In 17th-century Spain, your social class told people everything they needed to know about you. You're a good person? Who cares? You're rich? Meh. Well, half-meh. All that mattered was whether you came from a noble family, which usually also meant that you were rich. On more than one occasion in Don Quixote, lovers are kept apart because of their social class, and it's hard to tell just how far Cervantes is willing to go in criticizing this fact. On the one hand, he seems to suggest that the quality of a person's character is what matters. But at other times, he suggests that intermarriage between different classes is only fine if it doesn't become widespread.
Questions About Society and Class
What social class would you put Don Quixote in? Is he high, low, middle, upper-middle? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.
Why does Sancho Panza's wife discourage him from trying to become rich and powerful? What's her main argument against it? Do you agree with her?
In general, do people from "noble" families tend to act well or poorly in this novel? Are they nice people on the whole, or does Cervantes ever suggest that rich people are bad?
Chew on This
In Don Quixote, we see that being rich doesn't necessarily make a person good. But coming from a noble family definitely does.
Cervantes is willing to criticize the prejudices of social class but only up to a point. He still supports the idea that good breeding can make one person better than another.