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Analysis: Chapters XI–XV

Peter portrays Marcela as unduly arrogant, and we suspect that her obsessions, like Don Quixote’s, may cause others to suffer. But when we meet Marcela, we find that she is intelligent and defends herself articulately, reasoning that if men suffer for her beauty, it is their fault. Chrysostom, not Marcela, turns out to be the fool, falling so deeply in love with his romantic ideal that he kills himself. This outcome adds to Cervantes’s ongoing critique of those who are obsessed with outdated notions of chivalry. Though Marcela may have abandoned certain customs of the day, she is not a fool. She is an example of someone who ignores outdated customs in an intelligent way.

The story of Marcela and Chrysostom, which has its own characters and moral lesson, marks a change in the structure of the novel, as Don Quixote is a mere observer rather than a participant. Here, Cervantes begins to focus on the social setting in which Don Quixote operates. The goatherds, for instance, represent a new class of characters, that of pastoral people living off the earth. Unlike those we meet earlier, such as the innkeeper, the prostitutes, and the farm boy and his master, the characters we meet in this section are important not merely for their reactions to Don Quixote, but as fully developed characters in their own right.

Peter’s narration of the story about Marcela and Chrysostom is a subtle criticism of the tradition of oral storytelling. We hear about Marcela first from Peter and later from Ambrosio and from Chrysostom’s poem. The difference between her character in the story and her character in reality highlights a problem Cervantes explores throughout the novel: not all stories are true, and in this particular case, the more a story is repeated and passed on, the more it diverges from the truth. This criticism, of course, can be applied to Cervantes’s novel itself, as well as to the chivalric tales that have driven Don Quixote mad.