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ArribaAbajo Whistling in the Dark: Chapters 19 and 20 of Part I of Don Quijote

Alfred Rodríguez

Mariana A. Ramírez

The University of New Mexico

Within the episodic sequence of Don Quijote's 'adventures' in Part I, Cervantes dedicates chapters 19 and 20, encompassing a single night, to consecutive nocturnal happenings. These may be considered the first fully nocturnal events narrated in the protagonist's segunda salida, for although Don Quijote leaves home at night and the incidents involving Maritornes at the inn occur at night, chapters 19 and 20 are the first 'adventures' in which our heroes stand in the midst of a dark and silent world.

Daytime occurrences are the general rule in Don Quijote, as they probably are, statistically reflecting our species' diurnal mode of existence, in all of literature. The occasional exception only strengthens the rule, and the nocturnal context of chapters 19 and 20 may be seen, then, as realistically rounding out the work's normal diurnal emphasis. Still, the baroque Cervantes is rarely simple in his creative intentions.

If we ask ourselves what, beyond the presentation of nocturnity itself, is exceptionally revealed in those two nocturnal chapters, a very distinct Cervantine goal emerges. It is evident that the differentiating nocturnity of chapters 19 and 20 is instrumental in the novelist's deviation from a narrative pattern that the preceding chapters of the work have decidedly established. That pattern, which has to   —108→   do with the perception of the 'real' world in Don Quijote, has invariably worked as follows: in the string of diurnal 'adventures' that precede chapter 19, Don Quijote, moved by his prescribed madness (the systematic superimposition of the imaginative-literary upon the 'real'), alters what his senses would appear to dictate -an inn, a windmill, a flock of sheep- in order to see castles, giants and contending chivalric armies. Sancho Panza, on the other hand, without his master's demented predisposition, supposedly describes what is actually transmitted by his senses: inns, windmills and flocks of sheep.

This established narrative pattern is, of course, a valuable literary resource. It very efficiently highlights, by contrast, Don Quijote's demented alterations of 'reality,' producing, in the process, no little humor108. What the indicated pattern emphatically suggests, by invariable repetition, however, is that the senses (appearances) uniformly offer a valid representation of the 'real,' and this is a message that runs counter to the Baroque's oppositionally dualistic appreciation of Appearance / Reality (Warnke 21-22)109. The Baroque's wary attitude regarding sensorial 'appearances,' not surprisingly Cartesian, is perhaps best expressed by Orozco Díaz:

El Barroco pierde la confianza en lo natural incluso en la experiencia de los sentidos. Recordemos una vez más la expresión, tan bien repetida más de una vez en nuestro Barroco, de que ese cielo azul que todos vemos ni es cielo ni es azul


(The Baroque loses confidence in the natural, even in the experience of the senses. Let us once again recall the expression, so appropriately repeated more than once in our Baroque, that the blue sky that we all see is neither sky nor blue)110.

We believe that Cervantes, keenly aware of the unacceptable nature of the message that his established narrative pattern would transmit, decided to set the baroque record straight, as it were, with his two back-to-back nocturnal 'adventures'. In these, one might well suggest, nocturnity serves as a conditioned experimental chamber in which the two most highly developed and regarded of   —109→   our senses, sight and hearing, are consecutively tested111,tested and found, of course, baroquely wanting.

As already noted, Don Quijote is dementedly predisposed to the imposition of an imaginary-literary 'reality' upon the message of his senses. He could hardly be, then, the test subject. Cervantes's re-examination of sensorial validity, as represented by chapters 19 and 20, must have, as its primary subject, Sancho Panza112, whose theretofore direct sensorial interpretation of the 'real,' as we have indicated, has made such an experimental presentation imperative for the baroque writer.

In effect, throughout the two chapters under study, it is not Don Quijote's expected imaginative interpretation of sensorial appearances that should strike the reader, but the fact that Sancho Panza fails to offer, in contrast, a sensorially realistic interpretation of the nocturnally encountered phenomena. As we shall see, Cervantes will have purposely de-activated his established sensorial litmus test for then 'real,' Sancho Panza, by experimentally blunting the great squire's theretofore infallible senses.

With Sancho as the test subject, it becomes clear why Cervantes humorously organized his experimental chamber as a context of frightful nocturnity. One need hardly document our species' fearful predisposition toward darkness. Cervantes makes his understanding of that universally human trait clear by several times underscoring its immediate effects even upon the 'fearless' Don Quijote: «Pasmóse Sancho en viéndolas, y don Quijote no las tuvo todas consigo...» and «... para poner miedo en el corazón de Sancho, y aun en el de su amo...» (171-72).

The key baroque lesson involved (the unreliability of the senses) could only be generally valid, as such, with an experimental context (nocturnity) that was universally effective in its distortive properties vis à vis the sensorial. That is to say, a context -such as nocturnity- that the reader, any reader, would have empirically experienced in   —110→   its sensorially distortive potential. But, of course, it will be Sancho's cowardly nature, especially vulnerable to nocturnity's universal effects, and extreme in its superstitiously fearful reactions to it, that will lend the entire experiment its intense level of humor.

In so cowardly a nature as Sancho's, fear will serve to humorously distort the apparitional message of the senses. And, in effect, Sancho's senses fail him completely in the nocturnal world experimentally prepared by Cervantes. In chapter 19, the full sight -albeit, by torchlight, but concretely described by the narrator- of the nocturnal procession, only heightens Sancho's previous, fearful interpretation of 'fantasmas': «Esta extraña visión, a tales horas y en tal despoblado, bien bastaba para poner miedo en el corazón de Sancho...» (I, 172); and, with regard to sound, in chapter 20, «... oyeron a deshora otro estruendo que les aguó el contento del agua, especialmente a Sancho, que naturalmente era medroso y de poco ánimo» (I, 178). As Don Quijote later indicates to Sancho (I, 188), the latter's peasant familiarity with fulling-hammers (and, one might add, with nocturnal breezes in trees) should have identified the mysterious sounds. And so he probably would have, but in a different context, a context less emotionally distortive of the sensorial113.

Cervantes's consecutive nocturnal happenings decisively break the pattern that, within the world of the novelistic characters114, had installed Sancho's senses as the uncontested determiners of the 'real'. The novelist thus underscores the baroque contention that appearances -the offerings, for the most part, of our senses, with sight and hearing primary among them- are not an unerringly valid reflection of reality115.


But not content to merely indicate that baroque lesson, Cervantes will go, we believe, one playfully baroque step further:116 he will end up by assaulting the sensorial depiction of the 'real' via comical paradox.

«Peor es meneallo»: Sancho's corporal release as a humorous baroque lesson

For, curiously enough, in the midst of the situation outlined above (I, 20), the good Sancho Panza feels the urge to defecate. It is all very appropriately Sanchesque, innately comical, and, therefore, quite capable of distracting from the two chapters' overall focus on appearances and the inadequate sensorial appreciation / depiction of the 'real'. The excremental moment's capacity to distract from that central intent of the two chapters stems from the secondary literary effects that it evokes and promotes, effects that -conforming, as they do, to the novel's overall literary intent- were also sought after by Cervantes.

Sancho's corporal urge, as noted, immediately intensifies -an inevitable effect of literary references to lower body functions- the work's comical ambience. Clearly, Don Quijote is intended to be a laughter-generating text, and the reference to Sancho's very human need serves that overall intent. Sancho Panza's bodily need, in a frightening context, also reinforces his basic characterization, since the urge to defecate is universally identified with fear117. Sancho's defecation adds another item, too, to the First Part's growing list of 'carnivalesque,' lower-body-function inserts118, through which Cervantes avails himself of that traditional source of vital hilarity119. Finally, Sancho's excremental act, by its very nature120, serves Don   —112→   Quijote's overall parodic intent, for it would be difficult to imagine any action that would be more demythifyingly polarized to the idyllic goings-on of the typical romance of chivalry.

These immediate literary effects of Sancho's excremental exploit, all in perfect consonance with the novel's overall design, have perhaps somewhat obscured what is equally patent in the text and conforms best, as well, with what we deem to be the novelist's primary intent in the two chapters under study: the fact that Sancho's excremental act highlights the presence and function of smell, another of the senses, albeit a far less developed and efficient sense121.

It is sheer Cervantine irony, then, that even the non-sensorial Don Quijote's relatively primitive olfactory sense faithfully transmits reality («Es que ahora más que nunca hueles y no a ámbar», and «Peor es meneallo», I, 20, 186122) where even Sancho's superior visual and auditory senses have so miserably failed. Bearing in mind, first, that the chapters under study are intended to voice the Baroque's distrust of sensorial phenomena, and, secondly, that the triumphant sense of smell is of a lowly quality (its inferior classification underscored by the comical /excremental manner of its presentation), it seems to us that Cervantes's intent in Sancho's defecation and Don Quijote's precise olfactory perception of the same is itself ironical: in a world (an experimental chamber of fearful darkness) in which the principal senses, emotionally distorted, misinform, the comically presented fact that the secondary olfactory sense succeeds is nothing but a paradoxically humorous reminder of the principal senses' failure.

Chapters 19 and 20 of Part I of Don Quijote, may well be read, we believe, as the baroque artist's prepared assault on the validity of appearances, of the senses as reliable means of perceiving reality. Cervantes wraps up his case, as it were, on a note of hilarious paradox with a precise rendering of Don Quijote's olfactory acuity. Sancho Panza's urge to defecate is thus ironically and playfully incorporated into that general assault.

Works Consulted

Bakhtin, M. Rabelais and His World. Trans. H. Iswolsky. Cambridge: M. I. T. Press, 1968.

Casasayas, J. M. «Sancho Panza a tres del alba (comentario a DQ1, 20, Aventura de los batanes)», Anales Cervantinos 25-26 (1987-1988): 121-45.

Cervantes, M. de. Don Quijote de la Mancha. Ed. M. de Riquer. Barcelona: Editorial Juventud, 1974.

Gilman, S. Cervantes y Avellaneda. México: Publicaciones de la Nueva Revista de Filología Hispánica, 1951.

Orozco Díaz, E. Lección permanente del Barroco español. Madrid: Ateneo, 1956.

Rodríguez, A. and S. García Sprackling. «Presencia y función del truco en la Segunda Parte del Quijote», Anales Cervantinos 25-26 (1987-88): 359-63.

Rodríguez, A. and J. A. Pérez Espinosa. «Los epígrafes del Quijote: función y finalidad cómica», Revista de Estudios Hispánicos (P. R.) 17-18 (1990-1991): 37-41.

Sáez, R. Theodicy in Baroque Literature. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1985.

Shipley, G. A. «Sancho's Jokework», in Quixotic Desire: Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Cervantes. Ed. by R. A. El Saffar and D. de Armas Wilson. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993 [135-54].

Warnke, F. J. Versions of Baroque. New Haven: Yale UP, 1972.