I just finished Don Quixote and I'm confused about the status of "Aldonza Lorenzo" the peasant. Obviously, "Dulcinea of Toboso" is a figment of Don Quixote's imagination, but insofar as she is supposed to be a fantasy version of Aldonza Lorenzo, does she even exist as well, and does she ever appear?
The beginning of Part I suggests that Aldonza Lorenzo is a real peasant woman whom Don Quixote knows, but only distantly. From what I remember, other characters seem to recognise the name and they know her family. It seems everyone is familiar with who Aldonza is.
Later in Part I, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza repeatedly and adamantly claim that they have never seen "Dulcinea". They have no idea how to find her nor what she is supposed to look like. When Sancho Panza is tasked with finding her, he suggests that the task is obviously impossible and just makes up an entire story. When Don Quixote wants to see her directly, Sancho Panza immediately starts to worry and wonders how he can find anyone to play the role. This is very odd - if "Dulcinea" is just a renamed and glorified version of the villager Aldonza Lorenzo, whom everyone knows, shouldn't they both know what she looks like and how to find her? Does this mean that the original "Aldonza" doesn't exist after all?
Even later, Sancho Panza tricks Don Quixote by claiming that one of three peasant girls on the road is Dulcinea. During the encounter, nobody recognises each other. This suggests that the girl on the road was a complete stranger.
While reading about this book, I've encountered conflicting statements about Aldonza. One site mentioned that the original Aldonza Lorenzo is one of the three peasant girls (then why don't they recognise each other?). A different site mentioned that Aldonza Lorenzo doesn't appear in the story but is still a real character (then why is it impossible for anyone to find her?). Parts of the story suggest that neither "Dulcinea" nor "Aldonza" exist at all.
So is Aldonza Lorenzo a real character and does she ever appear? Is she one of the three peasant girls?