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

Scouting out Windmill: Don Quixote in Boy's Life

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

Scouting out Windmill: Don Quixote in Boy's Life

Article excerpt

THE RECEPTION AND INTERPRETATION of Don Quixote continually cross the artificial divisions of high and low culture. The novel's intriguing narrative structure that demands critical attention is combined with an entertaining premise that is easily transferred to more popular realms. Each individual reading of Don Quixote often reveals more about the reader than the work itself. Such is the case with the multiple appearances that Don Quixote has had in Boy's Life, an official periodical publication of the Boy Scouts of America intended for a readership of boys from ages 8-18. (1)

During more than a century of continuous publication, the magazine has consistently promoted the Western canon of literature as an important part of boyhood development. Yet throughout the years, the stated benefits of reading these works have varied. In early publications during the first decades of the twentieth century, Don Quixote was cast as a paradigm of chivalry, with emphasis placed on his bravery and other specific traits in order to encourage boys to develop an idealized form of masculinity. Cervantes's knight represented the type of chivalry that mirrored other literary images of frontier soldiers and Native Americans that also served as models for the type of behavior many social thinkers considered important for the wellbeing of the country but which they believed were in severe decline among the rising generation. During the 1960s and 1970s, as the magazine incorporated a broader focus on racial integration, greater value was placed on Don Quixote as an abstract whole rather than on the knight as an exemplary character. As a result of shifting social values, Boy's Life began to refer to the novel as a cultural artifact, a symbol of both the Spanish and Spanish-American heritage. More recently, a graphic novel version of Don Quixote uses both words and artwork to promote chivalry as an essentially masculine trait while maintaining some of the ambiguities that encourage individual interpretation. The way that Don Quixote is represented in Boy's Life reflects an evolution of the Boy Scout organization. While Don Quixote has appeared in popular culture in a variety of ways, its inclusion within the pages of Boy's Life provides a unique look into the evolving concept of a national identity and masculinity in the United States from within an organization that is iconically "American."

The ambiguity that is apparent from the opening chapters of Don Quixote naturally allows diverse readers to find a variety of--and often contradictory--meanings within the text. Attempts to decode Cervantes's original intention have sparked debates that can be as fierce as they are futile. While many of these arguments do little to further any understanding of the novel, they do provide certain sociological (and at times psychological) insight into the culture in which such affirmations are made. Even within academic circles, perceptions of Don Quixote have shifted in the United States in response to political and philosophical developments. As Alison Weber has shown, the Spanish Civil War, the Cold War, and the rise of postmodern thought all affected the critical approaches to Don Quixote in the twentieth century. The analysis of these changes should not be construed to suggest that Don Quixote studies have been based on an unstable premise. Rather, Weber advocates relating early modern texts to current events in order to counter the attacks on the humanities through a process of study she designates as postmodern liberalism: "If we harbor the hope that Cervantes's postmodern constituencies will include undergraduate students and individuals outside universities who have different uses for reading than our own as professional academics, then we might wish to make room for postmodern liberalism" (228). Although admitting to the need to understand the particular sociopolitical environment in which Cervantes wrote, Weber advocates "rereadings that acknowledge the reciprocal relevance of the cultural issues of a different age" (229). …

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