When Cervantes wrote Don Quixote, Spain had a pretty tense relationship with Africa and the people who came from there (called Moors by the Spanish). Part of the background context for the second part of this book, in fact, is the expulsion of all African people from Spain in 1609.
The short version of the story is that the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate invaded what are now Spain and Portugal in the 8th century and ruled much of this area until 1492, when the last Islamic city fell to the Christian armies of the Reconquista, or "reconquest." After 1492, Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain. In 1609, the Moriscos, or Moors who had converted to Christianity, were also expelled.
Wait, even the Christian Africans were expelled from Spain? That's a lot of racial tension, and it definitely spills over into the text of Don Quixote. It seems like no character in the novel ever passes up a chance to criticize people from Africa.
Questions About Race
- In your opinion, does Cervantes criticize racism in this book, endorse it, or simply acknowledge that it exists without further commentary? Use specific examples from the text to support your answer.
- How do characters react to the idea of the captain marrying the Moorish woman Zoraida starting at Part 1, Book 4, Chapter 12? Do you find the reaction surprising?
- When you read the word "Christian" in this book, do you think that Cervantes actually means "white" when he writes it? Are black Christians still treated just as badly as any other black people?
- What eventually happens to the Moorish character Ricote and his daughter? Do you think they get what they deserve? Why?
Chew on This
In Don Quixote, Cervantes is willing to highlight the existence of racism in Spain, but not to outright criticize it out of fear of political backlash.
Overall, Don Quixote argues that the expulsion of the Moors from Spain was a good thing.