I read Don Quixote, and it was not at all what I expected… it was so much more!
Marcela, Dorotea, Luscinda, Camila and Zoraida. Remember these names, because they are the unsung heroines of a classic work of literature that weaves through its pages a powerful feminist message.
As I set out to read one of the ultimate classics in literature, I wasn’t even sure what to expect other than a need for stamina and concentration. The only reason I even braved myself to so much as purchase the book was because it was for a literature reading class I take weekly, and we tackle a different book in every module.
When it was decided that Don Quixote would be our next book, my immediate panic was the sheer length of it (in an effort of total disclosure, we only read the first volume) but underneath that fear, was an even greater one circling my mind. Fear that I would be unable to keep up with the reading or even comprehend what was written. Because to me at least, those epic classics pose a daunting task, and come across as monumental.
I was pleasantly surprised when I started reading, to find that Cervantes’ tone was humble and even self-deprecating; that the style in which he structured his work, inserting powerful anecdotes within the main narrative, makes for a lighter reading. Helping the mind shift focus every so often and gaining powerful gems of wisdom and inspiration through each entertaining story.
Don Quixote being the main character is of course a force to be reckoned with, a man determined to live a purposeful and eventful life, labeled as a mad man, but never deterred from his pursuit of a meaningful existence.
But it was not him that struck me the most. It was in fact the female characters that I listed at the beginning the ones that to me, delivered the most powerful messages and lessons. And it was there that the unexpected surprise of my reading experience emerged.
It turns out that disguised as a novel about a knight trying to revive chivalry, is a piece of literature that may very well serve as an example of feminism and female empowerment, so rich and vast that it deserves to be explored, read, shared, enjoyed!!
Cervantes’ female characters are strong, determined and wise women. They are connected to their emotions in a sensitive and intelligent way that propels them to look for lives where they can be true to themselves, their dreams and their feelings.
There are no damsels in distress in this knight tale! There are creative, smart and proactive women, that find the way to navigate their times’ traditions and status quo in order to find the personal fulfillment they are searching for. They are courageous and undeterred, persistent and strong willed, but they never impose their qualities in a harsh way. They speak their mind with eloquence, because what they actually do is speak from the truth that lies inside their hearts, and by doing so they disarm any and all that listen to them, reader included!
It probably would have been easier to write a wise woman as an older woman, having lived and harvested wisdom from life experiences. But Cervantes does the opposite, all his heroines are young women, in the cusp of their life, fighting to gain control of their destinies.
I find it hard to contain myself from detailing all their conquests and personal stories because I really don’t want to spoil the book for any eager readers! Just know that if you choose to, you will get to know characters that fight for their dreams, that refuse to follow a path imposed to them by others, and that have the strength to stick up for themselves. Each, in their individual way, conduct themselves with delicate power and courageous intelligence, striving to protect their hearts and minds, separating themselves from imposed roles and ideals, and working towards a life that belongs only to them.
Don’t think that all this means you are looking at solitary rebels, there is a beautiful mix of dreams that these characters long for. Some are more individualistic and others long for a meaningful partnership, some search further than others, but they all stand their ground in adverse circumstances.
But what really seals the deal is how the main character, the infamous Quixote, reacts to all this. His behavior is the true feminist lesson of the book, he not only treats them as equals, with respect and interest in their stories. He stands up for them, he validates their stories and their thoughts. Through his actions, some more verbal than others, he lets the reader know that the presence of strong women seeking their dreams and standing up for their beliefs, is something powerful, admirable and valuable.
The female stories narrated throughout the book are a breath of fresh air. Small gems that inspired me to live a little bit more unapologetically, to trust my instincts more often and to go after what I believe will make me feel true and wholesome happiness.
The entire book is an open invitation to live life to its fullest! To actually LIVE life for ourselves! It is a beautiful piece that encourages introspection, followed by courage to step outside the lanes, if the lanes don’t fit us, and follow our dreams regardless of what others may say or think of us. Because the words “normal” and “madness” have one thing in common: their definition is as vast as the amount of people trying to define them.
As I close this out, let me leave here my favorite phrase from the book, in hopes that it will inspire you to follow a dream or desire, as small as it may be, and maybe even read this invigorating classic.
“I know who I am and who I may be”
** Characters and quotes taken from:
Don Quijote de la Mancha, author: Miguel de Cervantes