This study of Don Juan treats literary representations and various critical and theoretical interpretations in order to undertake a systematic examination of the many questions surrounding the character. On the one hand, it might be argued that Don Juan threatens society, since he is supposedly an agent of social anarchy. On the other hand, given his intriguing sexual accomplishments, he could be viewed as a positive expression of life itself. Rather than addressing or answering these question, James Mandrell shows what is at stake in the asking of such questions and, moreover, what is at stake in any and all representations and considerations of Don Juan.
After a discussion of the ways that Don Juan's seductive powers infiltrate and influence the interpretations of texts of which he is a part, Mandrell continues with close readings of key Spanish literary works ranging form the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. All of these works involve interrelated issues as regards Don Juan: the worldly uses and abuses of language; the power of literature to engender and embody other literary texts; seduction and its psychological and social subtexts; and society in relation to Don Juan as well as Don Juan's role in society. Ultimately, these notions are tied into the concept of honor as it works in literature and society. Mandrell concludes with a study of modern adaptations of Don Juan and his story in various theories of culture, society, and economic organizations. In light of these readings, Don Juan emerges as a figure who not only bears specific patriarchal myths but as one who embodies and acts out their meanings.
What emerges is a view of Don Juan as a positive social force in patriarchal society and culture, as well as a force operative at the level of desire as it is made manifest in language. As a result, this study reveals that Don Juan should not be treated as an innocent or outmoded cultural artifact. Instead, he is a character whose story and vicissitudes are still significant in the context of our twentieth-century world.