From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 11.1 (1991): 135-36.
Copyright © 1991, The Cervantes Society of America

Bryant L. Creel, Don Quijote, Symbol of a Culture in Crisis. Valencia: Ediciones Albatros-Hispanófila, 47, 1988. 103 pp.

     This study, traditional in approach in that Cervantes's masterpiece is viewed against the socio-historical background of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, combines a rigorous, factual review of the historical times with the symbolic reading of episodes and details thereby reaching beyond the readily accessible narrative level. Succinctly and convincingly, Creel shows how Cervantes has embodied in Don Quijote, on the one hand, an “image” of the new Spanish elitism, and, on the other, its antithesis. Bryant Creel perceives and insightfully exposes Cervantes's irony as the novelist projects Don Quijote's “heroic idealism” —a mirror of the ideals of the nobility— as an “empty fiction” being enacted by the society of Cervantes's day (p. 32). In the figure of Don Quijote, rather than exalting the epic greatness of the heroes of the past, Cervantes exalts the nobility of human values.
     The work under review is divided into five chapters and has a preface and a bibliography of cited works. Chapter I, “Vestige of the Chivalric Past,” focuses on the adulteration and final breakdown of the traditional values of Spanish society in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This chapter is based on the socio-historical studies of critics primarily but not exclusively from the first decades of the twentieth century who have dealt with Spanish life and thought in Cervantes's times. If the helmet of Mambrino represents “Don Quijote's reassertion of the authentic tradition of knightly heroism” (p. 31), the missing piece of the helmet (actually a barber's basin) symbolically suggests the breakdown of Spanish idealism. Sancho's compromise, baciyelmo (basin-helmet) phonetically suggests the hollowness of such idealism (p. 31).
     In chapter II, “Don Azote, Scourge of the Infamous,” Bryant Creel successfully shows how Don Quijote's character is “ethically ambiguous and contradictory” (p. 40). Don Quijote justifies his actions by juggling the same nouns and adjectives in totally different directions from those in earlier situations (e.g., rashness may be courage, temerity or madness, pp. 41-44) depending upon his impulses of the moment. Creel concludes this



chapter with Cervantes's implied analogy: recklessness and righteous idealism is an escape from “internal failings” (p. 44) for individuals as well as for nations.
     In chapter III, “Exile in a World of Prose,” the discussion centers on Cervantes's art as a fusion of “chivalric romance” and “realistic prose fiction” (p. 46). The novelist satirizes the “obsolete and reckless crusading heroism” embodied in Don Quijote leaving intact the ideals themselves. The butt of the “pungent ridicule” incurred by Don Quijote is “aimed at the society with which [he] clashes” (p. 47). A review of the characters in the interpolated stories of Part I shows their kinship to Don Quijote in their restlessness (p. 64). Like Don Quijote they present a contrast to the “unimaginative” Diego de Miranda as well as to other characters “from goatherds to players to innkeepers” (p. 63) belonging to the real world. In this chapter, more interpretive than analytically relevant to the historical times, Creel relies on symbolic perspectives found in the feigned Arcadia (p. 68) or in the trampling of the ideals embodied in Don Quijote in the form of herds of bullocks and bulls (68-69) that overrun the knight, his squire and their mounts. The “potential reality” of an idealized conception of life such as Don Quijote endeavors to live out in a world that has long lost sight of ideals may not be easy to attain but worthy of the try.
     In chapter IV, “The Hobnobbing Knight,” Creel discusses the secular Renaissance spirit embodied in Don Quijote contrasted not only to the “morally declining aristocracy but more sharply still to the repressive nobility and the ecclesiastical hierarchy” (p. 73). From Creel's discussion it becomes clear that Cervantes's subtle characterization of his “equivocal hero” (p. 80) was conceived with a critical purpose in mind. The degree to which Don Quijote represents the misguided national character constitutes Cervantes's criticism of the standards of his countrymen (p. 85).
     In Chapter V, “Champion of a Spiritual Order,” Creel focuses on the “primacy of the higher moral and intellectual qualities” of Don Quijote which he interprets as Cervantes's intention to vindicate “the essential, spiritual dignity of human nature” (p. 86) regardless of its shortcomings.
     An unfortunate slip of the mind turns Dorotea, Don Fernando's conquest, into Galatea (p. 66), a character from Cervantes's pastoral novel. Some readers may quarrel with a statement or a detail of Creel's discussion, but it would be hard to quarrel with the thrust of his study written in a clear and direct critical language. Creel's work constitutes an excellent guide to Don Quijote that will be read with much profit by students of Cervantes's work.


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