Friday, May 20, 2005

Don Quixote's 400th Anniversary--Part Two

I met Don Quijote duirng my senior year of high school. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and reading Don Quijote's tale during senior year Spanish is almost the equivalent of reading a major English language novel. I say almost because in talking to other teachers as well as during my time as a high school teacher myself, I have not heard about nor was required to teach a novel of the scope of Don Quijote. Many AP English classes may read it, but it is often an abridged version. As for Spanish classes in the United States, it is usually reserved for the more advanced classes, and the option again may be to read it abridged. When I taught high school Senior English, the options were George Orwell's 1984 or Bronte's Wuthering Heights. It was British literature, and back in my day, they did not have extensive reading lists like some classes have now. There was a very fixed curriculum, and as a teacher you made the best of it. So, in my case, I chose Orwell's novel since it offered various possibilities, and a dystopian work held a bit more appeal. At any rate, I am not debating the merits of the texts offered in the United States's public schools. That topic can be be the subject of another post. My point is to simply note that I had a different experience. In my Senior English when I was in high school I was reading Shakespeare and some American fiction selections, mostly short fiction and very canonical (read Dead White Males).

As I mentioned in Part One, I started this small piece simply to post some resources for readers and kind of celebrate in a small humble way the 400th anniversary of a great work of literature. As I started doing some research to select some items to link, I started recalling my own experience with the errant knight.

Mrs. Delgado introduced us to Don Quijote during our senior year. I think, that like many teens, I groaned at the idea of reading a 1,000+ page book that "wasn't written in real Spanish." Readers can think of this in terms of the teenager who complains about having to read Shakespeare because it "is not written in real English." Actually, when I taught English in high school, I had at least one student ask what language Shakespeare was using. It made for a teachable moment about how languages evolve. At any rate, one must note that complete novel Don Quijote is written in Baroque Spanish, which can be challenging even to an adult. So, Mrs. Delgado had her work cut out for her. With a blend of coaxing, tight reading assignments, and a lot of enthusiasm on her part, my classmates and I got through the novel.

I don't think that I really came to appreciate Cervantes's work until I wrote my senior research paper in that Spanish class. My chosen topic was "The Influence of the Amadis de Gaula on Don Quijote de la Mancha." It sounds like a simple enough topic. Cervantes pokes fun at chivalry novels, and Amadis is one of the novels mentioned prominently in Cervantes's text. As I began my research, I found myself very engaged. I actually read the Amadis de Gaula, which turned out to be pretty good. In the process, I could see the conventions of chivalry novels. I felt that if I was going to see how Cervantes was breaking the rules of the chivalry novel, I had to know what the rules were in the first place. The more I read and then compared the works, the more I came to appreciate what Cervantes was doing.

It has been years since I completed that assignment, but I still remember it as one of the most interesting ones I did in high school. I have not reread Cervantes's novel since then though. In large measure because it is a demanding book. At this point in my life, I can say that I actually read it, as something you can check off one of those great works lists one hears about. But what does this say about the book if it is so big and daunting that once you read it, you are done with it? It is a good question, and it has prompted me to reread the novel this year, along with many others who may be rereading it or reading it for the first time. So, stay tuned as I may do little notes here and there on my experience as I go along. This will take time for the novel is best read a couple of chapters at a time. I am going to rediscover Don Quijote. Some critics have said that the reader's perception of the protagonist changes as the reader gets older. The younger reader sees an idealistic knight. The older reader sees a man disappointed with how his life has turned out. I want to find out who much of that may be true, but even if it is or not true, I am sure it will be a different reading. In any case, it will be an interesting travel for the Gypsy Librarian.


Jenne said...

I read Don Quixote in senior English at my high school. (I went to a US government school on an overseas base.) I adored that book! My Spanish is basically first semester college level, so I've never tried to read it in Spanish, but I hope to one day read it.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Nice to hear about people out there reading it. If you keep working at your Spanish, I think it can be rewarding to read it, even if it is just for the bragging rights. Thanks for stopping by.