Mimetic Desire in Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote: an Anthropological Study

Farhat Ben Amor


This paper sets out to unearth the underlying reasons behind the spectacular success that the seventeenth-century Spanish novelist, Cervantes, achieved in his humoristic work, Don Quixote which has been translated into many languages, including English.  In this respect, I work to demonstrate the centrality of what the anthropologist Réné Girard called in his book Deceit, Desire and the Novel (1961) ‘mimetic desire’ in sustaining the lightness of the novel’s humor. A desire that is built on imitating others does define Don Quixote, the protagonist of the novel. Yet, what is special about him is that this desire leads him to generate a whole imagined narrative about knight-errantry and, more importantly, to live it out in a time in which medieval chivalric codes of behaviour become outmoded and just part of the fictional world. So, Don Quixote’s plight becomes comic, for he places what he read about the knight Amadis of Gaul and other stories of chivalry as models he irresistibly strives to cult and copy from. Certainly, the sharp chasm separating reality from fiction is enough to set the protagonist in a state of confusion whereby he is made to appear to other characters and even to the reader as veritably mad. Meanwhile, our laughable protagonist keeps clinging to such a desire that helps him considerably overcome the heavy hazardous adventures he comes across in his ludicrous and, at the same time, an absurd journey of what we may call ‘search for knighthood.’ It is precisely the waxing and waning of this mimetic desire, galvanizing his courage, that this paper seeks to chart and examine anthropologically.



anthropology, mimetic desire, humor, knight-errantry, mediation, parody, rivalry.

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