So our serial “Don Quixote of la Mancha” will start on January 20th, 2019, two weeks from now.
So what is the theme of “Don Quixote”?
Of course, everyone remembers the scene where Don Quixote fights the windmills, and that scene suggests a theme: the underdog fighting against imaginary forces. But this is just one scene, and I think it does not represent the central idea of the story.
The foreword to one of the English versions says that Don Quixote meant to poke fun at the habit of the day to behave all courteously to the ladies, in the manner of the knight-romance novels.
This poking fun at chivalry romances was probably the goal he had in mind. But that is scarcely the only theme you can lift from the text.
Everyone remembers the scene where Don Quixote fights the windmills.
For me, Don Quixote can also be an allegory on that. Don Quixote has this crazy idea to go on a knight-errant, and he promises to give Sancho, his neighbor who is a farmer, an island to govern if he helps him on his adventures. Sancho has a particularly tough time but keeps believing against all evidence that he will eventually get an island.
It is unlikely that Cervantes consciously put this theme into the story, as writers back then did not put moral messages of that kind into their narratives. He was drawing inspiration from life, and these things happened then too, and they happen now.
That's a great thing about a good period piece that ages well: it shows you that the people back then behaved the same way we do. They had the same dreams, aspirations, tricks, and approaches to things.
Then there is also the “spine” of the love interest that is just out of reach. This conflict plays in almost every chapter, much like such a conflict would play out in each episode of our contemporary sitcoms.
In short, “Don Quixote” has many themes threaded through the narrative, but fighting windmills, battling imaginary giants, isn't one of them. Or at least, it isn't the main one.