Alonso Quijano, the man who would become Don Quixote, begins as an ordinary gentleman from the La Mancha region. He's known to be deeply fixated on books of chivalry. This eventually causes him to lose touch with reality. He decides to resurrect the age of chivalry, renaming himself 'Don Quixote de la Mancha.' This signifies the onset of his transformation, both in regard to his identity and how the world views him.
In the beginning, Don Quixote's idealism is unrestrained and almost childlike. He perceives the world through a fantastical lens, turning windmills into giants and common inns into castles. His commitment to chivalric codes and virtues is unwavering, albeit frequently misdirected. His notions of honor, justice, and love are drawn from his readings, not real-life encounters. This often leads him into absurd and humorous predicaments. Don Quixote's idealism often materializes as a stubborn refusal to see the world as it truly is, exemplified by his renowned attack on windmills that he misidentifies as giants.
As the novel unfolds, Don Quixote's character gradually evolves. The initial portrayal of a madman driven by unattainable dreams slowly gives way to a more nuanced and intricate individual. Despite his delusions, nobility resides in his ideals that begin to resonate with those around him. His faith in his knightly mission affects those he encounters, and even those who initially dismiss him as mad come to recognize the sincerity and purity of his beliefs.
While his squire, Sancho Panza, serves as a foil and grounding influence, Don Quixote also influences Sancho. The relationship between the two characters deepens, as each leaves their mark on the other. Over time, Don Quixote's lofty ideals gradually meld with a more pragmatic grasp of reality, while Sancho starts to appreciate the merits of his master's chivalric worldview.
As the story concludes, Don Quixote's character experiences a remarkable evolution. His adventures have led to personal growth, deepening wisdom, and a more profound understanding of himself and the world around him. The sharp contrast between idealism and realism has dissolved, giving rise to a more harmonized and human portrayal.
The culmination of this evolution arrives with the tragic realization of his madness and his decision to forsake his knightly persona, reverting back to Alonso Quijano. This final transformation is tinged with sadness, as it signifies the loss of the beautiful ideals that drove him, but it also represents a return to sanity and a reconciliation with the real world.
The character of Don Quixote is multi-layered, showcasing a complex evolution. Starting from the naive and delusional Quijano, progressing to the quixotic yet profoundly honorable Don Quixote, and culminating in the wiser and more self-aware man by the narrative's closure, Cervantes skillfully constructs a character that encapsulates the human conflict between idealism and reality. His journey resonates because it mirrors the quest for meaning, virtue, and self-understanding, making Don Quixote a timeless and universal figure in literature.