Study Guide

Don Quixote Race

By Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Race

"I must only acquaint the reader, that if any objection is to be made as to the veracity of this, it is only that the author is an Arabian, and those of that country are not a little addicted to lying." (1.2.1.2)

Cervantes decides to make the narrator of Don Quixote a Moor named Cid Hamet Benengeli. It's an interesting choice because Cervantes claims on several occasions that Moors are liars by nature. Isn't it strange for him say racist things about Moors but then make his narrator a Moor? He might do this because he wants to introduce a little uncertainty into the story of Don Quixote by making the narrator a foreigner. Or is he undermining racist stereotypes by making his readers accept a story told by a Moor? After all, he is writing, theoretically, from a "Moorish" perspective here.

"I say for her," replied the fellow, "and what is more, it is reported, he has ordered, by his will, they should bury him in the fields like any heathen Moor." (1.2.4.1)

When a shepherd states in his will that he wants to be buried like a Moor, it causes quite a scandal. For starters, the Christian religious officials don't want to respect the guy's dying wish, because according to Christianity, you need to be buried a specific way if you want to get to heaven. For a Christian to ask for a Moorish burial might suggest that the dude was really, really upset when he died. Does it suggest anything else? Why include this detail at all?

But yet it grieved him, to think his master's dominions were to be in the land of the n****es, and that, consequently, the people, over whom he was to be governor, were all to be black. (1.4.2.2)

Sancho Panza is really pumped that Don Quixote will have a chance to make him the ruler of a kingdom. He's disappointed, though, by the thought that this kingdom is in Africa and that the people he'll rule over will be black. Is this racism, xenophobia, or both? Why would Sancho rather rule over white people?

"[But] pray, sir, take care that you reserve some part near the seaside for me; that, if the air does not agree with me, I may transport my black slaves, make my profit of them, and go live somewhere else." (1.4.4.3)

We like Sancho, but we've got to admit that no one in the novel talks as negatively about black people as he does. Not only that, but he figures that if he's going to be the governor of a country of black people, he'll make the most of it by selling many of them as slaves. Cervantes is almost certainly sending up this kind of uneducated, profit-oriented thinking about people of African origin. It's likely that many (or even most) Spanish peasants had this kind of attitude about African people. Does Sancho ever rise above this kind of thinking? Does this change the way you view him as a character?

"A nation [the Moors] from whom no truth could be expected, they all being given to impose on others with lies and fabulous stories." (2.1.3.1)

Once again, Cervantes wants to let us know that the African people are a bunch of liars and exaggerators. You can't expect any truth from them. It's possible that Cervantes is still feeling sore about the successful Moorish invasion of Spain back in 711. It's also possible that Cervantes is making fun of this kind of attitude, just as he makes fun of everything else. What do you think? How serious do you think Cervantes is? How does this change the way you read the novel?

"I firmly believe whatever our holy Roman Catholic Church believes, and I hate the Jews mortally." (2.1.8.2)

For some reason, Sancho thinks that saying he hates Jewish people makes him a better Christian. Believe it or not, he makes this comment in the middle of a speech in which he tries to argue that he's a good person. As you can imagine, anti-Semitism was pretty rampant in Spain back in 1605. Sancho's train of thought here is absurd, and Cervantes makes sure to make it even more absurd by placing it in a context where Sancho is trying to prove he's a good guy. Frankly, he's probably saying exactly the kinds of things he hears the village priest saying, but does that make it any better?

"Thou art a very simple fellow, Sancho," answered Don Quixote. "Thou must know that Heaven gave to Spain this mighty champion of the Red-cross for its patron and protector, especially in the desperate engagements which the Spaniards had with the Moors." (2.1.58.4)

Whenever Spanish people start feeling divided, all they have to do is mention the Moors, and suddenly they're all on the same side again. Part of you wants to say, "Get over it, guys. The Moors invaded you a thousand years ago." But the fact that Africa is just across the Strait of Gibraltar never seems to sit well with the Spanish, who are always on guard against their Moorish "enemies."

"In vain I professed myself a Christian, being really one, and not such a secret Mahometan as too many of us were" (2.1.63.9).

Ana Félix is of African, Moorish descent. But in order to make Spanish people comfortable, she promises she's a Christian and not a secret Muslim. She even goes so far as to say that "too many" of the Moors are secret Muslims. In other words, she's selling out her race for the sake of fitting in with the white Christians.

"In my opinion, you are not unlike the Moors, who are incapable of being convinced of the error of their religion, by Scripture, speculative reasons, or those drawn immediately from the articles of our faith." (1.4.6.5)

Those pesky Moors just won't convert to Christianity, no matter how much people try to convince them with perfectly rational arguments. (If you can't tell, we're being sarcastic here.) Back in the 1500s, and 1600s, the Spanish had some pretty brutal ways of dealing with people who spoke out against the Christian church. Ever heard of a charming little thing called the Spanish Inquisition?

"The ladies, being all surprised at the oddness of the Moorish dress, had the curiosity to flock about the stranger." (1.4.10.5)

On the bright side, not everyone in this book is a total racist. When a woman in Moorish clothing visits an inn, for example, the women at that inn are more curious about her clothing than they are suspicious of her race. In fact, a white guy known only as "the captain" plans on marrying this Moorish woman—which makes sense, considering how she saved him from a life of slavery by giving him the money to buy his freedom. Looks like things aren't so black-and-white (pun totally intended), after all.