On the way home to fetch money and fresh clothing, Don Quixote hears crying and finds a farmer whipping a young boy. The farmer explains that the boy has been failing in his duties; the boy complains that his master has not been paying him. Don Quixote, calling the farmer a knight, tells him to pay the boy. The boy tells Don Quixote that the farmer is not a knight, but Don Quixote ignores him. The farmer swears by his knighthood that he will pay the boy. As Don Quixote rides away, satisfied, the farmer flogs the boy even more severely.
Don Quixote then meets a group of merchants and orders them to proclaim the beauty of Dulcinea. The merchants inadvertently insult her, and Don Quixote attacks them. But Rocinante stumbles in mid-charge, and Don Quixote falls pitifully to the ground. One of the merchants’ mule-drivers beats Don Quixote and breaks his lance. The group departs, leaving Don Quixote face down near the road.
Cervantes’s declaration that Don Quixote is not his own invention layers the novel with self-deception. Claiming to be recounting a history he has uncovered, Cervantes himself becomes a character in the tale. He is a kind of scholar, leading us through the story and occasionally interrupting to clarify points. But Cervantes’s claim to be historically accurate does not always ring true—he does not, for example, name Don Quixote’s town. Instead, he draws attention to his decision not to name the town by saying he does “not wish to name” this “certain village” where Don Quixote lives. In this manner, Cervantes undermines his assertion that Don Quixote is historical. Ironically, every time he interrupts the novel’s story to remind us that it is historical fact rather than fiction, he is reminding us that the story is indeed fiction. We thus become skeptical about Cervantes’s claims and begin to read his interruptions as tongue-in-cheek. In this way, the content of the novel mirrors its form: both Don Quixote and Cervantes deceive themselves.
On its surface, Don Quixote is a parody of chivalric tales. Cervantes mocks his hero constantly: Don Quixote’s first adventure brings failure, not the rewards of a successful and heroic quest, such as treasure, glory, or a beautiful woman. But to Don Quixote, the adventure is not a complete disaster—the prostitutes receive honors, and he becomes a knight. His unwavering belief in his quest fills the tale with a romantic sense of adventure akin to that in other tales of chivalry. Thus, as much as Cervantes scorns the genre of romantic literature, he embraces it to some degree. Furthermore, though he claims in the prologue not to need sonnets, ballads, great authors, or Latin, he peppers the text with all of these conventions. In this way, the novel both parodies and emulates tales of chivalry.
Other characters’ reactions to Don Quixote highlight his tragic role. Unlike us, these characters do not see that Don Quixote is motivated by good intentions, and to them he appears bizarre and dangerous. The innkeeper, who throws Don Quixote out after he attacks the other guests, typifies many characters’ fears. But some characters are genuinely charmed by Don Quixote’s yearnings for the simplicity of a bygone era. The two prostitutes do not understand Don Quixote’s poetry, but he wins them over with his adamant belief in their royal status. On the one hand, his attempts at chivalry open others’ eyes to a world for which they inwardly pine. On the other hand, his clumsiness makes his entire project seem utterly foolish. From our perspective, he is not just absurd but tragic. Though he wishes for the best, he often brings about the worst, as in the case of the young boy whom he inadvertently harms because he cannot see that the boy’s master is lying. In this way, Don Quixote’s complex character at once endears him to us and repulses us, since we see that his fantasies and good intentions sometimes bring pain to others.