Don Quixote, Christian, and Ishmael Walk Onto a Boat

29 Mar

About ten months ago Jeannette, Christine, and I were sitting in Panera having our first ever official book outing.  We were at the midway point of Don Quixote, and more than a little perplexed about what exactly we were supposed to be learning from reading the adventures of this crazed knight errant.

Then an “Aha!” moment struck.  Maybe it wasn’t just about DQ.  In fact, maybe we just needed to lay DQ as our foundation, and then later we would be able to come back to him and say, in our best snooty, overly-educated tones, “Ah, yes.  Well, if you compare this author’s approach to that of Cervantes you will plainly see that . . .”It seemed like a long shot, but at the time it was all we had, because as mothers we’d already dealt with our share of potty language, imaginary giants, and cardboard costumes.  We were looking for something more.

Well folks, it’s been happening, have you noticed?  Our authors are talking about each other, referring to other classics, building upon the past, and none more than Melville.  Here’s the end of Chapter 26:

Bear me out in it, thou great democratic God!  who didst not refuse to the swart convict, Bunyan, the pale, poetic pearl; Thou who didst clothe with doubly hammered leaves of finest gold, the stumped and paupered arm of old Cervantes; Thou who didst pick up Andrew Jackson from the pebbles; . . .

Okay, I’ll stop there, because I don’t know anything about Andrew Jackson.  But, Bunyan and Cervantes?  Those are our guys!

It seems that Melville has switched in this chapter from first person narrative by Ishmael, to an omnipotent author who gives us not only backgrounds on multiple characters, but also his own philosophical statements.
Here we get a little peak into Melville’s life as a writer.  This plea to a “democratic God” is for himself, that he may be given the ability to produce a culture shifting story, the likes of Don Quixote or Pilgrim’s Progress. Melville, a mere 30-something American is hoping to create characters that begin as the every-man and end as the men every man remembers.

Then again, maybe this is Ishmael’s voice begging the “Spirit of Equality” to make him, and the motley crew of the Pequod heroes in their own right – to elevate the common with a chivalrous pilgrimage toward the destruction of evil.

I don’t know, it seems my own snooty voice is rather indecisive about this whole mess.  Please weigh in with your own.


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3 responses to “Don Quixote, Christian, and Ishmael Walk Onto a Boat

  1. Adriana @ Classical Quest

    March 29, 2012 at 9:52 am

    “A foundation” — I like that. Thank you for giving me a reason why DQ was not a complete waste of my time. If it had not been on the WEM list I would have tossed it over my shoulder with relish after the first chapter or so. But I pushed myself forward with resolve — hoping that someday, somehow, someone would explain to me that what I endured actually had a PURPOSE in the grand scheme of my classical education.

    The only idea I could come up with at the time was that it was a test — a test of my stamina to see if I really had what it took to get through the WEM lists.

    I’m feeling out of the loop since I didn’t read Pilgrim’s Progress though.

    • Christina Joy

      April 2, 2012 at 2:50 pm

      I think your idea is valid. Sometimes when I dread an upcoming book I think to myself, “I read Don Quixote, I can read anything.” It was sort of the reading equivalent to a marathon, although I don’t really know of any Couch to Marathon programs out there, seems a bit wiser to start with a 5K, or say, Pride and Prejudice.

  2. manonmona

    March 30, 2012 at 5:14 am

    Reblogged this on Espacio de MANON.


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