Manish S. Vaidya
Prof. Vincent Barletta
LIT14: Don Quixote
31 August 2021
Don Quixote: A SWOT Analysis
In the present essay, I examine Miguel de Cervantes’s prose masterpiece Don Quixote in light of the commonly used business analysis framework (SWOT). My goal is to evaluate the continuing legacy, popularity, and relevance of the book. I will aim to apply SWOT principles to come up with a recommendation for “growing” the business (as is the end goal of this type of exercise). In this exercise, we will talk about engaging the general audience as this is the largest segment of the untapped market (Total addressable market).
Background on the SWOT Framework
SWOT Analysis is the product of extensive research at the Stanford Research Institute in Palo Alto, California during the 1960s. Many corporations were then looking for more effective methods to support strategic planning, and the team at SRI, led by Robert F. Stewart, worked to discover what was going wrong with corporate planning. They carried out this research through the 1960s, interviewing 1100 companies and 5000 executives using a 250-item questionnaire. The result of the study was a recommended framework that is now widely known as SWOT.
SWOT is an acronym for “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.” It involves a critical analysis of internal and external forces driving a product or organization.
With SWOT, a business first determines its objectives and then identifies strengths and weaknesses (the internal environment) and opportunities and threats (the external environment). This analysis drives the strategy for further growth.
- Stanford continuing studies program:
- Strengths – Stanford brand name, World-class faculty, Resources to run the program (online/offline)
- Weaknesses – Cost, Strain on instructional and other resources, ROI
- Opportunities – Go global in an era of online learning, Enable students to change professions or get better, Expose Stanford to a community of new students
- Threats – Other online sources, Immersive technologies take over
- Strengths: Brand name, Wide range of products, Technology strength, the Best workforce
- Weaknesses: Chasing too many projects, Single revenue generator, Weak presence in consumer hardware, No presence in social media
- Opportunities: Leverage tremendous information base, Define new industries that no one else has imaged, Use cash reserves to acquire footprint, Establish hardware presence
- Threats: Government regulation, Paid search engine model, Alternative advertising platforms
Why Analyze the Book?
Miguel Cervantes wrote the two volumes of Don Quijote over 400 years ago. It is an undeniably recognizable yet poorly understood work. A simple Google Scholar search leads to 2,370 critical works devoted to the novel. A business tool like SWOT offers a more holistic approach to the book and its reception over time. Such analysis allows one to take a historicized and pragmatic approach.
SWOT Analysis of Don Quixote (DQ)
- Narrative as a travelogue:
While DQ was groundbreaking at the time of its publication, this analysis focuses on the inherent characteristics that have withstood the test of time. One such feature is the travelogue nature of the story. We see Don Quixote and Sancho Panza embark on a journey at the beginning of the narrative, and we follow them as they make their way through various locations. This keeps the reader engaged both by the strength of the story as well as within the journey itself. We could argue that this focuses on the audience that enjoys reading good literature as well as travelogues, and that would be a big potential segment as well. As Don Quixote explains the meaning of an errant knight to a fellow traveler, Vivaldo: “This, then, gentlemen, is what it means to be a knight errant, and the order of chivalry is just as I have said, and in it, as I have also said, I, though a sinner, have taken my vows, professing exactly what was professed by the knights I have mentioned. And therefore I wander these solitary and desolate places in search of adventures, determined to bring my arm and my person to the most dangerous that fortune may offer, in defense of the weak and helpless”. (Book1: Ch 13, pg. 88)
Cervantes uses this definition to take the readers on a wondrous journey. Many similar narratives built around journeys continue to retain their popularity over long periods of time. The ancient Hindu Ramayana, which traces the journey of King Ram across the length of the Indian subcontinent, Homer’s Odyssey, and J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings are great examples.
- Poignant use of mental failings of the principal character:
Don Quixote suffers from some form of mental disorder. The way Cervantes has used this flaw to create an imaginative world makes the audience empathize with the knight errant from La Mancha. That mental flaw gives DQ a view of the world that is much more chivalrous than reality. This makes him endearing to the audience. Characters like Mr. Dick from David Copperfield (Charles Dickens) to Forrest Gump establish similar connections. While we laugh and cringe at the actions of Don Quixote, we also read passages like his speech to Sancho Panza at the end of Book 2: Chapter 42 wherein the life advice he gives seems completely sane. As Sancho comments right after, “Who could have heard this past speech of Don Quixote and not taken him for a very wise and well-intentioned person?”
- Commentary on the literature of the times:
The continued strength of the book is its commentary on the times that it was written. A particularly interesting scene at the beginning of Chap 6 (Book 1) has the barber and the priest going through a collection of books and deciding which ones to burn. This episode not only provides us with a snapshot of the literature of that era but also the prevailing social outlook. Each book is reviewed and has a commentary on if it should be kept or destroyed. For the book Palmerin of England, we understand from the dialog coming from the priest, “This book, my friend, has authority for two reasons: one, because it is very good in and of itself, and two, because it is well-known that it was composed by a wise and prudent king of Portugal.” It allows us to see how everyday readers evaluated writing and also their view of writings by someone royal.
- Length of the narrative:
The printed English translation of the book spans 940 pages. The short attention span of readers of today might cause fewer people to want to pick up and go through the entire work. Social media certainly does not help by making attention spans even shorter.
- Complex layers difficult to understand:
The book covers many characters, events, and narratives. There are also interludes and entire passages that do not relate to the main story. The book starts out as a narration of a tale pertaining to an aging man with mental issues and a niece who takes care of him. He is surrounded by his friends, a priest and a barber, and other people from his house. Eventually, the story unfolds into a complex tale involving a faithful sidekick, a loyal horse, a love interest, and many people he meets on his adventures. All of these characters are further encapsulated into talkies that involve commentary on social conditions. For many readers unraveling all the content can be a challenging task. This becomes a weakness of the book for the casual reader. We care about casual readers because they are the bulk of the marketplace.The goal of this business analysis to grow the footprint of the product
- Interconnected as well as independent episodes:
The book runs over 126 chapters in two volumes and contains several short and long episodes. Many of these are interconnected and have characters flowing in and out, including references to previous episodes. This makes it hard for readers to relate to the story. The also interspersed with a few episodes that are completely unrelated to the principal story. While this is entertaining to read, the disconnected episodes might confuse many readers.
- Present to the young generation as a book incorporating Metafiction
Young readers have a keen interest in fiction that comprises elements of metafiction. Popular amongst young readers are books like The Princess Bride by William Goldman where the author claims to not have written the book but is merely transcribing an earlier text by one S Morgenstern, which actually is a pseudonym for the author. This is very similar to what Cervantes does with the tale of Don Quixote. Another popular teen fiction is A Series of Unfortunate Events by Daniel Handler under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket. The author interjects most chapters to remind the readers that this is not a work of fiction, but reality, and will most likely have a tragic ending.
Don Quixote is full of many metafictional references, starting out with the notion that Cervantes says he never wrote the book. He is merely the narrator for the original Arabic book written by Cide Hamete Benengeli and translated for him by a boy he hired. The author makes his appearance throughout the book. One of the most fascinating scenes in the book is a duel between Don Quixote and one of his opponents. Like a freeze-frame from The Matrix movies, the battle scene freezes in the middle almost like the author says he’s run out of the translated material. This is metafiction at its best. These elements can be used to market the book to a completely new audience and let them truly enjoy the benefits of reading such a wonderful text
- Guided travel experience:
The Adventures of Don Quixote are actually set in real areas of Spain. From the windmills in the community of Castilla-La Mancha, in central Spain to the Cave of Montesinos, about 40 miles away and many spots in between. While there are some travel companies that provide tours through this region (Airbnb experiences), there is definitely a market for combining a literary narrative with travel to bring this experience to a whole new audience. Social media influencers could be used to promote the tour and lead to renewed interest in both the region and the book.
- Serialize via streaming services:
Streaming services have ballooned in popularity in recent times, especially during the pandemic. These platforms have given the means for many works of literature to be brought to a whole new audience. The rich text of Don Quixote and the various interesting characters could actually make for great material. Adaptations of classics like Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy have found a newfound interest through these streaming services
- A sense that there is nothing left to discover
Don Quixote was writing over 400 years ago. Since then a lot of scholars and students have studied and analyzed the book. Many have had this book assigned as high school reading and have had to write papers on facets of the tome. However misunderstood, there seems to be a general feeling that there is nothing new left to discover in the book. Almost universally folks feel that the windmill scene is the crux of the novel and having being familiar with it, jump to the conclusion that there is nothing more for them in the book
- Dependence on translations
The book was originally written in Spanish by Cervantes and eventually it was translated into French and English in the early 1600s. Since then it has been translated into over 100 languages. It is usually very hard to capture the original essence of a book in a language other than the one it was written in. This has certainly hampered its success. The original text also switches between prose and poetry and often times it is hard to bring out the true meaning and flavor of these narratives
- Film adaptations tend to be reductive
Film adaptations of the book so far have been very uninspiring and not marketed well. A recent one in 2015 with James Franco almost borders on the farcical and has production qualities of the high school play. Adaptations like this tend to minimize the complex interplay between characters and the rich storytelling. Cinema is the introduction to literature for a large section of the audience and the weakness of adaptations has led to a lack of interest in the book.
Based on the above analysis, I can recommend that there are many avenues available to spread the awareness of this classic book and to get more readers engaged. There is a case to be made for increased investment in marketing efforts involving travel, online streaming, and marketing to younger audiences that can lead to an increased footprint for the book
Grossman, Linda, “Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes, A New Translation”, Ecco paperback, 2005
Albert S. Humphrey, “SWOT Analysis for Management Consulting”, SRI Alumni Association Newsletter, December 2005 (Online:https://alumni.sri.com/newsletters/2005/AlumNews-Dec-2005.pdf)