affections. First, though, she too needed a name equal to her standing as a princess and lady. And so Aldonza became Dulcinea del Toboso – a musical and original title, he thought, which means Ladylove of Toboso, which was the name of the village in which she lived.

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    What is Don Quixote about?

    Don Quixote (1605) is widely regarded as the first modern novel. Its claim to fame extends beyond historical novelty. For many readers and critics, it remains the greatest novel of its kind. It tells the story of a man who becomes so enchanted by tales of chivalry that he decides to become a knight-errant – a wandering gallant in the style of Lancelot. The self-styled knight who calls himself Don Quixote and his trusty sidekick Sancho Panza get themselves into all kinds of absurd mischief, but their foolish quest ultimately brings them something precious: an immortal friendship.

    Don Quixote Review

    Who should read Don Quixote?

    • Anyone who’s been put off by the length of Cervantes’s great novel
    • Lovers of classic literature, tall tales, and absurd adventures
    • Anyone looking to put a face to the famous names Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

    About the Author

    Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, who was born in Spain in 1547, lived an eventful life. As a young man, he joined the Spanish fleet stationed in Italy and fought in the largest naval battle since ancient times – the Battle of Lepanto. On his way home, he was captured by pirates and spent five years in captivity in Algeria. It was only when he finally returned to Spain in 1580 that he turned his hand to literature. The novel which secured his fame, Don Quixote, was published in 1605; its sequel followed in 1615, one year before his death in 1616.

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