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Sanity vs. Madness (Don Quixote vs. Orgon) Essay

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Updated: Oct 19th, 2021

Introduction

Even though that formally, both: Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Mollière’s Orgon can be referred to as people suffering from mental inadequateness, the closer look at these characters reveals their eccentricities as being essentially different. Whereas, Don Quixote’s inborn sense of idealism had prompted him to embark on the quest of “improving the world”, Orgon’s idealism had resulted in him beginning to deny the objective reality as “worthless”, since it had nothing to do with Christian dogmatism. This statement will serve us as the main thesis for this paper, because in it, we will aim to prove that, even though Don Quixote and Orgon seem to be out of this world, it would be a mistake to draw a parallel between them, as being affected by “wackiness” to the same degree, simply because Don Quixote’s behavior appears as being just too noble to be referred to as insane, whereas Orgon’s behavior appears as being too insane, to be referred to as noble.

Don Quixote

For us to get a better understanding as to what had prompted Don Quixote to fight windmills as “evil giants”, to free criminals as “noble prisoners” and to challenge peasants to a fight, as “knights”, we will need to define a spiritual foundation, upon which Western civilization is built. It is because Europeans were being entitled with the sense of idealism that allowed them to indulge in abstract philosophizing, which in its turn, created preconditions for the emergence of science and culture. Therefore, even though Don Quixote’s eccentric perception of the world does not seem to have anything to do with the objective reality, it nevertheless cannot be referred to as utterly counter-productive. We can say that Don Quixote perceives things as not what they are, but as what they ought to be. We can say that Don Quixote’s apparent craziness is nothing but a side effect of Cervantes’ hero struggling with boredom. “He is not mad,’ said Sancho, ‘but he is venturesome” (Cervantes Ch. XVII). It is not by pure accident that Cervantes describes Don Quixote as belonging to Nordic anthropological type, whereas Sancho Panza is being presented to us as the product of racial mixing, which in its turn, explains his inability to expand his mind, in the way his master was capable of doing. The very concept of Western civilization is closely associated with Europeans’ ability to adjust the surrounding reality to their wishes; therefore, we cannot discuss Don Quixote’s willingness to fight windmills as simply a reflection of his mental inadequacy. We can say that by deciding to fight windmills as “evil giants”, Don Quixote had proven himself as a true European, because White people namely can deal with impossible odds and still be able to come out as winners, which allowed them to become undisputed masters of the world, by the end of 19th century. Don Quixote’s tragedy consists in the fact that he could not utilize his idealistic drive, within the context of achieving some practical results. However, the sheer strength of his idealistic convictions makes even Sancha Panza think that his master might not have lost all of its marbles, after all. This is because Panza senses that Don Quixote’s intention to fight windmills corresponds well to his self-assumed posture of a “defender of justice” – the imaginary reality is more “real” than the actual reality if it is being dramatic enough. It cannot escape our attention that Cervantes describes Spain’s countryside, where the bulk of the book’s action takes place, as “frozen in time”. Spanish peasants proceed with their daily routine, without being able to expand their intellectual horizons; the representatives of Spanish nobility are being preoccupied with seeking entertainment, as the solemn purpose of their existence – however, the representatives of both: nobility and peasantry, feel that their lives lack something very important. This “something” appears to be very elusive, and it is only when Don Quixote emerges on the stage, that people around him seem to be getting revitalized. They gradually begin to think of such concepts as a personal honor, justice, righteousness, beauty, and ugliness from Don Quixote’s point of view, which could not possibly be the case, had Cervantes’ hero been truly insane. Therefore, Don Quixote cannot be referred to as such who should have been kept in a lunatic asylum, because his ideas make more logical sense than the ideas of those who strived to bring him down to earth.

Orgon

Whereas Don Quixote’s wackiness derives out of his hypertrophied sense of idealism, Orgon’s wackiness appears to have a purely psychiatric nature. It is exactly because his mental deviation seems to have been genetically predetermined, which made him a devout Christian in the first place, just as it was the case with countless Christian “saints”, who took a masochistic pleasure out of being flogged, torn apart and fed to the lions, in time when Christian doctrine was at the early stage of its development. A closer look at Orgon’s sayings, reveal them as being deprived of any logical sense whatsoever:

“You hold your tongue. And know, the less he has,
The better cause has we to honor him (Tartuffe).
His poverty is honest poverty;
It should exalt him more than worldly grandeur,
For he has let himself be robbed of all,
Through careless disregard of temporal things” (Mollier, Scene 2).

Orgon’s thoughts on the subject of morality have as much value as the thoughts of Jesus himself, who taught his followers not to wash hands before eating, not to attend crops, not to bury dead bodies, and not to have sex with representatives of the opposite sex, because “kingdom of heaven is at hand”. Throughout history, the most ardent supporters of Christianity were people suffering from mental inadequacy, which also explains why Bible continues to remain the most read book in psychiatric hospitals and jails. It is not the strength of his beliefs in God that defines Orgon’s mode of existence, but the fact that he suffers from a variety of psychiatric disorders. Without a doubt, Orgon is an idealist, yet his idealism has assumed a rather grotesque form, as is the case with the majority of today’s devout Christians of European descent, simply because the religion of Christianity is spiritually alien to these people. The reason why, despite Orgon’s piousness, he finds it appropriate to refer to his relatives as “scoundrels” and “snakes” is the same as the reason why Christian Crusaders would seriously think that slaughtering the populations of whole cities in the Middle East, was a deed particularly pleasing to God – Christianity is the religion of absurd, which is why only mentally deviated people are being comfortable with it. This also explains why idealistic individuals begin to suffer from a split personality disorder, after having accepted Jesus as their “personal savior”. Orgon is such a person, in his speeches he goes from one extreme to another – from admiring Tartuffe as a role model, he radically revises his attitude towards him, within a matter of few seconds, and begins to think of Tartuffe as a “treacherous snake”. Orgon can be best diagnosed as delusional schizophrenic, who thinks that his relatives are being preoccupied with conspiring against “saintly Tartuffe”:

“Be still, I say. I know your motives
For this attack. You hate him, all of you;
Wife, children, servants, all let loose upon him” (Mollier, Scene 3).

The delusion of grandeur and the delusion of conspiracy are the classical symptoms of schizophrenia, and there is no way to cure schizophrenics, although a few high voltages jot put through his body can often relieve schizophrenic’s anxiety. We can say that even before he “accepted Jesus”, Orgon was a highly mentally unstable person and it simply had to do with his mother and father being carriers of some defective gene. Therefore, it would be wrong to suggest that Don Quixote and Orgon’s mental inadequacies can be compared as such that have the same physiological properties.

Conclusion

Don Quixote is a tragic hero; because he had willingly assumed the posture of a defender of justice in the whole world (one’s willingness to defend justice can hardly be thought of as an indication of psychiatric deviation on his part), whereas Orgon is a selfish and judgemental individual, whose narrow mindedness had prevented him from considering a possibility of his stance in life as not being entirely normal. Don Quixote is an idealist. Orgon, on the other hand, is a religious fanatic; therefore, it will not be an exaggeration, on our part, to think of him as a truly insane individual. Whereas Don Quixote can be compared to such eccentric geniuses as Albert Einstein or Salvador Dali, Orgon can be best compared to David Koresh – a self-proclaimed “messenger of God”, who in 1993 had committed an act of collective suicide, along with his numerous wives and children, simply to prove the “strength of his beliefs” to God. Cervantes’ Don Quixote is one of the most famous literary characters, along with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, and Dickens’ Oliver Twist, whereas Mollier’s Orgon is nobody – he is a religious clown who suffers from delusion of conspiracy, and the more he thinks of himself as a “saint”, the more clownish he appears to be.

Bibliography:

  1. Cervantes, Miguel “Don Quixote”. 2001. The Project Gutenberg EBook.
  2. Molliere, Jean-Baptiste “Tartuffe”. 2008. The Project Gutenberg EBook.
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