Back in the early days of high school, my fellow students would joke about the way in which English teachers inserted meaning into every work they came across, arguing that details as small as the colors of furniture or a certain way the wind blew was indicative of a deeper, philosophical statement threaded throughout a story. While it was easy to joke about this as a means of dismissing the merits of literary analysis or simply doing one’s homework, I tried to play devil’s advocate – arguing that yes, perhaps the color of the couch is indicative of something deeper.
But such a tactic is not applicable in all instances. Some stories simply exist for enjoyments sake, and while they may hold charming aspects, their merit rests in their whimsy and frivolity, not their philosophy.
An Open Mind
In the beginning of the class, I was skeptical as to whether or not Don Quixote would prove to be an inspiring figure, however, I did hold my own views with a grain of salt, open to the idea that throughout my reading, my mind could be changed. It wasn’t. Time and time again, I felt myself getting frustrated with the character and his out-of-touch decisions, as well as the implications they held on his companions, such as Sancho Panza.
What Makes a Leader?
A video watched in class from Stanford University described Don Quixote as a prime example of a leader, one who thinks outside the box, challenges life’s commonly held ideas, and above all, has a clear goal that they wish to achieve.
Don Quixote certainly thinks outside the box, however, such thinking is a result of misguided attempts to apply the dogmatic rules of chivalry he has attained through his readings of fictitious tales of knights from another time period. Rather than attempt to conform to the rules of his current society, Quixote is attempting to conform to idealized standards of a society before his time.
Let it also be noted that throughout the story, other than the ambiguous idea of “providing justice” or “protecting a group of people,” we are unsure of what Quixote’s goals are. Quixote is so out of touch with reality that his goals cannot even be clearly articulated. Quixote’s only true follower is Sancho Panza, who, while extremely fond of Quixote, is no perfect right-hand man. For much of the story, Panza remains with Quixote merely for the promise of an island to govern.
Okay, but do Quixote and MLK Truly Possess Similar Qualities?
Sure, both figures held extraordinary visions and went off the beaten path with their ideas. But Martin Luther King Jr’s ideas were that of social change and peace, by which he attempted to spread throughout society with a clear path, detailed message, and organized strategy. Don Quixote, on the other hand has never been able to attract the support of others around him, and most of his actions mainly fuel his own delusions of knighthood, no matter how well-meaning he may have been.
While both figures faced opposition, the difference lies in the organization and application of the two. Don Quixote is not a “natural leader” or “strong leader” in the sense of Martin Luther King Jr, or any other such figure, as he lacks organization, clear goals, and truly beneficial ideas to society. While it is true that all leaders require a certain degree of eccentricity, it is not true that the sheer presence of eccentricity makes on a leader.
By the logic of the video, it could be easily stated that any figure is a great leader – simply for their nuances.
The Merit of Don Quixote
The merit of Cervantes’ work lies in its groundbreaking nature. Don Quixote was the first novel of its sort, a tale of satire, farce, and comedy – an excellently written work that has transcended time, thus appealing to generation after generation of reader. We read Don Quixote to get a smile on our faces at the silly misadventures of a wannabe knight-errant and his sidekick, and to marvel at the universe of wonder that Cervantes has created, in which reality and fantasy often coincide. After all, it is true that “there is no book so bad…that it does not have something good in it.” But what that “good” truly is may vary.