A laborer finds Don Quixote lying near the road and leads him home on his mule. Don Quixote showers the laborer with chivalric verse, comparing his troubles to those of the great knights about whom he has read. The laborer waits for night before entering the town with Don Quixote, in hopes of preserving the wounded man’s dignity. But Don Quixote’s friends the barber and the priest are at his house. They have just resolved to investigate his books when Don Quixote and the laborer arrive. The family receives Don Quixote, feeds him, and sends him to bed.
The priest and the barber begin an inquisition into Don Quixote’s library to burn the books of chivalry. Though the housekeeper wants merely to exorcise any spirits with holy water, Don Quixote’s niece prefers to burn all the books. Over the niece’s and the housekeeper’s objections, the priest insists on reading each book’s title before condemning it. He knows many of the stories and saves several of the books due to their rarity or style. He suggests that all the poetry be saved but decides against it because the niece fears that Don Quixote will then become a poet—a vocation even worse than knight-errant.
The priest soon discovers a book by Cervantes, who he claims is a friend of his. He says that Cervantes’s work has clever ideas but that it never fulfills its potential. He decides to keep the novel, expecting that the sequel Cervantes has promised will eventually be published.
Don Quixote wakes, still delusional, and interrupts the priest and the barber. Having walled up the entrance to the library, they decide to tell Don Quixote that an enchanter has carried off all his books and the library itself. That night, the housekeeper burns all the books. Two days later, when Don Quixote rises from bed and looks for his books, his niece tells him that an enchanter came on a cloud with a dragon, took the books due to a grudge he held against Don Quixote, and left the house full of smoke. Don Quixote believes her and explains that he recognizes this enchanter as his archrival, who knows that Don Quixote will defeat the enchanter’s favorite knight.
Don Quixote’s niece begs him to abandon his quest, but he refuses. He promises an illiterate laborer, Sancho Panza, that he will make him governor of an isle if Sancho leaves his wife, Teresa, and children to become Don Quixote’s squire. Sancho agrees, and after he acquires a donkey, they ride from the village, discussing the isle.
After a full day, Don Quixote and Sancho come to a field of windmills, which Don Quixote mistakes for giants. Don Quixote charges at one at full speed, and his lance gets caught in the windmill’s sail, throwing him and Rocinante to the ground. Don Quixote assures Sancho that the same enemy enchanter who has stolen his library turned the giants into windmills at the last minute.
The two ride on, and Don Quixote explains to Sancho that knights-errant should never complain of injury or hunger. He tears a branch from a tree to replace the lance he broke in the windmill encounter. He and Sancho camp for the night, but Don Quixote does not sleep and instead stays up all night remembering his love, Dulcinea.
The next day, Don Quixote and Sancho encounter two monks and a carriage carrying a lady and her attendants. Don Quixote thinks that the two monks are enchanters who have captured a princess and attacks them, ignoring Sancho’s and the monks’ protests. He knocks one monk off his mule. Sancho, believing he is rightly taking spoils from Don Quixote’s battle, begins to rob the monk of his clothes. The monks’ servants beat Sancho, and the two monks ride off.
Don Quixote tells the lady to return to Toboso and present herself to Dulcinea. He argues with one of her attendants and soon gets into a battle with him. Cervantes describes the battle in great detail but cuts off the narration just as Don Quixote is about to deliver the mortal blow. Cervantes explains that the historical account from which he has been working ends at precisely this point.
Cervantes says he was quite irked by this break in the text, believing that such a knight deserves to have his tale told by a great sage. He says that he was at a fair in the Spanish city of Toledo when he discovered a boy selling Arabic parchments in the street. He hired a Moor to read him some of the stories. When the Moor began to translate one line about Dulcinea, which read that she was “the best hand at salting pork of any woman in all La Mancha,” Cervantes rushed the Moor to his home to have him translate the whole parchment.
According to Cervantes, the parchment contained the history of Don Quixote, written by Cide Hamete Benengeli. From this point on, Cervantes claims, his work is a translation of Benengeli’s story. This second portion of the manuscript begins with the conclusion of the preceding chapter’s battle. The attendant gives Don Quixote a mighty blow, splitting his ear. Don Quixote knocks the man down and threatens to kill him. He spares him when several ladies traveling with the man promise that the man will present himself to Dulcinea.
Afterward, Sancho begs Don Quixote to make him governor of the isle that he believes they have won in battle. Don Quixote assures him that he will fulfill his promise soon. Sancho then begins to worry that the authorities might come after them for beating the lady’s attendant. Don Quixote assures Sancho that knights never go to jail, since they are permitted to use violence in the pursuit of justice.
Sancho offers to care for Don Quixote’s bleeding ear. Don Quixote tells him about the Balsam of Fierbras, which he says has the power to cure any wound and is easy to make. Sancho suggests that they could make money by producing the balsam, but Don Quixote dismisses the suggestion. Upon seeing the damage the attendant did to his helmet, he swears revenge, but Sancho reminds him that the attendant promised to present himself to Dulcinea in return. Don Quixote abandons his oath of revenge and swears to maintain a strict lifestyle until he gets a new helmet. Unable to secure other lodging, the two sleep out under the sky, which pleases Don Quixote’s romantic sensibilities but displeases Sancho.
In every way Don Quixote’s opposite, Sancho Panza serves as a simple-minded foil to his master’s complex madness. Cervantes contrasts these two men even on the most fundamental levels: Don Quixote is tall and gaunt and deprives himself in his pursuit of noble ideals, while Sancho is short and pudgy and finds happiness in the basic pleasures of food and wine. Sancho is a peace-loving laborer who leaves his family only after Don Quixote promises to make him a governor. Don Quixote’s violent idealism befuddles Sancho, who consistently warns his master about the error of his ways. Sancho eats when he is hungry but accepts Don Quixote’s fasting as a knightly duty. He complains when he is hurt and marvels at his master’s capacity to withstand suffering. Sancho’s perception of Don Quixote informs our own perception of him, and we identify and sympathize with the bumbling Sancho because he reacts to Don Quixote the way most people would. Through Sancho, we see Don Quixote as a human being with an oddly admirable yet challenging outlook on life.
At the same time, Sancho makes it difficult to sympathize with him since he participates in his master’s fantasy world when it suits his own interests. In robbing the monk, for instance, Sancho pretends to believe that he is claiming the spoils of war. He takes advantage of Don Quixote’s sincere belief in a fantasy world to indulge his greed, a trait that does not fit with our conception of Sancho as an innocent peasant.
Unlike many of the novel’s battle scenes, which at times seem mechanical and plodding, the battle between Don Quixote and the attendant is genuinely suspenseful. As opposed to the fight scene with the guests at the inn or the charge at the windmills, this battle is graphic. Unlike Don Quixote’s previous foes—inanimate objects, unsuspecting passersby, or disapproving brutes—the attendant attacks Don Quixote with genuine zeal, which, along with the attendant’s skill, heightens the battle’s suspense. The attendant accepts the myth Don Quixote presents him—that they are two great enemies battling for honor. The fight thus takes on epic proportions for Don Quixote, and its form underscores these proportions, since the men verbally spar, choose their weapons, and engage. After several blows, the battle concludes when Don Quixote defeats his opponent and forces him to submit to the humiliaton of presenting himself to Dulcinea.
Cervantes’s sudden interruption of the narrative draws attention to the deficiencies of the work and, by implication, those of other heroic tales. Cervantes’s claim that the tale is factual is undercut when he stops the story due to a gap in the alleged historial account. Cervantes seems to be showing his scholarship by cutting off the narrative to credit its source, but the source he then describes turns out to be incomplete. At best, Don Quixote now appears to be a translation—and not even Cervantes’s own translation—which gives the novel a more mythical feel. Though myths are powerful for those who believe them, they are vulnerable to distortion with each storyteller’s version. In forcing us to question the validity of the story during one of its most dramatic moments, Cervantes implicitly criticizes the authorship and authenticity of all heroic tales.
In his famous charge at the windmills, we see that Don Quixote persists in living in a fantasy world even when he is able to see reality for a moment. Don Quixote briefly connects with reality after Sancho points out that the giants are merely windmills, but Don Quixote immediately makes an excuse, claiming that the enchanter has deceived him. This enchanter is not entirely fictional—Don Quixote has so deceived himself with his books of chivalry that he seeks to make up excuses even in the face of reality. Throughout the novel, Cervantes analyzes the dangers inherent in the overzealous pursuit of ideals, as we see Don Quixote continually constructing stories to explain a belief system that is often at odds with reality.