Defending Mother Earth
I am arguing that Don Quixote’s speech, while in the company of the goatherds in chapter eleven of book one, is not only about the state of humanity during the Iron Age, but his speech represents a much deeper level about his desire to justify the existence of Mother Earth. I feel stronger that he is referring to the Iron Age as a new technological age, which is corrupting the earth and destroying its beauty. When using the term “Iron Age,” I am referring to Quixote’s use of the term, and not its standard definition. In this speech, not only is Don Quixote justifying his own existence, but also he is justifying the existence of Mother Earth. The acorns, which ignite Don Quixote’s speech, are a symbol of his love for nature. Acorns are a part of nature, they fall from the trees freely, and just holding the acorns reminded Don Quixote of all the things that nature used to offer to humankind, that humanity is robbing from Mother Earth during the Iron Age.
Don Quixote is referring to the Golden Age in the sentence “Happy the age and happy those centuries to which the ancients gave the name of golden” (Cervantes 2261; bk.1, ch.11, par. 7). During his speech to the goatherds, Quixote states
And not because gold, which is so esteemed in this Iron Age of ours, was then to be had without toil, but because those who lived in that time did not know the meaning of the words “thine” and “mine” (Cervantes 2261; bk.1, ch. 11, par. 7)
Here Don Quixote feels that the Golden Age was a better time than the current Iron Age, because during the Golden Age humans did not thinking of the earth as a possession, and there was no such thing as being selfish. After Quixote refers to the Golden Age and Iron Age, his speech turns from a discussion of humanity, to a focus on nature itself. The transition is evident in the line
In that blessed year all things were held in common, and to gain his daily sustenance no labor was required of any man save to reach forth his hand and take it from the sturdy oaks that stood liberally, inviting him with their sweet and seasoned fruit. (Cervantes 2261; bk.1, ch. 11, par. 7)
Through this sentence, it is apparent that Don Quixote is thinking of the Golden Age as a time where the earth offered humanity a place to live freely. Don Quixote is viewing earth during this time as a type of refugee for humankind. The lines that state “Rivers offered water for thirst” (par. 7, line 9), “rocks and hollows avail fertile harvest” (par. 7, line 12), and “cork trees shed their bark for man’s dwellings” (par. 7, line 13) further support this statement.
We first see Don Quixote act hostile to early technology when he states, “The crooked plowshare had not yet grievously laid open and pried into the merciful bowels of our first mother” (Cervantes 2261; bk. 1, ch. 11, par. 8). The words Don Quixote uses such as “pried” and “bowels” suggest that he is unhappy with what we could consider this new technology, or “crooked plowshare.” In this way we can also see the windmills as a new technology. Perhaps Don Quixote attacks the windmills because to him they really are monsters standing tall and ugly on his beautiful Mother Earth. The crooked plowshare also suggests farming, which is another form of technology. The flocks of sheep are part of a farm, and like an army, they gather and destroy the land.
When Don Quixote talks about the lovely and unspoiled young shepherdesses, I feel that this is where he is describing Mother Earth. He states,
with locks that were sometimes braided, sometimes flowing, went roaming from valley to valley and hillock to hillock with no more garments than were needed to cover decently that which modesty requires and always had required should remain covered. (Cervantes 2262; bk.1, ch.11, par. 8)
During this part of the speech, Don Quixote is using maidens and shepherdesses as metaphors for Mother Earth. He is saying that during the Golden Age, Mother Earth was able to go uncovered, or in other words, with nothing on her, or on the land. He further states
Maidens in all their modesty, as I have said, went where they would and Unattended, whereas in this hateful age of ours none is safe. Even though, for in spite of all her seclusion, through chinks and crevices or borne upon the air, the amorous plague with all its cursed importunities will find her out and lead her to ruin. (Cervantes 2261; bk. 1, ch. 11, par. 9)
Now, this horrible Iron Age does not let Mother Earth go freely in modesty uncovered or without garments. Instead, the people of the Iron Age want to dress her with windmills, plows, and flocks of sheep. She is no longer safe; humanity is leading her to her “ruin.” “Justice kept its own domain, where favor and self-interest did not trespass, dared not impair her rights, becloud, and persecute her as they do now” (par. 9, lines 4,5,6). “Domain” and “trespass” are words we use when referring to one’s land. He is saying that in the Golden Age, Mother Earth was open and free to all. Now we have the problem with people wanting to own their own piece of the earth, and buy their own land. Humanity has chosen to take away the freedom and justice of the earth. The earth is no longer a peacefull refuge for all of humankind, but a material object that people wish to obtain for their own “favor and self-interest.”
The destruction of the earth that Don Quixote feels so passionately about is the reason for him wanting to be a knight, it is not because he is mad, or bogged down in fairy tales. It is shown that Don Quixote feels he is a true knight for protecting this land from being destroyed, and not for just being a hero or crazy man, The part of his speech that emphasizes this is where he states
It was for the safety of such as these, as time went on and depravity increased, that the order of knight –errant was instituted for the protection of damsels, the aid of widows and orphans, and the succoring of the needy. It is to this order that I belong. (Cervantes 2262; bk. 1, ch. 11, par. 10)
Here Don Quixote thinks of Mother Earth as the damsel in distress, which explains why he is so set on being the one to protect her by defeating windmills and flocks of sheep. The orphans he refers to are everyone on earth, whom Mother Earth considers as her children. Mother Earth is obviously what drives Don Quixote to continue on his travels. He seems to be on a mission to restore her beauty, and rid the earth of the new technologies that impair her.
This speech to the goatherds is evidence that Don Quixote is not mad at all. He is not some crazy old man, who has read too many books. If anything, this speech shows the reader that he is well educated, passionate, and striving towards one goal, which is repairing his beloved Mother Earth. He simply wants to return to a time when all was peace, and material objects were not a necessity for survival. Because he is an old man, I feel that he may have experienced this change from nature to technology during his lifetime. I think it is amazing that such a beautiful long speech can be started from the midst of a few acorns. Don Quixote, at this moment, is perhaps the sanest of all.