A Psychological Assessment of Don Quixote
Writer’s comment: After I did poorly on my first paper for Comp Lit 2, Dr. Earnshaw helped me realize why my paper wasn't top rate. All of my wonderful observations and thrilling conclusions had already been reached and written about by thousands of people before me. My paper lacked the insight that originality and creativity can yield. I finally discovered that I need a topic that interests me in order to write well. Since psychology is my major, it seemed natural to psychoanalyze the character of Don Quixote. What was supposed to be a 2-3 page essay rapidly blossomed into a five page account that only outlines some of my thoughts on the subject. I enjoyed writing this unconventional paper and would like to thank all of my past English teachers who have given me faith in my writing abilities.
Instructor’s comment: Under the influence, perhaps, of Renaissance exuberance, I suggested nine topics for my Comparative Literature 2 essay on Hamlet and/or Don Quixote. Wendy’s dialogue addresses two questions partially: Compare the madness of Hamlet and Quixote, and Is Quixote a Christian martyr, a dangerous revolutionary, an alienated modern man? In her astute analysis of the Quixotic character, she shows a thorough knowledge of the text, to the extent of creating her own “frame story” of discovering her manuscript, and a sympathy for the man who values liberty and goodness in his mistaken efforts to right wrongs. What shines, through, however, is the reality of the search for meaning that is part of everyone’s life; in that effort Quixote and the student at UC Davis are one.
—Doris Earnshaw, Comparative Literature
Readers of Cervantes’ Don Quixote come away wanting one question answered: Is Don Quixote sane? The following is a detailed account of Quixote’s visit with a psychiatrist upon his return to his village. This incident was apparently not recorded in the original novel for fear that Quixote’s reputation might be tarnished. Documentation of his visit was recently recovered by researchers who discovered the incident in a psychiatrist’s manuscript. The practitioner was evidently very interested in the meeting as he transcribed the conversation word for word. The recovery of this important information reveals some shocking revelations about Quixote’s state of mind. The psychiatrist’s analysis of Don Quixote’s personality allows the reader to understand the rationale behind his behaviors. Quixote’s hallucinations, megalomania, paranoia and evident mid-life crisis are analyzed to determine his sanity.
Psychiatrist: Welcome, Mr. Quixote. Please be seated.
Quixote: My title is Don Quixote de la Mancha, but you may call me Don Quixote.
Psychiatrist: Very well, Mr. Quixote. Now tell me, what is it that brings you here?
Quixote: It all started about a couple of months ago when I began having these hallucinations.
Psychiatrist: Yes, I do recall that I read a certain exploit of yours in which you attacked a windmill. Is that correct?
Quixote: Aye, sir, windmills. But they were giants! They were giants as plain as day!
Psychiatrist: I see.... Well perhaps this was just a quirk of nature.
Quixote: Well, actually, sir, every time I see an inn, I mistake it for a castle.
Psychiatrist: Hmmmm. This is indeed bizarre. Have you been getting sufficient sleep?
Quixote: A fair amount. All that is necessary for a knight errant.
Psychiatrist: A knight errant?
Quixote: Ay, sir. The finest occupation in the land.
Psychiatrist: Now I remember. Sancho told me about these fantasies of yours. To quote Cervantes: “These writings drove the poor knight out of his wits” (32). Oh, here’s an interesting passage: “From little sleep and much reading, his brain dried up and he lost his wits” (32). Why didn’t you tell me? This may be the root of your problem.
Quixote: Lack of sleep sir? I hardly think—
Psychiatrist: Let’s get back to the subject of knight errantry. Why did you venture off in the first place, deserting everything you had?
Quixote: I had to sir! It was my calling. I was “impelled by the thought of the loss the world suffered by my delay” (35).
Psychiatrist: I see.... So you feel personally responsible for the well-being of the entire world?
Quixote: I was given a gift of skill in battle; it is my duty to defend the weak and ensure justice.
Psychiatrist: How do you explain people’s belief that you are “mad”?
Quixote: They are simply unable to understand greatness.
Psychiatrist: There is one incident that still bothers me. You set convicts free. You let these convicted, terrible men loose. How can you explain this action?
Quixote: The men were being taken by force, not of their own free will. It was my duty to assist them.
Psychiatrist: You fail to understand that justice was being served. The horsemen were “only punishing them for their crimes” (171). Your inability to distinguish right from wrong disturbs me.
Quixote: But, sir, it was my intention to help those men. “The whole point is to have good intentions and the desire to do right in everything” (683). Nobody understands—I’m only trying to help, but “there are many that envy and persecute me” (680).
Psychiatrist: Do you have evidence of this persecution?
Quixote: Of course! I “have been [persecuted] by enchanters” who tried to steal Dulcinea from me! (680).
Psychiatrist: Perhaps your feelings of persecution are due to the feeling that you are not worthy enough for her.
Quixote: Not worthy? I have travelled to far lands proving my worth and have only come home against my will.
Psychiatrist: So you feel as if you have no control?
Quixote: I believe that “first impulses are outside man’s control” (159). Other than that, I have let fate dictate my journeys. I am summoned when there is someone in need.
Psychiatrist: It is easier not to take responsibility for one’s actions. This can be the result of uncertainty about the direction in which one’s life is heading.
Quixote: So I am not alone?
Psychiatrist: No, many men in this society undergo the same traumatic feelings as you have. Most, however, are not as freely able to express their feelings and act upon their wishes. Men reach the point where they wonder about the meaning in life. It becomes very important to have successfully accomplished something of importance. Thus, you tried to go out and live your fantasies.
Quixote’s visit to the psychiatrist occurs before his final transformation when he realizes “I was mad, but I am sane now” (938). A Castillian eloquently pronounces the feelings of many: “If you had been mad in private and behind closed doors, you would have done less harm” (871). Perhaps his escapades were meaningful, though, for they illustrate to others that it is human to question the meaning in one’s life. In determining Don Quixote’s sanity, one must find the root of his problems. His hallucinations may be attributed to the tremendous lack of sleep which occurred during his devotion to reading. He became caught up in the world of knight errantry, and his delusions “reflect [his] inability to distinguish between his memory images and the perceptual experiences outside his mind” (Roediger 565). If his hallucinations reoccur, they could be treated with tranquilizers. The treatment of his larger personality disorders, however, should help eradicate his hallucinations.
Apparently, Quixote also possesses a paranoid personality disorder, evidenced by his eccentric, odd behavior. He exhibits all of the classical signs-from his suspicions of others to his inability to take the blame for his actions. According to the psychological manual, "it is difficult to live or work with someone like this, but otherwise these individuals seem to be able to function without too much impairment" (Roediger 571). At the point in his life when he began reading about knight errantry, Quixote was searching for meaning. His quest for a purpose in life follows a universal tendency. Viktor Frankl dramatizes a modern view of the quest in his book Man's Search for Meaning. He recounts his struggle to survive and find personal meaning while enveloped in the horrifying depths of a Nazi concentration camp. Frankl was forced to look within to discover meaning in his existence. Quixote mistakenly searched for meaning in life through outside means. Though reasonably sane, Don Quixote lost touch with reality in his search for meaning as he became enveloped in the fanciful world of knight errantry.
Cervantes, Miguel de. Don Quixote. Trans. J. M. Cohen. London: Penguin, 1986.
Frankl, Viktor. Man's Search for Meaning. Trans. Ilse Lasch. Boston: Beacon, 1963.
Roediger, Henry L. Psychology. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.