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

Holy Moley: Don Quijote's Significant Senal

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

Holy Moley: Don Quijote's Significant Senal

Article excerpt

IN HIS ESSAY "WHEN an Arab Laughs in Toledo," from the recently published Cervantes and Modernity." Four Essays on Don Quijiote (2007), Eric Graf interprets the strange novel Don Quijote as "a manifesto in defense of the oppressed Morisco population of southern Spain" (22). Perhaps Graf is correct to the point of exaggeration about that particular defense, for Dano Fernandez-Morera reminds us that Cervantes participated in the Christian navy's defeat of the Muslim Turks' massive naval force at Lepanto on October 7, 1571, that he was later captured by Muslim pirates and enslaved from 1575-1580 in Algeria in North Africa, and that he called upon Philip II to attack Muslim forces in North Africa and liberate 25,000 Christians enslaved in Algiers (Fernandez-Morera, "Cervantes and Islam," 126-132; "Islam's Christian Captives," passim). Although his personal experience as a slave to Muslims may have offered him opportunity to form a more complex view of that religion, and though he may have felt empathy toward particular Muslims, Cervantes would appear unlikely to have had any great sympathy for Islam itself. His own Christian religious beliefs strongly influenced his final work, The Wanderings of Persiles and Sigismunda, a chivalric romance in which the knights and ladies ate pilgrims wandering from the far reaches of the earth in a quest for the heavenly city of Rome on a journey signifying the stages of the soul's salvation through Catholic truth (cf. The Cervantes Collection). Given the strong Catholic views that Cervantes held, therefore, one might also suspect him of harboring a less-than-entirely-positive view of Muhammad as putative 'prophet' and thus wonder if any passage in Don Quijote perhaps expresses a negative view of that sort.

Cervantes is well known for using irony in Don Quijote to poke fun at various figures. In Part I, Chapter 30, of the book, he shows the lovely lady-in-distress Dorothea inquiring after a great knight-errant, whose name she cannot quite recall but whom her father has sent her to find, so that this magnificent knight might free her kingdom from a dreadful giant. Cervantes makes Don Quijote's identity and valor depend upon the presence of a mole "on his right side under the left shoulder"--supposedly "the mark of a strong man," according to Sancho Panza (Cervantes, Part 1, Chapter 30 (Ormsby translation)). Quijote prompts the lady's memory:

--Don Quijote diria, senora --dijo a esta sazon Sancho Panza--, o, por otro nombre, el Caballero de la Triste Figura.

--Asi es la verdad --dijo Dorotea--. <>

En oyendo esto don Quijote, dijo a su escudero:

--Ten aqui, Sancho, hijo, ayudame a desnudar, que quiero ver si soy el caballero que aquel sabio rey dejo profetizado.

--Pues, ?para que quiere vuestra merced desnudarse? --dijo Dorotea.

--Para ver si tengo ese lunar que vuestro padre dijo --respondio don Quijote.

--No hay para que desnudarse --dijo Sancho--, que yo se que tiene vuestra merced un lunar desas senas en la mitad del espinazo, que es senal de ser hombre fuerte.

--Eso basta --dijo Dorotea--, porque con los amigos no se ha de mirar en pocas cosas, y que este en el hombro o que este en el espinazo, importa poco; basta que haya lunar, y este donde estuviere, pues todo es una mesma carne. (Cervantes, Part 1, Chapter 30)

Cervantes makes rather a mountain of this mole, so much emphasis he puts on it! Why a mole? Why on don Quijote's back? Why the uncertainty about its location?

   Vladimir Nabokov treats the "brown bristly mole" as a mark of
   irony, for while it may be "the sign of a strong man ... there is
   but little flesh on those big bones of his," perhaps implying the
   mole's significant insignificance, thereby standing for Quixote's
   "bodily condition [as] a crazy quilt of vigor, fatigue, endurance,
   and twinges of hopeless pain" (13 and 14). … 
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