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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
Quixote and Sancho Panza meet up with a chain gang of prisoners on their way to serve as galley slaves. The Don is outraged that the king would take away these men's freedom. How can anyone be sure that some of the men are not really innocent? Maybe they are victims of mistaken identity. Or perhaps some horrible misfortune drove them to commit crimes.
One by one, the men give their excuses for being in trouble with the law. The first man claims that his only crime was falling in love. (His jailer explains that he "fell in love" with a basket of linen and stole it.) Another man says his only crime was singing. (It turns out that the only "singing" he has done is to confess to cattle rustling.) A third man is a pimp. (Don Quixote excuses this by observing that a pimp only arranges entertainment for respectable citizens.)
Some readers assume this passage represents Cervantes' attempt to
defend pimping and are very offended. Others feel that Don Quixote sees
nothing wrong with pimps only because he is too naive to understand what
they actually do. It is worth reading this passage carefully to make your
own decision about what the author had in mind.
The most hardened criminal of all, a rogue named Gines de Pasamonte, refuses to tell his story. He is already writing his autobiography, which he intends to sell for a good price.
The idea of a criminal cashing in on his notoriety by writing a book sounds very modern. Nowadays, this happens all the time. Some laws have even been passed to keep criminals from profiting from their misdeeds by selling their stories to magazines and book publishers.
When the guard refuses to free the prisoners, Don Quixote starts a fight. In the confusion the prisoners escape. How do they show their gratitude for being rescued? Gines de Pasamonte promptly steals Sancho Panza's ass, Dapple.
Don Quixote's argument with the guard may remind you of the debate about crime that is still going on today. Should we be tough on criminals to teach them a lesson? Or should we try to discover what makes people commit crimes in order to eliminate the causes of crime? Do people break the law because they are just plain bad? Or are they victims of a bad environment who can be changed by rehabilitation and a chance to live a productive life? Or are they "sick" individuals in need of therapy? (The Don's reasoning is a little different from these modern arguments. He says that any use of force, even by the king, is wrong.) The author purposely makes Don Quixote look foolish by having him take a very extreme and naive position. But you may remember that Cervantes himself was thrown into jail more than once for crimes he did not commit. So perhaps he is in sympathy with Quixote's ideas. What do you think?