The Memory of the Hero and the Emergence of the Post-Heroic Attitude

John Beebe
San Francisco, California, USA
Society of Jungian Analysts of Northern California, San Francisco

Prologue: The Structure of the Hero Myth

The hero myth is always with us, but our fantasies about it change as we and our cultures develop. My own perspective comes out of a United States that has grown increasingly ambivalent about the hero. As early as my late twenties, elder Jungian analysts were already warning me that it was very hard to get beyond the hero. Through most of my middle years, it was repeatedly brought home to me, as an American man living in post-patriarchal times, how important it was to disidentify with the hero archetype. Although Ronald Reagan, Joseph Campbell, and Robert Bly would come, in turn, to resurrect the hero as an option for men of my generation to reconsider, I was much more persuasively being initiated into postmodern discourses that taught me to stay with the project of deconstructing the hero.

I began to help others try to see through, and disidentify with, the hero myth. I gave lectures that showed how Jungian psychology might look if individuation were conceived as a story that leads beyond the hero. Eventually I was led to re-examine some of the classic hero texts, expecting to expose in them the psychological limitations that I thought my own generation had been the first to uncover.

I was surprised to discover that in most of the hero stories I looked at, the postheroic attitude was already present. Not infrequently, the hero’s story comes in two parts – the first illustrating the rise of the hero, but the second showing a deconstruction of the values so carefully advanced in the first. This two-part structure can be observed, for instance, in David Lean’s 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, in which the two, rather different phases of T.E. Lawrence’s career in World War I Arabia are divided by an intermission. The first part shows the effeminate, feckless Lawrence angling his way up the ladder to leadership in the struggles for Arab independence, and finally surrendering to the ecstasy of battle. The second part reveals his capture and re-emasculating rape by a Turkish general, which awakened Lawrence to his masochistic proclivities and led him almost to savor the disintegration of his own authority in the denouement that follows.

Fritz Lang’s 1924 silent film Die Niebelungen follows the same structure, with the first part, Siegfried, showing the rise of a hero with a will to save the world and the second part, Kreimhild’s Revenge, which begins after the death of Siegfried, revealing the other side of the archetype in the treacherous revenge of Siegfried’s widow Kreimhild, whose incendiary destructiveness annihilates the world beyond any hope of heroic redemption.

These movie depictions of the hero myth led me to a paradoxical insight that I have begun to check against literary texts as well, that disillusionment with heroic fantasy is embedded in the structure of the myth itself. I decided to seek out a literary text in which this structure was an explicit part of the artist’s handling of the theme.

Through a process of serendipity, I landed on what now seems to me the obvious choice. A poll of one hundred noted writers from fifty-four countries named Don Quixote the best book in history, just at the time the Program Committee for this Congress issued its Call for Proposals. I already knew I wanted to say something about the hero and the postheroic attitude, and I hadn’t read Don Quixote. That the 2004 Congress would be held in Spain made this the right occasion to do so. Moreover, Don Quixote was in two parts. Hopefully, it would follow the same rising and falling pattern as Lawrence of Arabia and Die Niebelungen. I would not know until I actually finished the second part of the novel that Barcelona is where Don Quixote arrives at the end of his adventures, before finally giving up on being a knight errant and going home. Nor did I realize until just a few months before the Congress that Fall, 2004 would mark the four-hundredth anniversary of the publication of the first part of Cervantes’ masterpiece. As I labored to get through the nine hundred forty pages to be in a position to deconstruct my own heroic labors, celebrations of the book were occurring all over the world, and they cheered me on. Not long after my proposal was accepted, a new translation by Edith Grossman1 hailed as the best ever in English was published.

1 Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, Edith Grossman (trans.), New York: HarperCollins, 2003. Page citations refer to this edition.

With all this synchronistic support, I was able to realize my ambition to read the novel. The heroic execution of my project was even shadowed by the kind of postheroic irony that Cervantes appreciated. As the time got away from me, I discovered that if I was to have a paper to include in the advance proceedings of the Congress, I was going to have to start to write about the massive novel even before my reading of it was complete.

Fortunately, my intuition about its two parts proved reliable. Don Quixote Part One recalls a man’s mad attempt to claim an already archaic heroic identity. Don Quixote Part Two deals with the emergence in the same man of a truly post-heroic attitude, with astonishing anticipations of present day notions of individuation.1 I will imitate this two-part structure to organize my own remarks, dividing them, according to the themes of this Congress, memory and emergence, into meditations on the memory of the hero as we rediscover the archetype in Don Quixote Part One and reflections on the emergence of the postheroic attitude, as the archetype proceeds to qualify and finally limit itself in Don Quixote Part Two.

1 Howard Mancing, in The Chivalric World of Don Quijote: Style, Structure and Narrative Technique locates a noticeable decline of enthusiasm for the chivalric ideal on the part of the protagonist as early as the last half of Part One, but the clear defeat for the reader of the Don’s heroic possibilities does not come until Part Two.

The Memory of the Hero

Analytical psychology itself got its start in the two parts of Jung’s Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido. Part I introduced the hero’s journey through the night sea of the unconscious, and Part II complicated this vision by postulating that heroic consciousness itself would have to be sacrificed for the development of the mind to proceed. To make sense of this contradiction, depth psychologists, following Jung himself, have assumed that the hero is the archetypal image of the strong ego formed in the first half of life, which rises, like the sun itself, to prominence only to set, or be set aside, in the second half of life. This has, however, been a hard prescription to follow.

Don Quixote is a text with much to tell us about the ego’s continuing wish, well beyond middle life, to wrap itself in the mantle of the hero. In Cervantes’ depiction of the “peculiar madness” of this fiftyish hidalgo, I was able to identify three problematic aspects of heroic consciousness when it persists into the second half of life. The first problematic aspect of Don Quixote’s heroic consciousness is an inordinate modeling of the ego’s identity upon fictions. Quixote, belonging to the first century of ordinary citizens who could read and therefore model their consciousnesses on what they found in books, is ever citing fictional precedents for the kind of life he would like to live. His favorites were the chivalric romances. In an unconscious parody of the way some of his contemporaries were reading Imitation of Christ, Don Quixote makes a book called Amadís of Gaul, the model for his own life.

The biggest fiction that Don Quixote espouses is that the world is arranged to occasion the display of chivalry – that life is organized to offer opportunities for a hero to intervene. I have seen just this assumption operating in the minds of men throughout the second half of life who become agitated by all they feel called upon to do. Surely there is a flavor of paranoia in the presumption that the world is always setting tests for the ego to master.

A second aspect of the elderly bachelor Don Quixote’s madness involves his naive display of desire for the heroic life. The Jungian analyst Ruth El Saffar, who was also a leading Cervantes scholar, called this in a book of psychoanalytic essays that she co-edited, “quixotic desire, 1” implying to me a heavy-handed assertion of romantic will that is a bit ridiculous to everyone who sees it. On the basis of Cervantes’ own explanation of what motivated his character’s “fervent desire” to the life of a knight-errant, an andante caballero, Miguel de Unamuno wrote that Don Quixote “was driven mad by reading books of chivalry, and he fell into the folly of wanting to appear in their pages …”2 But that interpretation of the quixotic obsession ignores something else Cervantes tells us in the first chapter of the novel:

The poor man imagined himself already wearing the crown, won by the valor of his arm, of the empire of Trebizond at the very least; and so it was that with these exceedingly agreeable thoughts, and carried away by the extraordinary pleasure he took in them, he hastened to put into effect what he so fervently desired. (21-22)

Fame, in other words, the mad hidalgo already assumes he has, and will only get more of in the course of living the chivalric life that he has been called, by reading about it, to follow. This is the desire to enact what one believes – deludedly – one is already famous for. I once attended a Catholic funeral, where one of the speakers, a woman I will call Mary Finnerty, told us, “Let it never be said that Mary Finnerty ever left someone in the hospital unvisited.” (She was particularly praising of the deceased, for having shown more gratitude than anyone else for the visits she had paid.)3

1 Ruth Anthony El Saffar and Diana de Armas Wilson (eds.), Quixotic Desire: Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Cervantes, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1993.

2 Miguel de Unamuno, “Glosses on Don Quixote,” in Our Lord Don Quixote, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976, p. 356.

3 This is an imagination that is funneled, therefore, into imitation: as the French critic Marthe Robert has observed, “The most radical quixotic act, then, is never the accomplishment of some personal ambition, but on the contrary, the imitation of an ideal fixed by tradition, indeed by literary convention, and consequently stripped of all originality.” Marthe Robert, The Old and the New: From Don Quixote to Kafka, Carol Cosman (trans.), Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977, p. 12.

A third aspect of Don Quixote’s madness can be described as monomania. Mania derives from the Greek µh..., given (in the accusative case, µh...) as the first word in the Iliad, where it refers to the wrath of Achilles. The ego’s capacity for psychotic ire in heroic mode is carried forward by the English word “mad,” which puns on the rage that clouds any reason, exactly when it feels itself to be right, superior, in need of asserting its own position. Although Don Quixote is sometimes violent to the point of being unconsciously cruel, 1 his basic pathology is grounded neither in anger, sadism, nor what analysts nowadays call narcissistic rage. Rather, it stems from monomania, the insistence on using one function of consciousness, in his case intuition, exclusively, resisting any compensation or advice from the other functions. This is a problem that can compromise reality testing. When he is displaying his madness, Don Quixote insists on using his intuition to the exclusion of thinking, feeling, and sensation. An example might be the way he handles the process of arming himself, in the opening chapter of the novel:

And the first thing he did was to attempt to clean some armor that had belonged to his great-grandfathers and, stained with rust and covered with mildew, had spent many long years stored and forgotten in a corner. He did the best he could to clean and repair it, but he saw that it had a great defect, which was that instead of a full [knight’s] … helmet with an attached neckguard, there was only a simple headpiece; but he compensated for this with his industry, and out of pasteboard he fashioned a kind of half-helmet that, when attached to the headpiece, took on the appearance of a full … [one]. It is true that in order to test if it was strong and could withstand a blow, he took out his sword and struck it twice, and with the first blow he undid in a moment what it had taken him a week to create; he could not help being disappointed at the ease with which he had hacked it to pieces, and to protect against that danger, he made another one, placing strips of iron on the inside so that he was satisfied with its strength, and not wanting to put it to the test again, he designated and accepted it as an extremely fine … [knight’s helmet] (22).

Perhaps it is because Don Quixote is unable to use a balance of psychological functions in testing reality that he suffers from an agitated depression of exactly the kind that I have seen in men possessed by the senex archetype2 in psychiatric practice where one recognizes easily enough the Knight of the Sorrowful Face. As Terry Castle has noted in a recent report on her reading of the new Grossman translation3, “for much of the fiction” Quixote “comes off as a senile man-child: fey, withered, dissociated, lost in his archaic, estranging dreams.”

1 “Unprovoked, except by chivalric paranoia, Don Quixote beats up a carrier (‘with such good will, ’ ‘so effectually mauled’) and shatters the skull of his innocent companion. Interfering in a squabble, he then causes a blameless young rustic to be flogged ‘so severely, that he had like to have died on the spot.’” Martin Amis, “ Broken Lance,” a review of a reissue of the Smollett translation, in The War Against Cliché, New York: Vintage, pp. 427-432.

2 James Hillman, “Senex and Puer” in Puer Papers¸ Dallas: Spring Publications, 1979; “On Senex Consciousness,” Spring (1970), pp. 146-165; “The ‘Negative’ Senex and a Renaissance Solution,” Spring (1979), pp. 77-109.

3 Terry Castle, “High Plains Drifter” in Atlantic Monthly, January/February, 2004. http://

Here we can see that Quixote is in fact not archetypally a hero at all. Archetypally, the character we encounter personifies the senex. According to Hillman’s classic delineation,

Senex is the Latin word for “old man.” We find it still contained within our words senescence, senile and senator. … As natural, cultural and psychic processes mature, gain order, consolidate and wither, we witness the specific formative effects of the senex. … Longings for superior knowledge, imperturbability, magnanimity express senex feelings as does intolerance for that which crosses one’s systems and habits. … The temperament of the senex is cold, which can also be expressed as distance.1

One critic, 2 in line with Castle’s notion of Don Quixote as a “senile man-child” has described the hidalgo as a “puer senex,” the kind of man Hillman and also von Franz have taught us to recognize, one who was identified with the archetype of the puer aeternus in youth and then, lacking a relation to the anima, has slipped in age into an identification with the archetype of the senex. He becomes an occasionally wise, often pontificating, and finally foolish old man, like Don Quixote. From this perspective, one sees Don Quixote’s reaching out to embrace the hero archetype less as a particular natural affinity for this archetype, and more as a last ditch attempt to hold onto the idealism of the puer aeternus in order to avoid petrifaction – the cynical despair of the old man who has failed to prosper at life. Don Quixote’s monomaniacal embrace of the hero is thus not just a simple inflation of the ego’s superior function by a narcissistic (or perhaps we should say, egoistic) character.

1 James Hillman, A Blue Fire, Thomas Moore (ed.), New York: Harper and Row, 1989, p. 208.

2 Eduardo Urbina, ‘Son Quijote, puer-senex: un tópico y su transformación paródica en el Quijote, ’ Journal of Hispanic Philology, 12 (1987-88), 127-38. See also the discussion of the puer senilis or puer senex in Ernest Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, pp. 98-101, in the section of his chapter on Topics entitled “Boy and Old Man.” Curtius tells us that “This is a topos which grew out of the psychological situation of late Antiquity,” adding that “[a]ll early and high periods of a culture extol the young man and at the same time honor age. But only late periods develop a human ideal in which the polarity youth-age works towards a balance” (p. 98). That imaginal balance does not come forward in Don Quijote’s case until very late in the novel, when he begins to consider taking up the pastoral life with Sancho, thus replacing the chivalric ideal with another literary trope, described by Steven Marx in “Fortunate Senex: The Pastoral of Old Age,” Studies in English Literature, Spring 1985, online ~smarx/Publications/YouthAge/Chap2.html

In an individual taken over by the senex, the superior function can be hard to spot. All one sees is the senex that has preempted the ego. In the psychological lifeworld of Don Quixote taken as a whole, the novel’s actual heroic standpoint is similarly hard to identify in the midst of all Don Quixote’s arrogating. If there is an authentic hero within the novel, though, and I think there is, it is Miguel Cervantes himself (who coyly hides behind his pseudonymous Arab narrator, Cide Hamete Benengeli – Sir Ahmed Eggplant, as Terry Castle translates this name – to conceal the degree to which Cervantes dominates the story with his extraordinary narrative gifts). We have little secure information about Cervantes’ personality, but we do know that, though ill, he fought bravely in the decisive battle of Lepanto against the Ottoman Turks, he was captured by Barbary pirates and held for ransom by a Muslim viceroy in a prison in Algiers for five years, during which time he led several escape attempts that failed, and even though he refused to tell on his co-conspirators, insisting on taking sole responsibility for the plans to escape, he so impressed the Viceroy that he avoided being put to death. It is also recorded that, after two years in prison, when his family had finally managed to raise the money to ransom him, their firstborn son, he had the funds applied to free his younger brother Rodrigo who had been captured with him, even though that meant further years of imprisonment for himself. According to the priest who eventually did ransom him – in chains on a ship that he was just about to have to row with other slaves out of the harbor of Algiers, presumably never to be heard from again – the future author of Don Quixote “showed a very special grace in everything.”1 I read him as an introverted feeling type, with auxiliary extraverted intuition – introverted feeling, the author’s private unerring sense of value, and extraverted intuition, his endless capacity to entertain us with the possibilities of his material. His character Don Quixote attempts to adopt the introverted feeling style of the knights-errant in the books he has read, but he does so in a senescently introverted intuitive way. I would say that the character’s introverted intuition is a creative personification of the shadow side of Cervantes’ enabling auxiliary extraverted intuition.2 In my explorations of typology, I have found that the shadow of a man’s auxiliary function, meaning that function used with the opposite attitude with respect to extraversion or introversion, is associated with the archetype of the senex.3 This archetype can take center stage in later life by appropriating the natural superior function, normally associated with the archetype of the hero, to its own agenda.

1 Terry Castle, op. cit.

2 The “shadow” of a particular function will have the opposite attitude with respect to extraversion or introversion.

3 See John Beebe, “Understanding Consciousness through the Theory of Psychological Types” in Joseph Cambray and Linda Carter (eds.), Analytical Psychology, London and New York: Routledge, 2004.

In this way, the senex commandeers the hero in a clumsy, driven, and finally self-defeating way. It would not be unfair to say that within Cervantes’ novel a heroic introverted feeling type’s reputation for natural gentlemanliness and service to honor is what Quixote’s intuition aspires to as a religious ideal, one that he can only comically attempt to realize in his own person. And, according to the logic of Cervantes’ irony, his very attempts to embody this ideal actually serve to reify it, so that the reader of Part One finds himself rooting against common sense for the possibility that the character will actually stumble his way into the tao of chivalry.

Some would say that, for all his inattention to the constructions of everyday reality, he is already there. The great literary historian of Zen sensibility, R. H. Blyth, was so impressed by Don Quixote’s unquestioning embrace of knight-errantry in Part One, that he wrote, “the man who in the history of the world exemplifies all that is best in Zen … is Don Quixote de la Mancha, Knight Errant.”1 Blyth refers to the hidalgo’s instinctive way of embodying the heroic ideal, however fumbling: “he lived twenty four hours every day, following his instincts (his ideals) as wholeheartedly, as truly, as naturally, as the blooming of flowers in spring, as the falling of leaves in autumn.”2

However, the instinctive idealization of the hero is not maintained, in Don Quixote, by the title character alone. The other half of the archetypal pair that supports the habit of living by fictions, the desire to enact fame, and the monomania of staying within a single typological perspective is Sancho Panza. One of the great achievements of the novel is that this man of another social class, educational background (Sancho cannot read), body type, and psychological type is able to team up with Don Quixote to form a pairing that is really an organic unity. We cannot imagine them apart. As G. N. Orsini has observed, “it may be said that Sancho is not an extrinsic addition to Don Quixote, but that the Don belongs to Sancho just as much as vice versa: the great comic situation would not be what it is if one of the two were omitted.”3

They define polar ends of the irrational, perceptive dimension of consciousness.4 Sancho Panza uses the extraverted sensation function to construe reality as insistently as Don Quixote relies on introverted intuition. This contrast produces the comic misunderstandings in scenes like the one in which, despite Sancho’s concrete warnings that what he is seeing is nothing but windmills, Don Quixote proceeds to charge at what he claims, not entirely unjustifiably, are long-armed giants come to rob and dominate the countryside.

1 R. H. Blyth, Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics, Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 1942, p. 201.

2 Ibid., p. 211.

3 (G. N.G. Orsini, “Organicism,” in Phillip P. Wiener (ed.) Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Volume 3 New York: Scribner’s, 1973, p. 422.

4 Michael Ryle has demonstrated this elegantly in his paper “Don Quixote: A Fictional Representation of the Perception Dichotomy,” presented at the Fifteenth International Convention of the Association of Psychological Type, Toronto, Canada, July 23, 2004.

Because Sancho and his Don each hold the inverse attitude and function from the other, their dominant function-attitudes fall on the same “axis” of consciousness – in their case, an irrational axis, which enables them on many occasions in the course of the novel to function together in a folie á deux. We can use this insight into their complementary typologies to illuminate the way a shadow pair of functions of consciousness can conspire to produce an anachronistic heroic expectation in someone in the second half of life. From an archetypal standpoint that recognizes that every type of function-attitude that seeks to assert its consciousness is also expressed by an archetype, Sancho Panza is trickster to Don Quixote’s senex. We often think of senex and puer as opposites, but the trickster is actually the more natural sparring partner for the senex.

It should be pointed out that in Don Quixote Part One, Sancho Panza is largely a passive trickster. In Part One, the major scene involving him occurs when others toss him into the air in a blanket, a target of humiliating sport at an inn. Although Sancho engages in a few conscious deceptions, he is largely unable to put anyone else in a double bind, as he will do in Part Two, when he comes into his own. In Part One, Don Quixote is oblivious to Sancho’s irony. Sancho’s trickster nature shows, however, in the way his speech is “stuffed with words,”1 an endless string of proverbs that are so adroitly fractured as to cancel themselves out within a single sentence. Such “self-erasing”2 and overstuffed prose is a hallmark of the trickster.3

1 Warwick Wadlington, The Confidence Game in American Literature, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975, p. 246, quoted in Beebe, “The Trickster in the Arts.”

2 R. W. B. Lewis, Afterward to Signet Edition of The Confidence Man, New York: New American Library, 1964, p. 272 quoted in Beebe, “The Trickster in the Arts.”

3 John Beebe, “The Trickster in the Arts” in The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, 2/2, 1981, pp. 21-54.

In this first part, it is the senex, Don Quixote, who, though mad, has the greater agency in guiding the action to keep the idea of the hero alive. Sancho Panza mostly defers to him. Senex and trickster collude in creating the illusion of a heroic future, when there is no actual reason to believe this is more than a vanished ideal. I believe this was Cervantes’ symbolic perception of the situation in his nation’s cultural unconscious at the time he published Don Quixote, and it suggests a way of understanding the psychodynamics of both individuals and cultures when powers they have deployed with confidence are waning. Without much direct reference to contemporary history, the author conveys the feeling of the unconscious situation of a Spain entering the seventeenth century, still shaken by England’s defeat of the Spanish Armada, which had signalled the first clear limit to the future influence of the Spanish empire. By 1605, Spain had become, not unlike the United States today, a famous, influential, and proud country whose “greatest generation” was already past, even though it was not psychologically ready to give up the illusion of its transcendent power.

Under such circumstances, an individual or country that is losing its heroic position may start to keep its pride and its sense of ongoing agency afloat by a combination of fictions, desire to live up to its reputation, and monomania. In an older man, or a patriarchal country past its prime, the energy for these dynamics is fueled by the joint agency of the archetypes of the senex and trickster. As knight, Don Quixote personifies a senex-deployed introverted intuition that has a religious urgency about restoring lost honor and integrity to Spain. Sancho Panza represents a tricksterish extraverted sensation that sees a realistic opportunity to gain something by playing along with this senex grandiosity (Don Quixote has promised Sancho the governorship of an island when his fame is suitably rewarded. This is a picture of what any psychological entity – whether individual or culture – can look like when the powers that were so important in its ascendancy have declined, when heroic mastery no longer seems to be a realistic possibility, and when there is not the will to accept a diminution of status. In such a case, out of the shadow, a manic drive to reinstate the lost heroic possibility ensues.

In Don Quixote’s story, the continued distance of the self-proclaimed hero from the anima suggests that this kind of effort at regeneration of heroic authority is not deeply restorative. Although Don Quixote has pledged his fealty to his Lady, Dulcinea, who is actually a young peasant woman in the neighboring village of El Toboso, he hardly knows this woman. Sancho is supposed to go back to El Toboso to take a message to her, but he only pretends to do so. Meanwhile, in the various interpolated stories, a series of anima figures appears, so that the reader is led to feel, with each new woman, perhaps at last the true soul mate has arrived. But Don Quixote is often sleeping while these stories are being told.

Don Quixote’s most exact feminine counterpart is neither to be found in Dulcinea nor among the various female figures in the interpolated stories that are able to make connections to their beloveds, but in the very first of the unknown women he encounters, Marcela, a rather Artemis-like woman who wants never to have to do with any man.1 Her chief pursuer, Grisostomo, has died of a broken heart, echoing the isolation of Don Quixote’s own ego from the anima. It is that state of affairs that obtains throughout Part One of the novel: the hero is remembered, but in a way that renders him impotent to unite the psyche and lead from a place of integrity.

1 Ruth Anthony El Saffar, “In Marcela’s Case,” in Quixotic Desire, pp. 157-178.

The Emergence of the Post-Heroic Attitude

Part One of Don Quixote repeatedly teases us with the possibility that against all odds the mad hidalgo will succeed in his quest to gain recognition as a champion, like the over-the-hill fighter in Sylvester Stallone’s film, Rocky. Part Two, which Cervantes published fully ten years after Part One, seems to carry that possibility forward, for it begins with the fame of its eponymous hero established – on the basis of so many people having read Part One! Cervantes already recognizes that his character is destined to have a fame even greater than Amadís of Gaul. Certainly Don Quixote is no less worthy of the honor, being equally fictional. Such a contextualization of the character suffering from a literary madness within his own publishing history is dazzling – postmodern before its time – and inevitably foregrounds the author. It returns us to the way Cervantes has consciously invited us to scrutinize his narrative, starting with the actual identity of the person narrating the greater part of Don Quixote’s history. It is possible, as some have suggested, that Cervantes claims that that person is really Cide Hamete Benengeli to avoid prosecution. The Inquisition might easily have taken offense at the way the Priest and the Barber are shown burning Don Quixote’s books, for instance. Cervantes’ attempt to put a screen between himself and the reader may also be an effort at modesty in a narrator who is otherwise a show-off. The effect of this distancing, however, is to problematize the exact point of view the author is taking toward his character, thus inviting the reader to question whether Don Quixote itself is a straightforward heroic narrative, or something else again. If not even the identity of the narrator is clear, we are less willing to take the character’s self-identification with the archetype of the hero for granted, and we’re moved to look twice at heroic narrative itself.

This narrative ambiguity, a rich source of pleasure as one reads the novel, 1 has the paradoxical effect of making the characters on the page brim with significance: they are our footholds in reality as we climb the daunting literary edifice of this long novel. Yet they, too, seem to have changed when we get to Part Two. As R. H Blyth observed, “the Don Quixote of the First Part is the quintessence of all the chivalry of the Romances, all the knighthood of the Middle Ages, together with spiritual and noble qualities derived from Cervantes himself” and “[h]is madness is partly his idealism (of which we sane people have so little)” and “partly an overstrung imagination at the service of this same idealism,” but the “Don Quixote of Part Two is a kind of travelling lecturer, whose senility is taken advantage of in the most odious way by a couple of impudent, sophisticated creatures, the Duke and Duchess …”2

1 Anthony Close, in Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, pp. 109-25, argues that some of the ambiguity a present-day reader finds in the character of the hidalgo, who in his own time might have seemed more like a straightforward burlesque, is a consequence of the way the literary tradition Cervantes’ novel set in motion has increasingly emphasized the romantic, as opposed to the simply ironic, aspects of the would-be heroic character.

1 R. H. Blyth, Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics, p. 198.

It is not only his characters’ personalities that Cervantes permits himself to tamper with. He is extremely free, throughout both parts of the novel, with the names of characters. He plays fast and loose with words that ought not to change, parodying himself in this regard by the fractured proverbs and neologisms he puts so amusingly into the mouth of the illiterate Sancho Panza. In the very first line of the novel, Cervantes tells us that he does not “care to remember” the exact name of Don Quixote’s village, telling us only that is “Somewhere in La Mancha.” We also learn that Don Quixote is an assumed name, adopted by a man whose real last name was either Quixada, Quexada, or Quexana: at the end of the novel, when Don Quixote has regained his sanity and can tell us himself who he is, he will tell us he is “Alonso Quixano.”

The seminal Cervantes critic Leo Spitzer has described these narrative feints as creating a “linguistic perspectivism:”

Cervantes’ perspectivism, linguistic and otherwise, would allow him qua artist to stand above, and sometimes aloof from, the misconceptions of his characters.1

There is something demonic about the way the thinking process of naming is used, consistently undermining the conceptions of the reader. Clarity and integrity of naming, which in this introverted feeling universe should be carried by an extraverted thinking anima, is missing. In the shifting field of words, the reader’s confidence in any predictable outcome is shaken. Hope for a coherent resolution becomes a quixotic desire.

In Don Quixote Part One, we yearn along with the central character for a feminine figure that can restore order and purpose. While Don Quixote is pining for the doubtful Dulcinea, Cervantes unveils to us a series of fascinating women to gratify the reader’s wish to “see” the anima that can bring a happy ending. In Part Two, however, our hope of such an outcome is consistently disappointed. Early in Part Two, Sancho tries to convince Don Quixote that Dulcinea herself is at hand, when in fact he has pointed to a coarse peasant girl. Don Quixote decides that she is really the enchanted Dulcinea, but that does not stop the girl from using her own agency to leap onto her donkey and hightail it out of the narrative in an enormous hurry, never to return again (except in the Don’s fantasy). Don Quixote’s most important relational integrity in this story occurs with Sancho, with whom he sustains an affectionately adversarial dialogue, even as he is being tested by the multitude of characters that try to trick, embarrass, and defeat him in a concerted campaign to get him to relinquish his madness and know his true place in the world.

1 Leo Spitzer, Linguistics and Literary History: Essays in Stylistics, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1948, p. 50.

The second part of the novel moves toward getting the senex to give up its hold on the hero; the trickster no longer works in tandem with the senex to support heroic fantasy. Sancho Panza undergoes a remarkable individuation, using his trickster energy in an increasingly conscious way, learning to overturn the traps the world would like to set for him as the companion of Don Quixote. In this Second Part of the novel, the world order is symbolized by two extraordinarily sophisticated characters, the Duke and the Duchess, who personify a darker and more purposive aspect of the Self. They devise situations that are designed to break the fictions, crush the desire, and subvert the monomania that Sancho and Don Quixote are prone to enact together. Cruelly, they give every appearance of honoring the fame Don Quixote and Sancho have earned by being the subjects of a popular book, making the Don, in effect, a knight of their court (which undercuts his desire to continue as a knight-errant, off on quests). They even set up Sancho with a governorship, in which he displays an uncanny capacity, Solomon-like, to put others in double binds to resolve the tricky disputes they bring to him. But Sancho elects, eventually, to step down from this office, withdrawing all interest from the heroic role. In this way, he takes his cue from the Duke and Duchess to engineer the humbling of his own ambition.

The valorization of the hero that pervaded Part One of the novel is deconstructed in Part Two through three deliberate narrative strategies. One, famously, is irony, particularly the irony that the two protagonists’ fame is founded on their absurdity.

A second hero-deconstructing strategy is repeated frustration of desire, a fate shared in common by all the characters. As Governor, Sancho is kept from eating the delicious meals that are cooked for him by the intrusion of a government doctor who has taken it upon himself to supervise Sancho’s diet. Even the Duke and Duchess, in the midst of their many elaborate efforts to humiliate Don Quixote, are repeatedly stymied by Don Quixote’s courteous chivalry. On more than one occasion, he actually succeeds in heroically rescuing someone in their retinue. But most often, it is Quixote himself who is frustrated, particularly in his efforts to reach Dulcinea.1

1 Frustration might even be described as the archetypal field that emanates from the novel itself. Certainly, this property has eluded many filmmakers who have attempted to make a movie of it, even as it has defeated the attempts of master critics to put its special qualities into words. Mike Todd was planning a film version of Don Quixote to follow his great success, Around the World in Eighty Days, when he suddenly died; Terry Gilliam, has recorded his own unsuccessful attempt to film the novel in the documentary, Lost in La Mancha, which was released in 2003; and – most famous, and frustrated, of all, Orson Welles ended up only with pieces of the Quixote film that he tried to make over a period of twenty years. Jess Franco’s reconstruction of Welles’ Don Quixote conveys that Welles managed to visualize Don Quixote nearly perfectly through his actor Francisco Reguera, but was deeply uncertain how to make his story meaningful for our time.

Irony and frustration are not, in themselves, enough to deconstruct the hero. Cervantes’ third strategy toward this end, deployed by him in a sublime way, is his irreverence, which he can get away with because, somewhere behind it all, his own feeling for what is appropriate reigns supreme. Cervantes can defeat the fictions of his characters; he doesn’t need to revere his creations to give them life. Exposing the artifices by which they live, he leaves it to the reader to decide their value.

There is a fourth strategy, however, that seems to emanate from Don Quixote and Sancho Panza themselves, who invent the modern novel along with Cervantes by coming to self-knowledge.1 As their own haplessness dawns on them, they see the realistic limits of a life lived to perpetuate the hero myth.

1 Anthony Close, Don Quijote p. 108, calls this “a long painful process of self- enlightenment.”

But we will also have to notice that there is a cost to the deconstruction that dominates the second part of Cervantes’ novel. Under the pressure of the debunking, the archetypal underpinnings of Don Quixote’s ethical universe begin to fragment and lose their mystery. In a famous scene, the knight-errant begins attacking the puppets in a puppet show, to rescue some of the puppet characters from others who are persecuting them. In another scene, he comes upon some religious statues that are covered in white cloth – St. George, St. Martin, St. James the Moor-slayer (the patron saint of Spain), and St. Paul: seeing the figures of these men whom he regarded as spiritual knights who had “conquered heaven,” he begins to wonder what, if anything, he has achieved. It’s as if finally getting in touch with true archetypes of the hero at a religious level shames his intuition from the project of trying to make himself the archetype. But with his disillusionment with his own possibilities for sacred achievement, we enter a secular, and not very imaginative universe. The very next scene has him trampled by bulls, and from that point on the old knight is repeatedly defeated.

This is not, for a culture or an individual, an entirely happy outcome to the loss of confidence in the hero. One might have hoped for a move from the trickster to the anima and a corresponding shift of emphasis from ego to Self. But despite Don Quixote’s belief that Dulcinea has been enchanted and can be disenchanted if only Sancho will flog himself 3, 300 times (a prescription delivered by the Duke’s majordomo dressed up as Merlin), Dulcinea never appears again in the novel, not even as the original peasant girl she had been. There is a woman interested in Don Quixote, one of the Duchess’s servants, who is so obnoxious we agree with him that he would be better off without this particular woman. Without any viable access to the feminine, however, his capacity to sustain with any semblance of integrity his heroic identification disappears.

At the end, Don Quixote can only submit, once again, to someone’s trick. His friend, Sansón Carrasco, dressed as the Knight of the White Moon, catches up with him in Barcelona. Sansón, who has read Don Quixote Part One, knows that Don Quixote’s commitment to knight-errantry demands of him that he submit to any condition imposed on him by any other knight who defeats him. Challenging Don Quixote to a duel, he defeats him and makes him promise to return home and eschew the practice of chivalry for a period of one year. Tricked through his own text, Don Quixote can no longer continue as a knight.

Sansón’s costume as Knight of the White Moon suggests that Don Quixote is submitting to lunar masculinity, 1 a style that subverts the solar heroic aspirations that appear, for instance, in Picasso’s famous lithograph of Don Quixote on his horse beside Sancho Panza on his mule, where, in the foreground of the drawing, the sun is prominent.

1 “Lunar masculinity” is a concept introduced by the psychologist Howard Teich. See John Beebe, Integrity in Depth, op. cit., pp. 93-95; 97, 98; 104. The South African novelist André Brink, looking at the issue from the standpoint of the fate of the anima, takes a different view that “The decisive event in this process, and also the culmination of the Dulcinea theme in the novel, is one of the sublime moments in Western literature. It is the last encounter with the Bachelor Samson Carrasco, masquerading as the Knight of the White Moon: defeated in the skirmish, Don Quixote is bound by the terms of their pact to acknowledge that his adversary’s mistress is superior to Dulcinea del Toboso: ‘Then, battered and stunned, without lifting his vizor Don Quixote proclaimed in a low and feeble voice, as if he were speaking from inside a tomb: ‘Dulcinea del Toboso is the most beautiful woman in the world, and I am the most unfortunate knight on earth; nor is it just that my weakness should discredit that truth. Drive your lance home, knight, and rid me of life, since you have robbed me of honors.’ [Don Quixote, J. M. Cohen (trans), London: Penguin Classics, 1950, p. 890] Eighteen years before Galileo, this is Don Quixote’s Eppur si muove [“And yet it moves,” the phrase Galileo was said to have muttered to himself, after agreeing with the Inquisition to repudiate the Copernican doctrine that the earth is not stationary, but revolves around the sun.] It is also a profoundly liberating experience: by announcing Dulcinea’ s status as the most beautiful mistress in the world, irrespective of whether he abjures her or not, he grants her an autonomous existence, releasing her form all dependence on his faith and his imagination. But by the same token he can now no longer be dependent on her – and if he relinquishes the lady who has provided the ultimate justification for all his exploits, there is, quite literally, no sense in continuing to live. And so, irrespective of what the Bachelor or the code of chivalry requires of him, Don Quixote hereby condemns himself to death. Which indeed follows soon afterward.” André Brink, The Novel: Language and Narrative from Cervantes to Calvino, New York: New York University Press, pp. 43

The lunacy of Don Quixote Part Two is what finally moves the old man into the post-heroic attitude, which means, among other things, the narrowing of the horizon of possibilities. The narrator himself steps forward in the final chapter to make this clear, saying:

Since human affairs, particularly the lives of men, are not eternal and are always in a state of decline from their beginnings until they reach their final end, and since the life of Don Quixote had no privilege from heaven to stop its natural course, it reached its end and conclusion when he least expected it …

At the end of the novel, Don Quixote – the fictitious persona – simply ceases to exist. The old man who remains to carry his life to its conclusion, now definitively naming himself as Alonso Quixano, refuses the efforts of his old friends to trick him into believing that Dulcinea will be disenchanted soon and that his heroic adventures can resume. As the dying Quixano puts it to Sancho, “there are no birds in yesterday’s nests.”

In the prologue to his posthumously published book, Persiles, completed on his deathbed just a year after Don Quixote Part Two was published, Cervantes penned a farewell to life that perhaps conveys the degree to which he personally had got beyond the hero:

A time will come, perhaps, when I shall knot this broken thread and say what should be said but which I cannot say here. Good-by, thanks; good-by, compliments; good-by, merry friends. I am dying, and my wish is that I may see you all soon again, happy in the life to come.1

Speaking now just for myself, four centuries later, from an American perspective, as one of those still would-be heroic readers who come late to Cervantes in another language, I can say that at this time in my life, and the life of my country, I am grateful to have found such a role model.

I would like to acknowledge the scholarly assistance of Charles Stewart with this paper, and the helpful feedback of David Abel, Millicent Dillon, Adam Frey, Carol Lucero, and Mary Webster.

1 Miguel de Cervantes, “Foot in the Stirrup: Cervantes Farewell to Life,” from The Troubles of Persiles and Sigismunda in The Portable Cervantes, Samuel Putnam (ed.), New York: Viking Press, 1958, p. 802.