The humor in the Story Don Quixote
The Humor in the Story Don Quixote
Don Quixote, a Spanish-written novel fully titled “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha” was done by an author called Miguel de Cervantes (Cahill pp.54). The novel narrates the encounters of a particular gentleman ‘hidalgo’ whose name is revealed at the dusk of the second part of the book as Alonso Quixano. Apparently, Alonso has read a myriad of Chivalric novels till he has gone insane. As a result, he has left with an intention of reviving chivalry, correct the mistakes and convince the world to embrace justice, but with another name, Don Quixote. In his bid, he begins by employing a simple farmer named Sancho Panza to act as his squire. The squire is charged with the responsibility of applying unique earthy wit to deal with the rhetorical orations of Don Quixote on antiquated knighthood. In the first part of this novel, Don Quixote chooses not to see the world in a realist’s point of view rather he prefers to live in denial thinking that he is living out in a knightly story.
The entire novel was published in two volumes, one in 1605 and another in 1615, and is viewed to be among the most influential literary works from the Spanish during the Golden age, as well as the combined literary canon of Spain. Being one of the founding works of modern Western literature, and also among the earliest canonical novels, Don Quixote frequently appears at the top of the ranks of the most astounding fictional works ever written. Moreover the book has vastly influenced the literature sector as can be seen by numerous references made to this book by other authors (Cahill pg.21). Arthur Schopenhauer for instance, mentioned Don Quixote as being among the four greatest and marvelous novels ever written, alongside Tristram Shandy, Wilhelm Meister and La Nouvelle Heloise. The book features a rich plot built with a range of literary stylistic devices and various themes. Also, the book provides a variety of moral lessons in addition to being entertaining.
By definition, humor refers to the tendency of particular cognitive experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement (Daniel pp.10). Also spelt as humour, this is one of the most important literary skills in writing. In simpler terms, humor entails the ability to get amused by a situation. Humor varies from one person to another due to difference in taste and preferences of each person. However, there are some situations that elicit humor regardless of an individual’s taste. There are a number of types of humor, some sophisticated and requires deep internalization of the context, while some are very obvious and would provoke laughter at their slightest mentioning. Some of the sophisticated types of humor include the use of hyperboles where the writer intentionally exaggerates a statement in a bid to create humor. Also, Comic irony in which case, a writer states one thing while intending to mean a completely different thing. In some cases, the use of dialect and satire can also be considered as types of humor depending on the context of use and the situation in which they are applied.
Apart from very obviously humorous scenarios, it is very difficult to discern humor in any piece of writing. This is because, what one person may find hilarious, may regarded completely stupid and not worth laughing at by another person. Despite such variations of taste, humor still play a pivotal in literature, just like any other literary tool. At the mention of it, it is very clear that one of the roles of humor is entertainment- it makes one laugh their lungs out. Reading a novel, particularly very long novels, can come with an unprecedented boredom, especially if the book is gloomy all the way. A little laughter here and there can keep the reader glued to the book, and not wish to put it down until they finish. As such, the integral function of humor in literature can never be overemphasized. In addition, humor enables the reader grasp the concept and be able to recall the story long after they read it. With this in mind, and taking the story Don Quixote as the center of discussion, the following piece aims to highlight, outline and delve into the depths of the use of humor in this particular story. On that note, it aims at enabling the reader understand the funny side of the story.
According to (Daniel pp.51), humor is the most understudied aspect of the story Don Quixote, this is despite the fact that the story is widely regarded as ‘extremely humorous’ by the readers at that time. Daniel Eisenberg (Daniel pg. 31) supports the humor in Don Quixote by insinuating that Cervantes penned the entire novel just to make readers laugh at the ‘amusing encounters Alonso, the burlesque knight-errant. On the contrary, contemporary literary critics do not view this story in that perspective, and some have blatantly expressed their lack of sight of humor in the entire novel. Some however, argue that it would never be humorous to laugh at another person’s miseries and misfortunes. While this is a realist’s point of view, humor cannot be prevented, in the course of reading or encountering something funny, a person usually finds themselves roaring in laughter even without knowing. Laughter, the outcome of humor, is involuntary. The controversy surrounding humor in this book has led some of the literary analysts to completely shun and ignore the aspect of humor in this story. They’d rather discuss other aspects than dwell on humor based on a fictional character’s misfortunes.
Delineating from the controversy surrounding the use of humor in this story, some people actually find the story funny and have even publicly admitted so. Daniel Eisenberg (Daniel 2014) for instance, asserts that to anyone who ever read romances of chivalry, Don Quixote is one of the most hilarious books. According to him, the juxtaposition of characters in Don Quixote and Romances of Chivalry is his source of humor. Apparently, the protagonist of a romance was not only young and handsome but also strong, but now, here comes Don Quixote, an old gentleman who rides a broken-down horse and wears cardboard patched armor (Cervantes pp.12). He further confesses that Don Quixote’s claim that he is very competent in making toothpicks and birdcages (Cervantes pp.13) leaves him rolling on the ground with laughter. Moreover, the knights of the romances moved through colorful and sight-appealing parts of the world, a sharp contrast with Don Quixote who tries to be a knight in one of the least appealing regions of Spain. From Daniel’s argument, one can precisely spot the humor in the story, but only through side by side placement of the two stories.
Largely, humor is portrayed in several sections of the book and Part two is not an exception. However, Part two is less humorous than the first part of the book, partly because it is mainly composed of characters from the previous part of the book. The humor in this part is mostly seen from the utterly crazy things done by Don Quixote. He attacks puppets, enters a cave filed with bats and looks for Dulzinea, yet he considers all these some kind of adventure offered to him by the world. Apparently, instead of noticing how crazy all these events are, he is actually delighted and indirectly thanks the world for being so kind as to present him with adventure every step of the way, ridiculous.
As the second part comes to an end, the previously ridiculous and hilarious Don Quixote becomes a little dull with no much humour. His adventures are now less inspired like being overrun by bulls; he does relatively little, events that do not elicit as much laughter as before. In these last parts of the book, Don Quixote’s chastity does not arise from incapacity but of virtue. Moreover, the Don Quinolone we previously knew as the producer of admiration has now turned to the admirer of what other people do. Actually, since humor is all-round and is derived from all the characters of the book, it would only be fair to consider other characters as well.
Comparatively, it is not only Don Quixote whose perspective is breaking down in the last chapters, Sancho is a victim too. Having embraced humility during his reign as the governor of his island, Sancho has returned and wants to reign again, with an intention to order and be obeyed. The shallow reasoning portrayed here is laughable. However, the humor here is just slightly evident since someone would consider laughing at such statements foolish. Again, he reveals that he needs the power for money, having overcome his greed previously. Rather than the naturally wise Sancho we met somewhere in the middle of the chapters, we encounter the olden days Sancho whose wisdom only came from being taught.
All parts of this story portrays a certain instance of humor and the central section of the second part, apart from the already discussed parts, and which is the longest of all the sections of the entire book is not exempted from the list. This part particularly focuses on the visit to the castle of duques in which both Don and Sancho are still funny, though not as they were before and it is not uncommon to find some readers wondering whether laughing at the duo would be appropriate. The extremely negative presentation of almost all the characters in this section by author is a clear indication that the author intended to amuse the readers throughout this section. At the castle, there are several funny incidents from Sancho and Don Quixote themselves. An instance is their puzzling misinterpretations of the adventures created for them (Cahill pp.10). Sancho’s conduct embarrasses his master, including his uncalled-for concern for his donkey.
Furthermore, the already highlighted ways are not the only ways Cervantes has used to bring out the element of humor in the story. Albeit not clearly brought out in text, some of the parallels in the text are humorous. With the destructive and insane deeds of Quixote constant, he has a very admirable personality. This is evident in his descriptions like ‘valiente, criado, blando and sufridor de trabajos’ among others. From this we realize that despite being insane, Quixote is very intelligent.
In conclusion, we can only be fair to ourselves and appreciate the use of humor in this text by Cervantes. All arguments against the same constant, Don Quixote story features a myriad of amusing sections which actually qualify for humor. In addition the role that humour has played in this book cannot be downplayed. With this, Cervantes’ intentions for using humor in a narration that would not warrant any humor, is very clear; to keep the reader laughing throughout the book. He has ingeniously managed to keep the writer glued to this book by applying styles like satire, parallel and even juxtaposition among other stylistic devices to drive the point home and bring out the humor. These various methods of humor used by the author enable the reader to reflect on, summarize and explore the entire world of the novel.
Cahill, Hugh. Don Quixote. London: King’s College, 2010.
Cervantes. Don Quixote: Translation by Tobias Smollet. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2010
Daniel. A Study of Don Quixote. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2014.