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Free «Madness in the Novel “Don Quixote”» Essay Sample


First of all it is important to put an emphasis on the fact that “Don Quixote de la Mancha” by Miguel de Cervantes belongs to the cultural heritage of the world classical literature of the 17-th century. The novel is dedicated to an insane old man, who considered himself as a knight-errant and after leaving his village La Mancha, he was looking for adventures on the highways of the imperial Spain of the 17-th century.

The book consists of two parts, which are written in different styles and approaches towards the life of the main hero, but these two parts may be read as a one united work of literature. The first part is considered by the majority of literature critics as a straightforward parody of chivalric romances, popular in the 17-th century.

The second part is more self-referential and ambitious, because of the fact that it involves the reader in the examination of the literature work itself, its plot and its nature in particular. The integrative feature of both parts is a humoristic or even sarcastic style of writing. There are different commentaries of political and social nature. The author investigates the inner world of the main heroes from a psychological point of view.



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The key themes of “Don Quixote” are the following:  imagination, love, class, honor, relationships between the nature and art, love, societal norms and morality, and finally madness.

While taking into account the fact that the book is dedicated to the life and adventures of the insane old man, all themes, related to humanity and love are considered in the light of madness.

Nature of Don Quixote’s madness

It is hard to define the margin between the madness and sanity of Don Quixote’s character adequately because throughout the novel, a character remains a puzzle for the reader. In some cases, it is possible to assume that the main hero is adequate in the particular life situations and environments, because sometimes he makes decisions of ignoring the world and to following his aims, and at the same time, some of his actions cannot be considered as adequate.

There are several moments in the novel when the author validates that Don Quixote may know more than he admits. That is why in the end of the novel, when Don Quixote declares himself sane and it is hard to evaluate whether this madness has been partly feigned or not. From the other hand, the character and behavior of Don Quixote may be considered as a warning due to the fact that in case when a person is intelligent and has got deep knowledge in particular area, one may be a victim of own foolishness. In addition, such attribute of the past time as chivalry may also have both positive and negative outcomes because the current society does not follow the outmoded life principles and consider it as a form of madness.

First of all in the scope of this research, I would like to rely to the fact that the basic values, which are inherent to the particular time and social life are not constant and that is why, in the new epoch these values may be considered as outmoded or even as the representation of mental diseases such as madness. That is why, I would like to pay additional attention to the archetype of reality, which has been followed by Don Quixote and considered as the form of madness in 17-th century.

The core principle of Don Quixote’s life implied the moral codes, proclaimed by the main heroes of those books that he had previously read, regardless of taking into account the fact that the times, the morality of society, life standards and norms have radically changed in the 17-th century in Spain in comparison with the medieval Europe, which was described in romances of chivalry. As an example, it is possible to consider the fact that Don Quixote tended to rescue damsels, who were already not in distress and, in addition, there was no more need of terrorizing the countryside, while looking for wrongdoings and tending to solve or fix these problems. 

The next theme of the novel is the upholding moral idealism by the main hero. It is possible to consider Don Quixote as the idealist and the person who is tending to represent the moral code of justice and honor, which in turn, shows him as an intelligent, and full of reasons personality. These two features seem to be lost in the time of Don Quixote or at least ignored by the majority of people, living in the current society.

In the first part of “Don Quixote”, a parody for the romance and chivalry is the main theme. The author puts an emphasis on that there is a relationship between a routine everyday life and chivalry and the main hero, mad Don Quixote, has been used to illustrate a wrong belief of romantic notions, inherent to the current social life (of 17-th century). The relationships of the main hero with other characters were also applied by the author for satirizing the social life of that time and for the evaluation of the real essence of the moral code and human behavior.

It is important to say that the novel is characterized by some scholars as a vessel, which contains different reflections and ideas of the writer. Another important aspect of the novel is that, it is a product of its time, even while taking into account some problems, facing the author at the time, when he was writing the novel, and the authors’ own approach towards life and its values.

The work of literature represents both social and political climate of the 17-th century Spain. It is possible to consider Don Quixote the refection of the core ideas of the Renaissance with its ideals and humanism in particular.

At the same time, the main hero of the novel does not meet the key norms of behavior and the requirements of social life standards. That is why, to understand the whole essence and underlying message of the novel, it is important to rely on the personality of mad Don Quixote both in the light of an antihero and in the light of the core ideals of the Renaissance reflection.

In addition, I would like to outline the core features of Don Quixote in order to get a complete understanding of “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: the principles of humanity in the novel and their role in the refection of social life of 17-the century with its norms and standards.

It is important to pay additional attention to the fact that in seventeenth century, a new way of thinking appeared in Europe. The core feature of changes was the fact that restrictions imposed by the church (which have been inherent in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries) were reduced, and previously the way of thinking was particularly influenced by the church.

That is why, in works of art of that time, an emphasis was shifted from religious themes to such concerns as humanity and morality. One of the evident examples of such radical changes in the literature and art is “Don Quixote”. Lindsey Bright compared Don Quixote with the fact that “humanity at the time was coming into awareness of the power that he had.” (Bright, 2009)

Therefore, it is possible to consider this new trend as the basis of humanism. Cervantes belonged both to the followers of Humanism and Renaissance, because in his works of literature he usually referred to the basic ideals of both literature styles. The basic values, depicted by Cervantes, were an individuality of human being and such virtues of antiquity as the administration of justice, self-sacrifice in the name of idea or the state, ignoring individual misfortune in the name of idea, or the high quality performance of a particular duty. In addition, it is possible to consider such literature approach as the authors’ own interpretation of madness and its interrelation with intelligence (Kleiner, 2010).

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While taking into account the historical interpretation of the madness in “Don Quixote”, it is important to rely on “Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason” by Michel Foucault. This book is the examination of the political, cultural, medical and philosophical construction of madness in Europe within periods from the Middle Ages till the end of the 18-th century.

The author considered the evolution of madness in the light of three periods: the Renaissance, the Classical Age and, finally, the modern period. According to the book, it is possible to see that mad people were considered in the world of art as wise, intelligent and those, who knew the limits of life.

For example, the author considered that in “Don Quixote”, the representation of the mad main hero was used as a tool of showing who people actually were and who they pretended to be. An inherent feature of the Renaissance art, and literature in particular, was the depiction of mad people as those, who had a reasonable and unique approach towards life and its core values.

Even while taking into account the fact that “Madness and Civilization” was widely considered as the criticism of psychiatry, and moreover, some psychiatrists considered it a part of the anti-psychiatric movement, the author of the book relied on the "Romanticism of Madness" in the case of Don Quixote. That, in turn, means that there is an intension of seeing madness as a form of genius, and at the same time, modern medical science does not accept such an approach. The author did not actually reject the fact of psychiatric disorders existence, as some readers thought; he dedicated the book to the exploration of the interrelation between madness and knowledge (Foucaul, 2009).

The next issue, which is related to the nature of madness in Don Quixote is the theme of love, which is also interrelated with the mental disease of the main hero.  Even while taking into account the fact that in some parts of the novel love is celebrated, the devotion of Don Quixote to Dulcinea is considered in a sarcastic manner, and it even mocks romantic ideals of the main hero, which have been borrowed by him from the books on chivalry and romance. The main reason of the sarcastic approach towards love of the main hero is the fact that he has fallen in love with a lady, whom he has never seen.

The next issue, which is related to the representation of madness in Don Quixote, is the pursuing a dream, while facing the ridicule. The main hero is tending to reach his life goal and carries out all the mad actions, while not talking into account the general attitude of the mass towards his behavior. At the same time, it is not correct to state that all the actions carried out by the main hero are the outcomes of his mental disorder because his intensions have the noble background and motivation.

While taking into account the relationship between madness and wit as proposed by Cervantes, it is possible to see that Don Quixote is the only person in the novel, who understands the core constant values, which are not influenced by the latest trends in the social life and which remain valid in all epochs and in all the social groups.

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Another interesting issue, inherent in the novel, is that, the author considers the madness of the main hero as a higher form of wisdom. It is possible to support this opinion by evident facts from the book: Don Quixote considers humble people as noble and intelligent individuals, and at the same time, representatives of the high class are considered by him as monsters and villains.

The ecclesiastics are also represented as targets of Don Quixote wrath. That is why, it is possible to make a conclusion that madness in this work of literature is applied to show “impossible” things for a particular society and evaluating the human nature, while taking into account personal features, but not social status or professional activity. The questions, discussed in the book, are urgent for all times and nations, and that is why, this work of literature belongs to the cultural heritage of the classical literature.

The character of the main hero shows that all values and aspects of human relations, the moral and chivalric codes have lost their urgency, and nobody can understand actions and intensions of Don Quixote, except for Sancho Panza, who shares his values and life norms.

This theme is represented in the novel for the first time when the main hero has come for rescuing the shepherd boy from his master. Quixote exacts the promise from the master not to beat the boy and that issue, in turn underscores his idealism, because to the opinion of the main hero, in the case when the person swears to the oath, one will keep this promise. To the opinion of Quixote the truth is sacred and that is why in the case when the man is honorable, his promise would be kept. According to the plot of the novel, the promise of boy's tormentor is the empty phrase, without the spiritual fulfillment and that is why, it is possible to distinguish the ideal world of Quixote from the corrupted environment, which consists of the people, who surround him.

The theme of equality of all human beings in Don Quixote, which is represented by the author as the form of wise approach towards life, is outlined in the following manner. Author is tending to represent that the main characteristics which evaluate the rate of human development and social class are not related to the origin of the person and to the material welfare of one’s family, but the spiritual richness is the core factor, which should be taken in account while determining the social class.

It is important to pay additional attention to the fact that the entire world of the main hero, Don Quixote, is a set of his imaginary life standards borrowed from the text, language and printed pages and stories which have been already written by other people. Don Quixote is constructed of the interwoven words. The core feature of the Don Quixote’ madness is the fact that he is writing and creating himself. He is a stranger in his own artificial world of resemblance things. He consults with his imaginary standards and with the heroes from the books in order to develop his own point of view and represent it in the light what the knight might have said in a particular case.

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All the adventures of Don Quixote may be considered as the deciphering of the world. It is the diligent search over the entire surface of our planet for such forms which may be applied for proving that the information and life values, represented in the books, he integrates himself with, is truth and the core life values, which are borrowed by him from these books are also valid in all the levels of social development and evolution. The core life objective of the main hero is the transformation of the reality into a sign. For the main hero, the victory itself is not a triumph, because he is tending to the social transformation and the main objective for him is the outcome and conclusions, made by other people after his attempts for changing the world for better 

The whole journey made by the main hero may be considered as the search for the similitude: all the signs, which have appeared to be a like to the dormant signs included to the mind and imagination of the mad Don Quixote were to be reawakened in order to speak once again.  The main intension of Din Quixote was achieving social harmony and improvement of the life values, from one hand, it is possible to consider him as a mad person, due to the fact that it is not possible for one person to change social life radically, because it has been formed by the mass, its culture, life intensions etc. From the other hand, it is possible to consider the current society as mad because its attitude towards initial life values deviated from the norm- the nobles, love and courage are not appreciated anymore…( Foucault, 1966)

Concept of madness in “Don Quixote”

There are numerous examples in the world history when the great people of different epochs were considered as mad people by their current society but after some time, they have been considered as the great philosophers, scientists and inventors. Among them there are the following: Socrates, Galileo Galilei, Robert Fulton and others. It is obvious that Don Quixot cannot be considered as the representative of such category of people even due to the fact that he is a literature hero only, but at the same time it is possible to consider the main intension of the author as representation of the truth, of the realities of the life and paying additional attention of the reader to the core values of humanity, the ones, which are not related to the material world, but represent the humanism.

Taking into account Don Quixote in particular, it is possible to make a conclusion that the author has shown intensions of the main hero on the first pages of the book by the following phrase: “…that was that he fancied it was right and requisite, as well for the support of his own honor as for the service of his country, that he should make a knight-errant of himself…” (Cervantes, 1605)

It is obvious that the core features of human being, which are attractive to mad Don Quixote, are those, which are proclaimed and popularized by the culture of humanists. All his actions included not only the dedication of the whole life to the state and to the nation. The author gave a dangerous life position to the main hero, namely the role of the knight-errant. Although Don Quixote made a decision of being a knight in the condition of such mental disease as madness, at the same time, all his actions and motives were honorable anyhow.

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As an evident example of selfless (and particularly mad) intentions, it is possible to consider the frequency of trials of reaching the justice administration. While Don Quixote was strolling along the countryside, he noticed a situation, when young people were punished (whipped) by an abusive master. His position in this situation was defensive and he chastised the man with the following words: “Pay him at once without another word; if not, by the God that rules us, I will make an end to you, and annihilate you on the spot; release him instantly” (Cervantes, 1605). That is why, it is possible to see that Don Quixote follows classical values and the administration of justice. That is why, “…valiant Don Quixote right[ed] that wrong…” (Cervantes, 1605). Furthermore, Don Quixote “esteemed himself fortunate, as it seemed to him that this was a regular knight-errant’s mishap…” (Cervantes, 1615).

Therefore, it is possible to see that the core values of humanism are the core values for the main hero, and constant ignorance of the personal misfortune in the name of the duty performance takes place in the whole novel. That was the life maxim of Don Quixote.  Some scholars interrelate such life attitude with madness, but on the other hand, it introduces classical ideas of humanity to the mad society, which, in turn, rejected old norms of morality and considered madness of Don Quixote a key motive for his actions and life values.

Although all actions of Don Quixote were done in the name of serving his state, and the hero’s societal standards were defined simultaneously with the ideals of humanism, it is not possible to consider Don Quixote as an orthodox hero.

The traditional notion of the knight, characterizing one as the “knight in shining armor”, cannot be applied to Don Quixote because of his old armor and a ridiculous fashion of helmet. Moreover, the core features of the orthodox hero imply the ideas of the character, and it is not acceptable to have any inspiring ideas in such a case.

It is possible to make a conclusion that mad Don Quixote can be considered neither an example of perfection, nor the “knight in shining armor”. Thus, Don Quixote is not a hero, but he is not an antihero with all the classical traits, inherent in such a character.   While reading the novel, in some parts, it is possible to see that Don Quixote does not understand the whole sense of his thoughts or actions. In other words, he is deluded and bewildered by his own thoughts, tending to be idealistic.

Since his perception of the reality is skewed, he considers that in his age of fifties, he can carry out such actions, which are affordable in the young age only and chooses the role of being a knight-errant. Such an attitude to life and to the environment is mainly formed by numerous books, he has read. That is why, he has become a village clown, because of his life perception. On the other hand, it is possible to treat a social group, which he belonged to, as a mad society because the core values of humanism are criticized and rejected, and the person which tends to carry out honorable actions is considered as a mad one.

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This opinion is supported by the evidence from the book, when the neighbor of Don Quixote stumbled upon the wilting body of Don Quixote, and the reaction was cursing, but he did not offered assistance or help: “…his fate that he had to listen to such a lot of nonsense; from which, however, he came to the conclusion that his neighbor [Don Quixote] was mad…” (Cervantes, 1615)

In conclusion, an emphasis is put on the fact that different literature schools consider the same hero from different points of view and classify one’s features on the basis of variable criteria. As a result, we can see contradictory views concerning the same character. As it has been discussed in the scope of this section, two roles have been given to Don Quixote, namely the antihero and the Renaissance hero.

It is important to pay additional attention to the fact that Cervantes was a person ahead of the time he was living at, and he understood in a proper manner the whole complicity of the human nature, and the novel became a projection of understanding. That is why, Don Quixote is the integration of authors’ ideas. That means that there is no need of adhering an individual to one definition, because it is more rational to apply multi-faceted personalities of mankind (Delgadillo, 2010).

In addition, it is important to put an emphasis on the fact that the author used a comic aspect of the novel, and its underlying message had serious intensions. The core purpose of representing Don Quixote as a mad man is to show weak points of social life and of all people surrounding him. Thus, the level of social development may be evaluated while applying the three following characteristics; an attitude towards animals, old people and mad people. That is why, comic aspects of Don Quixote’s behavior and actions were applied by the author as an indicator of the level of social development.

            The next issue to be discussed in the scope of this section is the constant critique of the core life values, such as love, honor, and justice in the world, where such factors as violence, greed and pride are dominative.

It is possible to see the dominance of the Christian religion in the novel, and at the same time, it is obvious that the author defends positions of beauty, truth, justice and goodness.

The main intension of the main hero of the novel, Don Quixote, is to change the world for better, and that is why, he is represented as a reflection of Christ. The world without a genuine spiritual center is criticized by the main hero of the novel (and this fact again is considered as the deviation from the social standards).

At the same time, Don Quixote applies aggressive methods for his goals achievement, and this, in turn, often implies violation of the basic rules and laws, inherent in the particular society. One more intension of the author was to represent a mad society of that times and madness of the historical past and the following events, in particular, adventures against the Turks, Crusades and others.

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Don Quixote cannot evaluate the situation adequately, and that is why, his approach towards the correction of evils in the world does not meet current needs of the society and is not effective; as a result, Don Quixote understands that he is defeated and his actions do not bring a positive outcome. It is possible to consider this aspect of Don Quixote’s life as a negative outcome of his mental disease, but we put stress again on the fact that the core intensions of the main hero are positive and honorable.

In some parts of the novel, the madness of the main hero is obvious, due to the fact that his imagination creates the illusions, situations and problems which do not really take place.  Among them, it is possible to consider the following situation:

Don Quixote: Do my eyes deceive me? The giant white dragon has come to do battle with the great Don Quixote de la Mancha! 
Sancho Panza: Pray look again, Master. Yon be not a dragon, but a machine. 
Don Quixote: I tell thee it is a giant white dragon. And I shall slay it. Charge, great Rosinante! Charge! 

In addition, the situation which represents the core intension of the main hero to change the world for better:

Don Quixote: Commander! Answer me, Commander! 
Jonah: What is it, Mr. Quixote? 
Don Quixote: Be of stout heart, for I am coming to your rescue! 
Ruth: But Mr. Quixote! 
Don Quixote: Young lady, I am a fool and I am a dreamer. I am a ridiculous old man who would wish the world to be other than it is. But I am not a coward! 
Ruth: But there's a chance in a thousand. 
Don Quixote: Let it be one in a million! For I, Don Quixote de la Mancha, will rise to the challenge! (Cervantes, 1615)

This proves that this person is mad but indeed, one is a goals seeking, and he believes that he is able to manage all the problems and barriers and that all his intensions may bring the positive outcome.

An additional aspect is the fact that Cervantes tended to confront and ridicule his previous life, when he had been a soldier, fighting for the Christian Europe through the image of Don Quixote. To conclude this section, the author proved that "the pen is mightier than the sword." It is possible to support this fact by the authors words: : “I've been a soldier and a slave. I've seen my comrades fall in battle or die more slowly under the lash in Africa. I've held them in my arms at the final moment. These were men who saw life as it is, yet they died despairing. No glory, no brave last words, only their eyes, filled with confusion, questioning "Why?" I don't think they were wondering why they were dying, but why they had ever lived. When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? To surrender dreams - -this may be madness; to seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness! But maddest of all - -to see life as it is and not as it should be”.

Cardenios’ Madness in Don Quixote

In the scope of this chapter, the additional attention would be paid to the fact that there are some other heroes in the novel that may be also considered as people with mental disorders. Among them, there is Cardenio. I would like to support his madness with evidence from the plot of the novel, when Don Quixote and Sancho have made a decision of searching for the gold coins owner. When they have discovered the owner of coins, this person has been Cardenio, - the man, who has been leaping from rocks to rocks and living in a hollow of an old cork tree. Such lifestyle may be considered as the madness, due to the fact that human being is a social creature, and such individualistic approach towards life organization may be considered as a deviation from the social norms.

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More than that, Cardenio has been cavorting like a goat and was alike to the mountain creature and in addition, he has been howling and ranting.  That is why, it is possible to make a conclusion about the constant process of dissolving from one form of madness to another.

The main difference between Don Quixote and Cardenio is that Din Quixote was tending to change the social life and its standards, and Cardenio was tending to escape from the society in order to have the individualistic style of life. In addition, he has integrated himself with the nature.

Madness in “The Glass Graduate”

The next issue under analysis is the representation of madness in another work by Cervantes under the title “The Glass Graduate”, which is dedicated to the life of a young lawyer, Thomas Rodaja. The main hero experienced grave depression after an unpleasant problem, when he was poisoned with an aphrodisiac potion, and as a result, he was bed-ridden for half a year. Rodaja was cured after two years of illness by a miracle-making monk.

Generally, it is possible to say that this work of literature is dedicated to the following issues: an ordinary social life, body self-image, key human values, mental illness and narration as a method of the social illness representation.

The plot of the novel is represented as the description of a brilliant career of a young lawyer, who has initially been a peasant servant of two wealthy students, but his desire to get the education assists him in the general goal to become a lawyer.

As he gets the license and the degree of a lawyer, he falls in love with an enamored woman, gets a love potion and becomes crazy. He considers that he is made of glass. This disease is called a glass delusion, and the sufferer believes that one is a glass object. The external manifestation of this disease took place in the Middle ages in Europe (15-th to 17-th century), and this disease was considered a psychiatric disorder.

The main feature of the disease is that the diseased thinks that one is made of glass, and "therefore, likely to shatter into pieces". The core clinical presentation of the disease does not allow other people to touch the diseased, wearing reinforced clothes for the protection of the “glass body”.

This work of art has become very popular, since wit and wisdom are represented in the novel. In addition, the author represents the religion as the treatment for the soul, and comparing this work of literature with “Don Quixote”, it is possible to say that there are different approaches towards the religion and monks. In the first book, Cervantes compared Don Quixote with Christ, because of his approach towards life values and intentions of making goodness, and in the second case, the religion and monks are represented as the effective treatment for the main hero. 

In conclusion, the novel represents the core social foibles and the construction of madness, describing the life of the wise fool. The author drew an analogy between the poisoned quince and Eve's apple. That is why, it is possible to see the combination of religious possession and sorcery (Marta, 2012).

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While investigating a particular example of the mental disease called the Glass Graduate's delusion, it is obvious that three components of the disease are presented in the novel: narcissism altered bodily perception and grandeur. The social accommodation is forced to the delusion of the Glass Graduate and further it has become his force through the protest and preciosity. The main hero is pitied and protected, reviled and mocked, but still the narrative version of his own word perception has been developed by him and heard by others. Michel Foucault considers madness as disfranchise disclosing issue, and that, in turn, implies a tolerable and even celebrative approach towards that issue.

The fact that the status of the main hero enfranchised sane has a great impact on the development of social norms, due to the fact that socially powerless truths are told by an insane person, who has lost a harmless cachet. At the same time, such features of an insane discourse as audacity, disinhibition and witticisms have been managed.

It is possible to make a conclusion that, according to the novel, the life of an ordinary person with all its daily routine is much more difficult for the main hero than the life of a mad man: a soldier and a brilliant student. Therefore, this is a literary tool and epistemological inquiry, and the observation of the social life of those times (Fajardo, 2011).


Having carried out the analysis of madness in two works by Miguel de Cervantes: “Don Quixote de la Mancha” andThe Glass Graduate”, I have made a conclusion that madness in both works of literature is the tool of representation of social deviations, a low level of human morality, ethics and culture.

As it has been noticed above, the level of social development may be measured on the basis of the following three factors: an attitude towards animals, old people and mad people. It is obvious that in both works of literature, the author represents mad heroes in order to evaluate the current social weakness and to prove the absolute truth for the mass.

The majority of people do not consider the main heroes of both novels seriously, since they are mentally diseased, but still it is possible to see that such core values of the human life as love, the interrelation between people and honour are proclaimed and popularised by the main heroes, and the core motivation for all their actions and thoughts  implies good and positive intentions, which are not based on a personal commercial interest, but on the contrary, these actions are directed to doing goodness for other people.

The next important integrative feature of both works of literature is represented by Michel Foucault in his book “Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason”, where he considers madness of three periods: the Renaissance, the Classical age and the modern period. The main emphasis, which is put by the author, is that the madness is not a mental disease, but it is a form of genius.

Cervantes, in turn, has shown both heroes as individuals, who understand the real value of life, its core advantages and purposes in their own manner, which has not been inherent to the social life of that period, and that is why, rejected by the society, where they have lived. In addition, social classes have been shown in the light of madness in both works of literature, and finally, a new approach towards the evaluation of human place in social life has been developed: intellectual abilities, the development and the core human features should be taken into account, rather than the origin of a person and availability of monetary sources.

The author has shown that too many generations are restricted by social norms and standards and influenced by the economical or political development, rather than by the core aspects of humanity. Only mad people can still say and do what they really want to do, not being afraid of mass critics and misunderstandings with other representatives of social groups.



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