When the two friends enter the village, they overhear one little boy say to another: “That’s something that’s never ever going to happen.” Quixote thinks this incident is a bad omen, if one applies the phrase to his hopes about Dulcinea. A hare running from dogs and hunters gives Quixote the same impression, though Sancho says it could mean that Dulcinea has escaped from evil enchanters. The two boys tell Sancho that they were arguing about a cricket cage; Sancho buys the cage and gives it to Don Quixote, telling him all his omens have been reversed – and anyway, he says, Quixote was saying earlier that omens are not real.
Quixote’s tentative interpretations of the “omens” are very sad. When he hears children saying something will not happen, he hears emblems of innocence and fantasy telling him to reject innocence and fantasy. When he sees dogs chasing a hare, he sees himself hounded by a group greater in strength and in number. Quixote’s decline not the transition from idealism to realism: his imagination moves as freely as ever.
They run into the priest and the student Carrasco at the outskirts, and the boys follow them into the village, mocking them all the way. They walk to Quixote’s house, where they meet the niece, the housekeeper, Teresa, and Sanchica. Quixote tells the priest and the housekeeper about his defeat and his plan that they all become shepherds during his sabbatical from knight-errantry. The priest is especially interested in the shepherdesses they will meet. The niece and housekeeper scold Quixote for his impractical plan; he’s too old and infirm, they say, to lead such a life.
Like many epic tales, including The Odyssey and The Aeneid, this one ends with the hero’s return to his birthplace. But the hero is mocked and deprecated, instead of celebrated. And if old epic tales describe the hero becoming most fully himself, this tale describes the hero’s loss of himself. It can be read as a cautionary tale about the difficulties of individualism.