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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
A poor man from Don Quixote's village finds the Don on the road, battered and delirious, and brings him home. The Don has been missing for three days, and his niece, Antonia, and his housekeeper are frantic. After putting him to bed, the women consult his best friends, the local priest and Nicholas the barber. Together they decide that Don Quixote's madness has been caused by too much reading. The solution, therefore, is to burn his library. Before throwing the books into the fire, the priest and the barber go through them, making comments on individual titles. Many of their remarks will mean nothing to you because the books are no longer read today. But one book, Galatea, is an earlier work by Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote! The barber and the priest agree that this particular book is worth saving. "That Cervantes has been a friend of mine for years," says the priest. But after the two men leave, the housekeeper burns even the few books they have decided to save.
Who is the crazier in this scene? Don Quixote? Or his friends, who think that books have evil powers and that by burning them, they can destroy the ideas the books contain?
When Don Quixote recovers from his wounds he finds his books gone and the door to his study walled up. His niece is afraid to tell him what really happened. Instead, she claims that an evil enchanter came riding out of the clouds on a dragon and destroyed his library. The Don believes this.
During the next fifteen days, Don Quixote manages to talk a poor workingman, Sancho Panza, into leaving home to become his squire. The simpleminded Sancho believes Don Quixote's promise that they will have great adventures and win rich prizes. Sancho even believes Quixote's prediction that he will conquer enough land to make his squire governor of a province-or an entire island! Late one night, the two men sneak out of town-Don Quixote on Rozinante and Sancho on his jackass, Dapple.
Don Quixote sees thirty or forty large windmills in the distance and imagines that they are evil giants. He attacks at full speed. Suddenly, the mechanical arm of the windmill he is charging shifts position, dragging the Don and his horse along the ground. Sancho tries to reason with his master. You're having hallucinations, the squire says. But Don Quixote refuses to concede that he was wrong. He claims that the evil enchanter Freston changed the giants into windmills just to embarrass him. Don Quixote's belief that the powerful enchanter Freston is playing tricks on him is another crazy delusion. Remember, however, that this idea did not originate with him. It was his niece Antonia who came up with the idea because she did not want to tell her uncle the truth about the destruction of his library. At times like this Quixote's insanity is hard to separate from his intrinsic goodness. It never occurs to the poor man that his beloved niece would deliberately lie to him. Are white lies, such as Antonia's, ever justified? Or is it always best to be strictly truthful? What significance do you see in the fact that the Don, the most consistently honest person in the novel, is also completely out of his mind? Cervantes seems to be saying here that it is impossible to be truly sane by the world's standards without also being at least a little corrupt. Do you believe this?
This is perhaps the most famous of all Don Quixote's adventures. We even use the expression "tilting at windmills" to refer to misdirected and futile idealism. You may be surprised to find that this very well-known episode takes up only a few pages in the novel. Why, then, do you think it is well remembered? One reason is that the image of the skinny, poorly dressed knight attacking a group of enormous windmills has been a favorite subject of painters and illustrators. Perhaps you have seen the well-known print by the nineteenth-century French artist Honore Daumier that captures this moment of the story. Another reason this episode is remembered so fondly may be that, for once, Quixote is attacking inanimate objects, not human beings. Therefore, you can picture the scene without being tempted to sympathize with his victims.
The next day, Quixote and Sancho meet a Basque (Biscayan) lady on her way to Seville. Don Quixote thinks that the two monks escorting the lady are kidnappers. He attacks one and knocks him to the ground. Sancho Panza then steals the man's clothes, calling them the "spoils of war." Now one of the lady's Basque servants comes to her defense. The chapter ends in mid-fight.