One of the most obvious themes in Don Quixote de la Mancha is that of fond memories. Nevertheless, in Don Quixote, what has actually generally been regarded as the central thrust of fond memories: that it represents a yearning for a time which can never once again exist or be regained, is changed through using irony to represent a kind of ethical idealism. Simply put, the specific “taste” of nostalgia represented by Cervantes is that of a yearning for a moral and ethical past which are considered (ironically) not as ideals of an unattainable past, however as a conception of pragmatic ethical guideline.
Of note is the individual intimacy with which Cervantes invests his character, Quixote’s, conception of an ethical idealism which appears easily offered and complete in the annuls of antiquity: “he fell into among the strangest conceits that ever entered the head of any madman […] that he should begin knight-errant, and wander through the world, with his horse and arms” (Cervantes Saavedra 23). The summoning to moral action is based, in reality, in a sense of individual pride and self-aggrandizement: “that by achieving such business he might acquire everlasting fame and renown” (Cervantes Saavedra 23).
This latter admission forms the key to the ultimately paradoxical unfolding of Quixote’s classic sense of morality because it exposes that he, Quixote, never ever grasped the necessary nature of the chivalric morality he idealizes in that he sought fame and recognition instead of simply service to the chivalric code itself. In this way, Cervantes shows that fond memories does exert an excessive influence on pragmatic application and behavior, but this is just revealed through the paradox of Quixote’s attempts to literalize a moral code which is, in fact, lost in the mists of antiquity.
More irony emerges from the style of classicism. This style may be considered closely aligned with the style of fond memories due to the fact that, offered the predilection of Quixote for self-aggrandizement, it is just natural for the alert reader to presume that Quixote’s “insanity” is born out of an inability complex. This natural assumption will be grounded not just in the picaresque action of the plot, but in the representation of the internal ethical “compass” of the characters in the story.
A fine example of how Quixote’s “madness” functions as a portrayal of classicism is the passage where Quixote thinks that a whorehouse is actually a castle: “he fancied it to be a castle, with 4 turrets and battlements of refulgent silver, together with its drawbridge, deep moat, and all the appurtenances with which such castles are generally described” (Cervantes Saavedra 28). The insanity of Quixote permits paradoxical inversion of the dominant social order.
Thsi tendency (style) is carried out throughout Don Quixote as an entire with peasants and working-poor handling functions typically associated with the upper-classes. Closely aligned to the style of classicism is the theme of chivalry itself. Offered the foregoing descriptions of Cervantes’s ironic use of fond memories and the inversion of the social order, one would anticipate, and rightly so, that the most obvious theme of Don Quixote, the style of chivalry, is likewise meant to be perceived as paradoxical.
The complete realization that even Quixote’s “mad” idealization of the past refuses to admit genuine ethical understanding through into the world, in spite of, that exact same vision exposing the hypocrisy and oppression of the “present day” world, is a realization which appears to weaken Quixote’s stature as a paradoxical hero. However, when Quixote himself renounces chivalry, his heroic stature is reality, increased, and his character provided a final seal of stability. When he announces: “free from those dark clouds of lack of knowledge with which my excited and continual reading of those detestable books of chivalry had actually obscured it.
Now I perceive the absurdity and delusion of them,” (Cervantes Saavedra 939) Quixote remains in truth vocalizing his inner-realization that fond memories, and chivalry were themselves aspects of the very classicism which, in the beginning, sparked his inner feelings of inferiority. He recognizes that chivalry is not a release from the injustices of today, however merely the past’s approach of empowering the very same social inequalities and injustices which flourished in chivalry’s historic decrease.