Character Appreciation: Sancho Panza
'The foolish remarks of the rich man pass for wisdom in the world.'
Is he someone you would aspire to be? Unlikely. Is he a symbol for the ages? Absolutely not. Does he do what he does out of pure selflessness? Are you kidding? In many ways, Don Quixote's subdued right hand man may not jump out as one of literature's unsung heroes. After all, he has the following against him:
1. His short, overweight and unassuming stature is not as impressive as his fellow journeyman.
2. His position of squire generally has him following orders from his master.
3. He leaves his family behind for months at a time.
4. Don Quixote's promises of material rewards are his motivation for serving.
So why does he deserve to be appreciated by readers like you and I? Let's consider some of his more admirable qualities brought out in the pages of Miguel de Cervantes' work.
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A Long-Suffering and Loyal Squire
It's easy to follow a leader who proves himself with each new trial, but what about an over-imaginative fool? Don Quixote is lost in his own unreasonable fantasies, seeing challenge and injustice where there is none and love where there is only disgust. He is prone to starting fights and acting out scenes better suited in a Knights of the Round Table extract. The result is typically a good beating from his irritated 'adversaries', and poor Sancho is rarely able to escape the same treatment. Most would abandon their master if this was a regular occurrence but Sancho chooses to stick around and help get Quixote back onto his feet even if still feeling the agony himself. Say what you want about his greedy motivations, Sancho could do a great deal less without losing out on his promised rewards. Sancho repeatedly tries to steer away from trouble, but there is an undercurrent of pity for the man's delusions, as shown when he says "he is so simple, that I cannot help loving him with all my heart and soul, and cannot leave him in spite of all his follies". Loyalty is a key trait of Sancho Panza's, and its downright incredible to read of.
A Second Solomon, Practical and Wise
Sancho Panza is introduced in less flattering terms:
"...for he was poor indeed, poor in purse, and poor in brains"
Let's be clear: Sancho is no genius. Where Quixote is eleborate and fantisifal, Sancho is simple and unimaginative. However, this ends up working in his favour! Sancho lives by Spanish proverbs, the simplicity of which appears to give him a fairly straight-forward manner of thinking. This has the ability to infuriate his master, who over-complicates or invents scenarios to keep in with his desire to be a heroic knight of the realm.
Sancho dishes out his steadfast proverbs, such as "Make yourself into honey and the flies will eat you up." and "The lucky man has nothing to worry about.", often offending Don Quixote's ideals and perspective, but for the reader these words appear wise beyond his character's comprehension. Clearly, there's more to Sancho than his meagre origins.
He is pragmatic, unwittingly fending off his master's sense of delusional 'enchantment' until late on in the novel. His simplistic, unbiased views make it oddly easy for him to make complicated decisions, for example in areas relating to money or livestock. For a time, Sancho is made governor of a fake island and, unsurprisingly, the island inhabitants are expecting the idiocy of your standard illiterate lackey. In other words, they thought he would rule like the fool he was. How surprised they were when he began to issue decisions that were...inspired. The inhabitants wondered if he was the next Solomon - a reference to the Biblical King Soloman who is renowned for his wisdom.
As mentioned, Don Quixote is skilled at getting them both into giant messes, resulting in failure at best, physical pain at worst. Yet, Sancho is noted many times twisting truths or outright lying to avoid a bad result. He may not be a scholar, but he is not dumb. Without his interfering, who knows how long Don Quixote would have survived in his adventures?
A Relatable, Flawed Second Hand Fiddle
At first, you may think you want to read about the more quirky and instigative Don Quixote in your reading exploits, but after a while the inability to relate to the protagonist would become frustrating and less engaging. This is why Sancho Panza's supporting role is so key: we need a ying to the yang. You are more likely to see yourself within Sancho's words and deeds than others in the story. He can be the voice of standard reason, the only present character in most events who sees things the way we would. His working hard for an eventual payout is something we can relate to, yet we can also identify a familial sense of loyalty as we would a dear friend. He is not perfect, and there is much in his character that proves that. It can also be argued that his influence of being realistic and down-to-earth led to Don Quixote's end. Yet this simply reminds us Sancho is humanly flawed. It's practically endearing. He is as real as the man down the road or that person we met that one time. And we can't help but want to give him a little more spotlight for that.