I recently took a break from reading “Don Quixote” to read a shorter, more modern novel, “Brave New World.” I took a break because “Don Quixote” is a very, very long book, and although engaging, it moves terribly slowly. Couple that with the fact that I happen to read at a somewhat plodding pace, and the book grew a bit tedious by the time I reached the middle.
Having a wide selection of recently acquired classics from which to choose, I decided to pick up something I figured would be completely different. “Brave New World,” written literally centuries after “Don Quixote,” was set even further apart in a strange and dystopian future. I thought the foray into a different genre would provide a nice break, after which I could continue on with the adventures of the beleaguered knight errant from long ago.
Born of changing worlds
What I didn’t realize upon picking up my new selection was that there would be many similarities to discover between both books. Perhaps someone who had studied literature would have known, but as a recreational reader the parallels were a surprise to me. I discovered that both the authors, for instance, brought forth their masterpieces in times of great change.
Miguel de Cervantes wrote “Don Quixote” during the Renaissance, when Spain was experiencing incredible social and military upheaval. Caught between old world Europe and a new and modern society, Cervantes created a pertinent commentary on his time.
Aldous Huxley was born not long after the industrial revolution transformed his native England, and he wrote “Brave New World” between World War I and World War II, during perhaps the greatest period of change and upheaval in modern Europe. Like Cervantes, Huxley used his pen to pose questions about morality and humanity in a changing world in a most provocative way.
Similarities between lead characters
Don Quixote de la Mancha and John, also known as the Savage, are the main characters of “Don Quixote” and “Brave New World.” Both are men set apart from mainstream society, by circumstances and by choice, who take on a life-changing quest.
It is Don Quixote’s faltering sanity which separates him from the people around him, regardless of his wealth and social standing, and leads him down the road of adventure and pain. For John, the Savage, it is the circumstances of his birth which separate him from the Indians around whom he was raised and from the modern, “civilized” folk who he comes to meet when he sets off on a quest of his own.
Both Don Quixote and John are men of literature in a world which does not appreciate old books or value stories from the past. Don Quixote has spent much of his wealth on books about chivalry and knights, whereas John has only a technical manual that was his mother’s and a tattered copy of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” which was given to him by one of the Indians who thought to preserve it. But the men find themselves alone in valuing the written word.
Comparison of supporting characters
Sancho Panza, Don Quixote’s loyal squire, is described as a short, fat man of limited intelligence. Though he displays admiral loyalty to his friend, Don Quixote, his affections are not without greed for profit of his own.
Likewise, Bernard Marx, the man who befriends John and brings him back to the modern English world from whence his parents came, is described as a physically diminutive man who, though intelligent, is lacking in emotional and social prowess. His affections for John are also strongly tempered by his greed for personal gain.
Lenina Crowne becomes the object of John’s infatuation after he meets her on the reservation in New Mexico. But his love for her is unrealistic, because he does not see her as she really is, and imbues her with the characteristics of the virtuous women about whom he has read in Shakespeare.
Like John, Don Quixote also allows himself to indulge in an all-consuming infatuation with his lady, Dulcinea, who in reality does not even know he exists. The peasant woman who he has seen from afar, and who he calls Dulcinea, is to Don Quixote the embodiment of every good and virtuous ideal he has admired in his books.
Disillusionment before death
John set out on his journey to England with great expectations of exploring a “brave new world” and meeting people more like himself than the Indians who he’d been raised near, but among whom he’d never been accepted. Before dying, he found himself disillusioned with this new world, and angry at the people who chose a shallow and meaningless fantasy of happiness over the freedom to be real.
Don Quixote also found himself disillusioned before death, but not because the people around him were living in a fantasy world. On the contrary, it was because his own imaginary pursuits of virtue and honor seemed to him better and more valuable than the real life he was forced back to when those around him gave him no choice but to face his delusions.
For both men, being faced with a corrupt world, empty, shallow and devoid of the honor and virtue they craved was too much to bear.
Ages apart, bound by common threads
As it turned out, my attempt to veer completely into a different sort of story, to take a break in the middle of “Don Quixote,” in fact just thrust me into the story of a very similar character set in a much different world. Though “Brave New World” was written more than 300 years later, and the stories were set centuries farther apart than that, they are bound by many common ideas.
If you are a fan of one book or the other, I would suggest reading both. If you’ve never read either book, you’ve missed a couple of provocative tales, each worthy of reading on its own.
More by Tavia:
Deemphasizing Literature: A Back Door to the World of ‘Fahrenheit 451’
Read the Book to Your Kids First Before Seeing the Movie
Reading My Way Through Strange Worlds