In Miguel de Cervantes’ classic novel Don Quixote de la Mancha, a necessary counterpart to Don Quixote’s character is found in Sancho Panza. Sancho is Don Quixote’s so-called squire and companion through his adventures. The vital contrast between these two characters contributes to the literary success of Cervantes’ novel. It is only through the eyes of Sancho that we witness Don Quixote’s madness and only through the latter’s madness that we evidence Sancho’s sanity. Without the presence of these complementary characters, the story of Don Quixote would not exist as it does.
Cervantes’ masterpiece is known for the eccentric character of Don Quixote and his insane adventures and travels through Spain. The first part of the novel was published in 1605 and the second in 1615. The novel became widely popular and is today considered one of the greatest literary achievements of all time. In Cervantes’ novel, Don Quixote becomes entranced with the romances of chivalry by reading books. He sets out on his own quest for the woman of his affection: Dulcinea. With the help of Sancho Panza, his sidekick, he has many imaginary adventures in which he draws others into his fantasies.
Sancho attempts to reveal Quixote’s eccentricity and Quixote, in turn reveals Sancho’s inability to imagine. A prime example of this contrast in perception is evident from the moment Sancho and Don Quixote meet. Sancho is but a peasant when Don Quixote enlists his help. “[Don Quixote] used so many arguments, an made so many promises, that the poor fellow resolved to sally out with him and serve him in the capacity of a squire” (Cervantes, 32). Don Quixote convinces Sancho of his nobility and Sancho, initially realizing the insanity of Quixote’s claims, lays doubt to his proclamations.
Sancho is “shallow-brained” but still must be persuaded by Don Quixote before leaving with him (32). In Sebastian Juan Arbo’s biographical study of Cervantes, he provides insight into this contrast: “Each defends the other, but Sancho defends the reality of life, and Don Quixote the reality for his dreams without which he cannot live” (250). The sharp distinction becomes clear in adventures that the two partake in. In one episode, Don Quixote decides to free galley-slaves who are being held against their will. Sancho dictates very clearly to Quixote that they are erving a punishment mandated by the king himself, but Quixote will hear nothing of it. He decides he will oppose “force” and “defeat violence” as though he is running a campaign of self-promotion. Ignoring Sancho’s warnings is something Don Quixote consistently fulfills. Aubrey F. G. Bell in her biography Cervantes, tells us likewise, Sancho is, despite his “skeptical credulity and his hesitation in action, his character is as consistent as that of his master” (199). In the end, Sancho must watch the slaves escape to present themselves to the Lady Dulcinea per Don Quixote’s request.
In this particular case, Quixote’s fantasy wins out over reality, but such is not always the case. The adventure of the windmills is the most prominently featured example of Don Quixote’s episodic adventures. In this particular event, Don Quixote claims that windmills are giants that are on the plains. A very honest Sancho tells his master that they are not giants but windmills. After Quixote is knocked down by a windmill sail, Sancho says: “did not I warn you to have care of what you did, for that they were nothing but windmills? (Cervantes, 36) Quixote, now seeing the truth, claims that an evil sage has turned the giants into windmills to deprive the knight of his glory. Though Sancho warns Don Quixote from the beginning, it is almost inevitable that he is caught up in the imagination of his master (Mack, 1526). Another example of reason triumphing over fantasy is when Don Quixote wishes to battle the lions. When they by chance come across the carriage transporting the lions, Don Quixote wishes to battle them for nothing more than the sake of proving himself.
Sancho begs with his master to allow the lions to remain in the cages, but Don Quixote is persistent, claiming he has strength over the beasts (266). Quixote will defeat anything that threatens his love Dulcinea, even at the cost of his own life. Sancho, on the other hand, fully understands the danger of the situation and when the doors to the cages are opened, he flees. This is the way the two characters work together. In Edward Honig’s essay, On the Interludes of Cervantes, the counterparts come alive in contrast to the other. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are dramatic: their voices engage each other and depend on each other; they come alive through the irritation of their complementariness, by the mere fact that they are thrown together and must reckon with each other” (154). This is true even to the point that they are nothing without each other. When Don Quixote is on his deathbed, Sancho begs him not to die, but to continue in the adventure and quest that they had joined one another in. Sancho is afraid of what might happen if his master is gone.
By the end of Cervantes’ novel, the lives of the two characters have become so intertwined it is painful to separate. W. H. Auden is a critic of Cervantes and best expresses the importance of this pairing. Take away Don Quixote, and Sancho Panza is so nearly pure flesh, immediacy of feeling, so nearly without will [… ] Take away Sancho Panza, on the other hand, and Don Quixote is so nearly pure spirit [… ] who rejects matter and feeling and is nothing but an egotistic will (80, 81).
In the end, Don Quixote dies a sane man, and Sancho is left with the memories of adventure and nothing more. The character of Sanson, who was also involved in Don Quixote’s endeavors, is the first person to legitimately recognize Sancho’s stance when he claims “honest Sancho is very much in the right” (Cervantes, 443). Quixote, too is satisfied with his ending, proclaiming “I was mad, I am now sane” on his death bed (443). Quixote ends his life as a sane man, but if he had lived it sane, there would be no story to tell.
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are essential components to the attractive Cervantes novel. Without the two supplementing one another there would be and could be no story. The two characters are forever embedded in one another through literary history. Quixote and Sancho’s characteristics never fail to impress, amuse and enlighten. These characters are the devices of Cervantes’ literary technique, and the life force of Don Quixote de la Mancha. Works Cited Arbo, Sebastian Juan. Cervantes: The Man and His Time. New York: The Vanguard Press, 1955. Auden, W. H. The Ironic Hero: Some Reflections on Don Quixote. ” Ed. Lowry Nelson, Jr. Cervantes. Englewood Cliffs, N. J. : Prentice-Hall, Inc. , 1969. Bell, Aubrey F. G. Cervantes. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1947. Honig, Edwin. “On the Interludes of Cervantes. ” Ed. Lowry Nelson, Jr. Cervantes. Englewood Cliffs, N. J. : Prentice-Hall, Inc. , 1969. Mack, Maynard, ed. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997. Saavedra, Miguel de Cervantes. Don Quixote de la Mancha. Trans. Charles Jarvis. New York: Washington Square Press, Inc. , 1957.
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