Cervantes ends the narration by saying that he searched far and wide for more manuscripts about Don Quixote but that he was unable to find them until he met an aged doctor who found a leaden box in the remains of an ancient hermitage. The box contained several parchments with sonnets and epitaphs to Don Quixote, Sancho, and Dulcinea, which Cervantes reproduced. Finally, he tells us that, at great cost to himself, he has found an account of the third expedition of Don Quixote and hopes to publish it.
The priest proves to be a muddled character in this section, as we see his mixed opinion about stories of chivalry and his mixed reaction to Don Quixote’s madness. When the priest takes the manuscripts from the innkeeper to read—just as when he reads aloud Anselmo’s story and when he preserves several of the novels in Don Quixote’s library—he shows his unwillingness to purge all tales of chivalry from the world. As much as he rails against the tales as harmful to the general public, it is plain that he enjoys them. In his conversation with the canon, the priest reveals an attachment to the author’s craft that exceeds his apparent disdain for the tales’ inaccuracy. The priest’s attitude toward his friend Don Quixote is likewise inconsistent. On the one hand, he berates Don Quixote for Don Quixote’s insanity and leads the attempt to bring him home and cure him. On the other hand, however, he apparently enjoys his prank, playing along by caging Don Quixote and telling him that he is under an enchantment. The priest’s alternating attitudes reveal a human affection for books and imagination, even as he outwardly claims to reject both on intellectual grounds.
Cervantes has often been criticized for the insensitivity shown by the group that watches the fight between Don Quixote and the goatherd in Chapter LII. The cheering by the priest and the others—as though they are at a dogfight—suggests that, on a certain level, they consider Don Quixote to be no more than an animal. They first laugh at his madness and then condescend to him by playing along with the idea of the enchantment. Here, they view him as nothing more than a creature for their enjoyment, manipulating him to suit their purposes, sometimes at great physical cost to him. In this regard, the priest’s and the barber’s interest in bringing Don Quixote home safely and curing him is bizarre and inexplicable. One possibility is that the two men are acting out of concern for Don Quixote’s niece and housekeeper, who genuinely seem to care for Don Quixote.
The unfriendly motivations of those who lead Don Quixote back to his home affect Don Quixote, causing him to lose sight of his goals and ideals. At the end of the First Part, Don Quixote nearly relinquishes his chivalric ideals without replacing them with anything of equal value or passion. He appears to be deceived about his enchantment to the end, eventually conceding to go home. He explains that he will rest at home until his foul luck has passed, but he makes no mention of his vow to Dorothea or his love for Dulcinea. This listless quality is not in keeping with his characteristic stubborn insistence on formalities and vows. The end of the First Part is therefore abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying to those who appreciate Don Quixote’s spirit and passion. Nonetheless, his decline appears reasonable in light of the ill intentions and petty desires of those around him on his journey home. Sancho stands out from the others, however, as someone who continues to care about Don Quixote. Despite Sancho’s self-serving intentions, he displays an honest interest in his friend.