Quixote’s Shadow

If Quixote is the hero of the story — which is up for interpretation, actually, you could argue that Sancho is the hero — then he cannot just succeed in his hero’s quest on first attempt, he needs to confront his shadow during the journey and achieve greatness by becoming whole. This is according to Jungian archetypes, and has also been further elaborated by Joseph Campbell and others.

Given that Quixote is a fictional creation, this creates some problems. He is not a real person, he is a creation of a man who has read about the feats of knight errantry and fully incorporated that writing into the creation of a character. I have not read any Jung analysis of Don Quixote, but I am sure he would consider the Quixote character a persona, what our protagonist has adopted as his way of coping with the world. But once again, a persona does not free someone from confronting his shadow.

The interesting thing about Sancho Panza is that he operates as a shadow while remaining a completely believable, autonomous character at the same time. In Panza, Quixote sees all of the things he has rejected to become this persona — a connection to the land and to a family, religious belief, normal human gluttony and greed. Panza is the everyman that Quixote is trying so desperately to walk away from and to reach an exalted state of immortality.

In Chapter 10, we get our first serious glimpse of the Quixote-Panza relationship, which can be viewed as a classic hero-sidekick duality, but can also be seen as an interior monologue between a man and his shadowy, grounded half. After Sancho asks for his insula as reward for their first victory over the friars, Quixote has to remind him that they have taken only small steps on their quest so far:

“Let me point out, brother Sancho, that this adventure and those like it are adventures not of ínsulas but of crossroads, in which nothing is won but a broken head or a missing ear. Have patience, for adventures will present themselves in which you can become not only a governor, but perhaps even more.”

This can be seen as a form of Quixote self talk, a reminder to himself that he has only begun this new life and bigger adventures await. Soon after, Quixote claims to have invented a balm (no doubt taken from one of the stories he read) that has magically healing powers. Panza, very wisely, offers to give up any claim on an insula if he could only have the formula to this balm, he could then produce and sell it and never have to worry about money again.

“Be quiet, my friend,” Don Quixote responded, “for I intend to show you greater secrets and do you greater good turns; for now, let us treat these wounds, for my ear hurts more than I should like.”

To bring in another Jungian archetype here, Quixote is demonstrating that in addition to being a stereotypical hero, he is also a bit of a trickster, because maintaining this grand fictional persona will require him to make many outlandish claims and promises and to keep raising the stakes with Sancho to keep him on board. As will be pointed out in another chapter soon, Sancho is one of the few people who believe him only because he lived in such close proximity to his pre-persona self and gained his respect through the years. We’ll see how long he can hold onto this trust.

Sancho doesn’t tend to check Quixote’s claims and promises, but he does pay careful attention to his language and is quick to point out when Quixote is taking his behavior places that will be difficult to uphold. Later in the chapter, Quixote vows to endure great hardships until the time that he can find another battle and win a replacement for his broken helmet. Sancho is skeptical:

“Your grace should send such vows to the devil, Señor,” replied Sancho, “for they are very dangerous to your health and very damaging to your conscience. If not, then tell me: if for many days we don’t happen to run into a man armed with a helmet, what will we do? Must we keep the vow in spite of so many inconveniences and discomforts, like sleeping in our clothes, and sleeping in the open, and a thousand other acts of penance contained in the vow of that crazy old man the Marquis of Mantua, which your grace wants to renew now? Look, your grace, no armed men travel along these roads, only muledrivers and wagondrivers, and they not only don’t have helmets, but maybe they haven’t even heard of them in all their days.”

The effect of these conversations is to make two crazy characters seem perfectly sane. They are working out the boundaries of their relationship and convincing the other that their quest is both reasonable and attainable, if only they are willing to stick to the plan and not get too attached to the stories of past glories.

In my personal experience, men tend to have to replay this Quixote-Panza relationship over and over in their lives, taking both sides of the equation. I tend to do very well in the Panza role when I have a Quixote model who I trust and admire. Being a speechwriter is all about helping a leader continue and succeed on a quest, and I am pretty good at helping them achieve those goals.

I have to admit that I make for a strange Quixote and tend to push away potential Sanchos in my life. I am far more trusting of women in partnership roles than men and tend to be excessively critical of men in these roles. I admire Quixote for being so open to Sancho’s advice and criticism. He seems to enjoy his company and doesn’t judge him harshly, even given ample opportunities.

Perhaps a second half of life journey for me might include becoming more open to Sancho Panza type characters. To do that, I will probably have to drop or get over some of my visceral dislike of men (something intimately tied to my relationship with my father), but that’s the subject for another essay.