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Free Barron's Booknotes-Don Quixote by Migel de Cervantes-Free Book Notes
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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES

PART I

CHAPTERS 9-10

Chapter 9 begins with the author interrupting his tale to deliver an apology and explanation. The old manuscript he's been following, he says, ended right in the middle of the previous chapter. For a while, he feared that he would never be able to tell his readers how the fight came out. But you are in luck! Another tattered manuscript that the author found in a secondhand bookstore picks up the Don's story at just this point. The author tells us that this second manuscript was written by an Arab historian named Cide Hamete Benengeli. From now on, the story will be based on Benengeli's version of the facts.

NOTE: PREJUDICE

Why does Cervantes invent this imaginary historian? He tells us one reason: If his readers doubt the truth of the rest of the story, he says, they should remember that the Arabs and the Spanish are enemies. Besides, he adds, everyone knows that all Arabs are liars. If you don't like this novel, he goes on, blame "this dog of an author, not me." There are always a few readers who feel that Cervantes' comments about Arabs, Jews, and other minorities are evidence of prejudice. Most readers, however, feel sure that the author is actually making fun of bigoted attitudes. Like the other writers of his time, Cervantes often relies on stereotypes-a person's class, sex, and occupation were believed to be reliable guides to character. But at the same time, Cervantes had no use for hypocrisy in any form. Again and again, he portrays prejudice as shallow and self-serving.

You now pick up the action of the Don's fight with the Basque. Don Quixote is wounded: His ear is nearly cut off. He wins the fight, however. In the flush of victory, he gives Sancho a long lecture on the glories of knight-errantry. Sancho, meanwhile, is wondering how all this foolishness will lead to his becoming ruler of an island. But his master tells him that he has something better than an island, a magic balm (medicine) that will cure all ills.


CHAPTERS 11-14

Don Quixote and Sancho meet a group of goatherds who politely offer to share their simple lunch. This hospitality sets the Don off into another speech. Long ago, he says, mankind lived in innocence. There was no private property and no crime. The goatherds are skeptical. They doubt that such a Golden Age ever existed.

NOTE:

In the pastoral romances familiar to Cervantes' readers, shepherds were invariably portrayed unrealistically, as noble innocents who lived in a society free of crime and greed. The goatherds that you meet in this scene are obviously meant as a contrast with these fictitious creatures.

Of course, the Golden Age that Cervantes is describing existed only in the Garden of Eden (or in the realm of the idealized pastoral novel). It has nothing to do with the so-called Golden Age of Spain, an era that was at its height as Cervantes wrote. Nevertheless, the Don's comments in this scene may remind you of the way some people sound when they talk about "the good old days" of their youth. Since Cervantes lived during a time when Spanish power was beginning to decline, he no doubt heard many such conversations.

A young boy enters with news that a local student turned shepherd named Chrysostom has just died. The cause-unrequited love! Sancho and his master attend the funeral, where a friend reads Chrysostom's flowery farewell poem. Its subject is the pain and suffering of loving a woman who does not return that love.

Now Chrysostom's beloved, Marcela, arrives to tell her side of the story. Beauty may be lovable, she says, but it doesn't follow that a beautiful woman can return the love of every man who falls for her. Men say they like women who are modest and chaste. Yet they are always trying to get the women they desire to make an exception for their sakes and give up their modesty. And when a woman turns them down, they resent her.

All the men reluctantly agree that Marcela is right.

NOTE:

Again, this incident is a parody of the pastoral romances, a type of literature very popular during Cervantes' time. These tales usually involved the soulful love affair of a shepherd and a shepherdess. But the characters in pastorals bore no resemblance to the simple country folk they were supposed to be. They talked and acted more like the bored sophisticates who enjoyed such stories. Regardless of the original point of the parody, Marcela's complaint still makes sense today. Many young men still see seducing a beautiful young woman as a challenge, a way to demonstrate their machismo. A young woman can not afford to say yes too often if she wants to keep a good reputation. On the other hand, when she says no, she risks seeing her suitor's interest turn to anger.

Cervantes would not have necessarily understood or sympathized with the arguments of women's liberation. However, he had a sharp eye for all sorts of social hypocrisy. As you read notice that the author is often sympathetic to young people in love. However, characters who are in love with the abstract idea of love usually do not fare very well.

Some readers feel that this whole episode is a pointless digression. They see it as an example of the author's bad habit of getting bogged down in long-winded and irrelevant side plots. They find Marcela's speech as tedious and self-serving as Chrysostom's poem. Other readers disagree. They claim that Cervantes is illustrating an important point. In literature and in real life, we are all expected to play certain roles. Marcela wants only to be free and independent. But like Don Quixote, she is out of step with her world. With which group of readers do you agree? Why?

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