Cervantes is the well-known wordsmith that created the timeless tale of Don Quixote. His tale is of a farmer whose perception of reality fades and his imagination takes over as he goes on chivalrous adventures. Cervantes explored various themes in his literature, but I am fascinated with his exploration of sanity. He was so well acquainted with limits of sanity, as he had suffered severe trauma when he was captured by pirates and imprisoned. He related with people who struggled with sanity, and many of his writings explore what sanity is and ultimately mental health is.
Those who have experienced trauma know that it permeates every part of your existence. Those that experienced trauma may also experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and can have lasting effects and be triggered by almost anything. We don’t often think of what happens after trauma, how people find recovery and what comes after. Today we have incredible recovery programs and are aware of life changing techniques that bring relief to those with trauma. Back in Cervantes’ time, 1547-1616, trauma was not recognized, explored, or treated. Much of his work after his freedom is both a reflection of his trauma and the exploration of these ideas.
A scholar of Cervantes’ writing and trauma survivor herself, María Antonia Garcés, found solace in the writings of Cervantes when she was held hostage for 7 months. She read anything she could get her hands on to distract herself from her bleak surroundings, but she resonated deeply with Cervantes’ work and dedicated her life to studying his literature after her release. One can almost see the repeated patterns and the questions Cervantes must have been struggling with as he plays with themes throughout his post freedom literature. Having spent so much time alone he portrayed characters who were isolated, misunderstood, and had difficulty grasping the reality of the world around them. In an interview with BBC, Garcés talks about the book she wrote, Cervantes in Algiers: A Captive’s Tale. Garcés and the BBC writer expand that most of Cervantes’ literature is a way for him to repeat the telling of his trauma, and how important this repetition and communication is among trauma victims both as an impulsive coping skill and as a way of healing.