Don Quixote is perplexed to discover his predicament, since it does not correspond to any knight histories he has read. He wonders whether chivalry has gradually changed – whether new versions have been invented to suit the present time. Sancho doubts that Quixote’s abductors are ghosts, because they are clearly men of flesh and blood, but Quixote explains that such an earthly appearance can only be an illusion. Soon everyone says their goodbyes and the company sets off: Don Quixote in the cage on the ox-cart, along with the officers, Sancho, and the priest and barber in disguise.
For the first time, Quixote admits that the world around him is truly inconsistent with the books he loves. When he asks himself whether chivalry has changed, he is admitting the possibility that chivalry might be something more than a bunch of fairy-tales and old-fashioned rules – something more abstract. It’s partly for honoring this deeply buried abstraction that readers respect and love him.
Seven canons (priests) catch up with them on the road and one of them asks the company about Don Quixote’s cage. Don Quixote asks him whether he knows anything about knight-errantry, because if not he won’t bother with explanations; the canon replies that he is an expert. Don Quixote explains that he has been placed into the cage by enchanters, but Sancho interrupts to say that in his opinion his master is not enchanted at all, because he can eat, sleep, and talk like anyone else, while enchanted people can do none of these things. He also points out that the guards aren’t enchanters but merely the barber and the priest in disguise, and they should be ashamed for hindering Quixote from helping the princess and reaping his rewards. The barber exclaims that Sancho must be as crazy as his master, but Sancho stubbornly explains that everyone has his own goal, and an island is his, and it’s no worse than anyone else’s.
Don Quixote’s guarded reply marks the slow development of his secondary realism, his drifting fall from the world of his imagination. He has learned that many people in the world do not and will not believe in chivalry and knight-errantry, and he no longer expects to change their minds. But just as Quixote is falling to meet the others, Sancho is rising to meet Quixote. The squire is becoming more confident in his defense of his master’s worldview. When the barber calls him insane, Sancho replies, in effect, that the world is not clearly divided into sanity and insanity.
The priest and the canon ride ahead so that they can talk in peace. The priest tells the canon Quixote’s story. The canon says that chivalry tales are “absurd stories, concerned only to amuse and not to instruct.” He doesn’t understand how they can amuse anyone, though, since they are full of absurdity, ugliness, disorder, and people can only enjoy beauty and harmony. Though novels don’t have to be true, he says, they must strive to achieve the appearance of truth by imitating life as it is. The author should also display a wide range of knowledge and experience, styles and genres, to make a variegated and dazzling whole.
The priest and the canon’s “learned” conversation crystallizes the absurdities and internal contradictions in discussions of literary realism. On the one hand, says the canon, books should be realistic – they should depict life as it truly is. On the other hand, they should omit absurdity and disorder. But life is full of absurdity and disorder. In fact, the canon is merely saying that his view of reality excludes absurdity and disorder. Each person has her own realism.