The two-dimensional man.

According to Jungian analyst Robert Johnson, Don Quixote is a “near-perfect representation of two-dimensional man—the simple peasant man.”

For those unfamiliar with the tale, Miguel Cervantes, when he was in his 50s in the early 17th century, wrote the novel while living in squalor in a single room. Other than having written Don Quixote, Cervantes lived what could essentially be called a failed life. He lost an arm in battle, was captured and served a slave to the Moors for five years, he couldn’t hold down a job once he returned to Spain, he fathered an illegitimate child, married a girl of 19 when he was 50 and then left her to live in poverty while writing Don Quixote.

And while the book was wildly popular, he never made much money off it and died soon after writing a second volume, which wasn’t quite as good. The main character of the book, Don Alonso, has read so many books on chivalry by the time he is 50 years old that he decides to set off on a romantic quest of his own. Don Quixote (essentially Sir Codpiece as he names himself for the piece of armor that covers the thighs and genitals) genuinely believes that his impossible dream will come true.

He hires a squire, Sancho Panza (Mr. Paunch) who is indeed the opposite, perhaps the shadow of Don Quixote—short, fat and practical, and ruled by his appetite. According to Johnson, this is a common pair—from the Bible’s Jacob and Esau and David and Jonathon to today’s Mutt and Jeff or Abbot and Costello or any buddy cop pairing. They are ego and shadow—the parts of us that are opposite yet inseparable.

Johnson quotes W.H. Auden on Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, including: “Don Quixote needs Sancho Panza as the one creature about whom he has no illusions but loves as he is; Sancho Panza needs Don Quixote as the one constant loyalty in his life which is independent of feeling. Take away Don Quixote and Sancho Panza is so nearly pure flesh, immediacy of feeling, so nearly without will that he becomes a hedonist pagan who rejects everything but matter. Take away Sancho Panza, on the other hand, and Don Quixote is so nearly pure spirit that he becomes a Manichee who rejects matter and feeling and nothing but an egotistic will.”

Don Quixote purchases an old horse, Rocinante (she-whom-one-follows) and they set off on their adventure to find Dulcinea, the sweetness of life, whom even the Don admits might not exist though he will give his life for her. Needless to say, they never find her. Dulcinea exists only in the heart of the searcher, which Johnson says is all that matters to the two-dimensional man.

“The two-dimensional man lives constantly in the realm of fantasy and imagination,” Johnson says. “They are the Garden of Eden, perfection, total reliability.” But, fantasy and imagination don’t translate to the outer world.

“Don Quixote is creating poetry, not reality,” says Johnson. “Heaven, love, idealism, hope, justice, chivalry, eternity—all are inner realities as palpable and real as any outer realities our world holds in such high esteem. Don Quixote’s optimism ruins everything around him. . . . He loses every time he relies on his sword; it is ‘pure spirit disguised as fantasy,’ as Thomas Mann once wrote. This is the vision of two-dimensional man and is the stuff of nostalgia and fantasy for every three-dimensional man.”

Next Week: The Adventures