Scholar discusses folklore, spirits in Don Quixote

On Nov. 7 an English philosopher and Hispanic literary scholar Jorge Abril gave a presentation here at Wheaton titled ‘Palimpsestic Physiognomy’ concerning the book Don Quixote. The presentation analyzed the book’s folkloric content and spiritual references.

Being the second most read book in history, Don Quioxte is a book that has been analyzed thoroughly in many different ways. The tale of the sometimes silly man and his misguided quest to become a chivalrous knight at a time when none were needed, has generated much admiration and speculation from critics and readers.

Abril dedicated his presentation to analyzing the folkloric elements in the novel, which something that he suggests is are often overlooked, as he said, “ we see the magic and the devil in Don Quioxte.” While Don Quioxte primarily focuses on becoming a chivalrous knight, Abril cites that his encounters with spiritual beings throughout the book reveal the struggles the character is dealing with mentallyin his mind. “The presence of magic, ghosts and demons [in the book] has been studied before … [Don Quixote] has slight traits of demonic possession. He taps into the spirits that torment him.”

Abril cites that the presence of the folkloric Spanish ghost the ‘Hueste Antigua’ in the book acts to represent the fear and fright of failure that Don Quioxte has in his mission to become a chivalrous knight. In several scenes in the book, Don Quioxte hears the frightful noises of spirits from the woods ands well as even tries to fight the supposed Hueste Antigua with a tree branch as his sword. “ These episodes [with the paranormal] are failed attempts to get in touch with the chivalrous world,.” Abril said. He suggests that these sort of fears about one’s identity can be broadened to more than just Don Quioxte.,

“[At that time] Spain was in an identity crisis, they had no enemy to fight,” Abril said.

The presence of spirits at times can also be used to disguise blatant criticism as Abril said that the presence of the Hueste Antigua ghost at a funeral in one scene of the book is meant to act as a representation of corruption in the Church.

The approach that Abril took while analyzing the book was one that was unique to some of the students, as Gavi Cohn, a student who attended the presentation with his Spanish 260 class, said, “I hadn’t really thought about the book from the perspective of folklore before. There are just so many references throughout the book that I think sometimes [this book] can only be taught or looked at by focusing on one specific aspect.”

Abril insisted that the book, while old, is still significant today.  “The book is still relevant,” Abril said, “even in the past five years there has been an obsession with Don Quioxte in Asia and especially Japan.” Abril also thinks that the novel is very profound to Spanish culture and thus will not stop being influential, “you don’t go schools that speak English without reading Shakespeare,” said Abril, “ you also don’t go to Spanish [speaking] schools without reading Don Quioxte.”