Cervantes' theme throughout Don Quixote
is quite consistent and straightforward. Though Cervantes makes a thinly veiled attempt to keep
his biography of the Don objective, the reader quickly realizes that Cervantes sides strongly with his
lead character. Despite the lengthy digressions and numerous episodic adventures, the theme of
the novel is clear-the values of the Golden Age of men have been lost over the centuries and must be
resurrected for the good of society. Before the fall of man, when the earth was still a paradise
of sorts, Quixote explains to some goat herders, Mother Nature provided all that man needed, making
it needless to steal, cheat or lie. He goes on, "Neither fraud, nor deceit, nor malice had yet
interfered with truth and plain dealing." Because the world is no longer in such a state, however, "the
order of knight-errantry was instituted to defend maidens, to protect widows, and to rescue orphans
and distressed persons," the knight continues.
Quixote's code of knightly conduct is not simply an idle notion, but indeed a life-changing belief-his
whole life's mission is to right the wrongs that have befallen his world. Readers may laugh at
his idealized betrayal of lady Dulcinea, but his romanticized vision of courtly love is commendable.
For example, Quixote forbids himself from thinking any impure thoughts about his fantastical princess.
This suggests that the knight-errant, though he obviously feels a certain satisfaction in righting society's
wrongs, values his belief in moral justice over his personal pleasure or happiness.
Yet unlike Don Quixote, Cervantes recognizes that reality
can no longer accept such ideals of knight-errantry. Though the Don valiantly strives to carry
his Golden Age ideals into the corrupt world of modernity, embodying the virtues of bravery, respect,
justice, politeness, loyalty and reverence for God and others, Cervantes must make such outdated ideals
a sign of madness. Only Don Quixote is able to remain constantly moral, while the world around
him is constantly immoral. Indeed the fact that the knight-errant must be thought delusional to
possess such morality sheds more light on the his world than on Quixote himself: the Don must be mad
in order to remain true to his chivalrous principles.