Symbolism In Cervantes’ Don Quixote: The Danger Of Imagination

“I Know Who I Am, and Who I May Be, If I Choose” is a quote that perfectly describes Don Quixote and his passion for chivalry. Don Quixote was a citizen of the world of imagination as Miguel de Cervantes was able to send that message to the reader through his symbolism. The world of imagination is a fantastic universe where dreams come true and people are completely satisfied. Don Quixote could not live without a dream; imagination defined him. He was able to see an army when there was only a flock of sheep, and he could see a giant from a windmill! However, with Cervantes’ symbolism, Don Quixote actually demonstrated consequences for living entirely in the world of imagination. Before diving into the topic, I must inform the reader that there is a difference between believing in imagination and living in imagination. A believer in imagination is one who believes in dreams or likes fantastic concepts, such as Santa and unicorns. However, one who lives entirely in the world of imagination literally spends all their time in their dreams. I will be arguing that Cervantes uses symbolism in Don Quixote to demonstrate the dangers of living entirely in the world of imagination. 

Don Quixote was an old man who had nothing to live for as he was nearing the end of his life. Nonetheless, he still had a love for his novels about knights. Over time, these chivalric stories turned him into a man possessed! Don Quixote became crazy, or maybe Cervantes could explain it better. “...finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind”. He created his own adventures and convinced himself that they were real, however, at some point, it all had to end. People argue that Miguel de Cervantes wrote one of the saddest sequels of all time. Don Quixote’s knight-errantry sent him back home to retire as a knight. His return wasn’t pleasant, as he instantly fell sick and died. However, when Don Quixote was lying in his deathbed, he completely renounced everything that happened and regretted it as he made sure he told everyone that his foolishness should never be repeated. Now, looking back on Don Quixote’s story, is the world of imagination really a great thing? Absolutely not as there are many downsides to it. Don Quixote seemed depressed and pitiful for himself that he did such silly thing. He was very regretful. In short, he demonstrated that the return to reality from the world of imagination isn’t pleasant. This can relate to Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. The OASIS is an extensive virtual reality universe. It was created so people could escape the harsh reality of 2045 where the world is on the brink of chaos and collapse. The OASIS is a fantastic universe of perfection. I would describe it as living in a video game, however, your real body is wearing goggles and gloves. This connects to Don Quixote as many people in Ready Player One chose to live every day in the OASIS, however, their return to reality after every day was unpleasant. However, it isn’t only the ending that shows consequences of living in the world of imagination. In fact, throughout the entire story, Don Quixote was taken advantage of due to his foolishness. He was laughed at and mocked. In part 1, chapter 2, Don Quixote made a group of ladies run away from him as they thought he was a medieval police officer, but when they saw him with his wrinkled face, they assumed it was just a crazy old man, so they just laughed at him. The women then took advantage of him by pretending to be his castle damsels. Cervantes beautifully crafts symbolism as two of the women cannot untie the ribbons on Don Quixote’s helmet, and he will not let them cut them because he wanted his world of imagination to work the way he wanted. This now brings me to my next point. When Don Quixote was living in his world of chivalry, he was very ignorant of reality because he wanted to believe that his imagination was true. 

Another example of symbolism is in part 2, chapter 7 when Don Quixote said he would not return to knight errantry unless he got a helmet. Carrasco said he could give him one, but it was rusty. Don Quixote was being stubborn because he wanted his world of imagination to work the way he wanted. In the OASIS of Ready Player One, you can choose how everything works to completely satisfy yourself. Don Quixote was simply makings things up as he went, and no one knows if he truly believed they were true, or if he was just acting. The following quotation expresses his passion to love Dulcinea del Toboso, his made up princess, who only his bravery deserves. “Let everyone, [he cried,] stand where he is, unless everyone will confess that there is not in all the world a more beauteous damsel than the Empress of La Mancha, the peerless Dulcinea del Toboso”.

Lastly, Don Quixote demonstrated that those who live in worlds of imagination often act dumb, clumsy and gullible due to the fact that they don’t really care about reality. Symbolism in part 2, chapter 7 proves this when Don Quixote was unaware that his squire had placed cottage cheese in his helmet, then he placed his helmet on his head and believed his brains were melting as he saw the curds. Not only did he act clumsily in his world of imagination, but he also looked foolish in reality. Imagine walking on the street and seeing an old man in silver armour trying to fight a building… It would be a bizarre situation. Miguel de Cervantes’ symbolism does a great job at proving this. Now, one might argue that Don Quixote actually demonstrated that living in the world of imagination is a good thing. Cervantes was a bright man and that reflected in Don Quixote as the foolish character seemed happy in his world of imagination. For instance, take Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. On planet earth in 2045, reality was harsh. The OASIS was a place for people to escape and forget about the real world as it was a perfect universe of satisfaction. Therefore, people can argue that being in the world of imagination is pleasant. Now, I never argued against this, in fact, that’s actually true. However, the world of imagination is not reality, and it never will be. Therefore, at some point, people have to return to reality which is unpleasant, as I explained before. Dejan Stojanovic, a Serbian poet, wrote a poem about Don Quixote and how the novel represents imagination. His text admires and praises Don Quixote and the theme of imagination. Stojanovic argues that “We need Don Quixote and La Mancha.” His poem makes an attempt to convince people that dreams are all we have. In this poem, Stojanovic argues that the world will always change, but the world of imagination will always stay with us. I think that is not true due to the fact that as the world changes, people’s imaginations do too. This is because the world of imagination’s concepts are based off of the real world. Now, I’m not trying to completely shut down Stojanovic, in fact, I do agree with Stojanovic’s overall opinion that dreams are a good thing, however, like I mentioned in the beginning, that is not what I’m arguing about. 

Another counter argument could be that it wasn’t Don Quixote who demonstrated the dangers of imagination, but it was Cervantes. Again, that is true. Cervantes was locked in prison for years, and the only thing he could do was live in this world of imagination. Cervantes did write the story, therefore you could say he created everything. However, you could say this for any story. Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is a story about a boy who’s room turns into a world of nature where non-existent creatures live. Max was a child who was called a ‘wild thing’ by his mother as he was always angry. One day, his anger took him to a place where monsters with big claws live. Not frightened of anything, Max tames the wild things, who agree that he is the wildest of them all, and they make him their king. My point is that anyone could say it really was Sendak’s imagination, however, that’s incorrect. It really was Max’s imagination. Allow me to explain. Maurice Sendak wrote the book to relate to children’s anger, not to write about imagination. It was Max whose imagination illuminated the story. 

In conclusion, Miguel de Cervantes’ symbolism proves that living entirely in the world of imagination is a bad thing. Although the world of imagination itself is a beautiful place for people to live in, the return to reality is unpleasant. In addition, when living in this fantastic universe, people are tempted to act lazy and clumsy, as they want to completely forget about reality. As many opinions on this topic can be true, I hope I was able to prove mine in a respectful and sympathetic manner as I considered counter arguments. Looking into Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One and Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are gives a better idea of the world of imagination and who illuminates it. Dejan Stojanovic’s poem also analyzes how imagination reflects in the fantastic story of Don Quixote. He states that “Don Quixote is not an imaginary person; He is as real as Alexander the Great;” 

16 December 2021
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