Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Character-Building in Don Quijote

Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Character-Building in Don Quijote

Article excerpt

AMIGOS CERVANTISTAS Y QUIJOTESCOS: A focus of my paper is characterization in Don Quijote, including the elements within the narrative that point the knight errant toward and away from what has come to be known as realism. (1) Cervantes's deviation from literary idealism points, on the one hand, to the Italian novella and the early Spanish picaresque, and, on the other, to the entes de ficcion that, flouting the conventions of realism, inhabit the realm of metafiction. Rather than a hybrid or a liminal creature, Don Quijote is a study in contrasts rather than an amalgamation, often a ludicrous figure to be ridiculed or, at any rate, viewed with ironic detachment, yet on occasion a man worthy of sympathy, a character with whom the reader can identify. (2) I want to look at this dualism and its analytical implications. In the process of examining approaches to Don Quijote the character and Don Quijote the novel, I want to acknowledge and honor the work of one of my guides, colleagues, friends, and--not using the term lightly--heroes, Carroll B. Johnson, who taught us to look "inside" Alonso Quijano. I hope that my route will prove to be logical; it will not be direct, however.

One of the remarkable achievements of Guillermo del Toro's recent film El laberinto del fauno is the radical shift from levels of superrealism to high fantasy. The film pays homage to a number of predecessors, including Lewis Carroll and the brothers Grimm. This is potentially dangerous ground, in the sense that the unforgiving politics of Franco's Spain might seem to have little connection to fairy-tale worlds, no matter how gruesome or monstrous they may be. There is nothing more serious than the struggle for existence and the cruelties of armed combat--guerrilla warfare five years into the dictatorship--and stylized images of imaginary or alternate spaces could run the risk of trivializing of detracting from the representation of a uniquely Spanish reality. Montxo Armendariz's Silencio roto, of 2001, takes place in the same year--1944--and also centers on the role of the maquis, or resistance fighters, in the mountainous regions of the north, but the action is straightforward and the emotional thrust is uninterrupted, undiluted. Del Toros realization is conspicuously different. Coincidentally, right before viewing El laberinto del fauno, I happened to see, in a hotel room, the 1999 film Crazy in Alabama, which marks Antonio Banderas's directorial debut. The movie has two plot lines, one involving a woman played by Melanie Griffith, who flees to California after decapitating her abusive husband--with the head in tow--to find fame and fortune in Hollywood, and the other involving intolerance and the resistance to integration in the small Alabama town where the murder took place. The two plots merge somewhat--and unsuccessfully--at the end, when Melanie stands trial in her hometown, but the fit is awkward, and ultimately impossible. Each part requires a particular tone, at odds with the other. The operative mode for the Melanie Griffith segments is wackiness mixed with black humor, while for the others (featuring the young actor Lucas Black) there is a poignancy and a delicacy, despite the eccentricities that surround the proceedings. El laberinto del fauno manages to walk this difficult tightrope and to fuse realism with allegory. And I believe that the juxtaposition is significant in a number of ways.

Visually, El laberinto del fauno is a marvel, extraordinarily creative and majestic in the fantasy sequences but also handled with the most subtle and solemn of palettes on the realistic plane. It is my feeling that del Toro, the writer of the screenplay as well as the director, emphasizes the fairy tales that intrigue the young protagonist Ofelia for a reason. The stories are not only the vehicles of her escape but her sacred books, her Bible (or, perhaps more correctly, her substitute for the Bible). James Parr has signaled the "subversive discourse" of Don Quijote, its resistance to the authority, and authorities, of the past and this does not exclude the Holy Scriptures. …

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