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Bless Me, Ultima

Rudolfo A. Anaya

Diecinueve–Ventiuno (19–21)

Quince–Dieciocho (15–18)

Veintidós (22)

Summary: Diecinueve (19)

A thousand questions pushed through my mind, but the Voice within me did not answer. There was only silence.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

On Easter Sunday, Antonio takes his first Communion and waits for God to answer the questions that haunt him. However, only silence rings inside his head.

Summary: Veinte (20)

Antonio continues to attend confession and Communion, but the answers still do not come. The boys from town begin to have gang fights with the boys from Los Jaros. Antonio, who lives between the town and Los Jaros, is caught in the middle. On the last day of school, Antonio calls to Vitamin Kid to race him across the bridge. However, the Vitamin Kid is walking with a girl named Ida, and he expresses no interest in racing.

There is a rumor that Tenorio’s sick daughter is near death. Téllez, a rancher from Agua Negra, comes to Ultima to ask help in lifting a curse on his home. Pots and pans fly across the room in his home. Stones rain from the sky. A priest has blessed their house, but the blessing has not been effective. Antonio wonders how an almighty God has again failed to dispel evil. Ultima states that many years ago, Téllez’s grandfather hanged three Comanches for raiding his flocks. The curse has awakened the ghosts to force them to do wrong. Gabriel accepts responsibility for interfering with destiny if Ultima helps his friends.

Gabriel and Antonio accompany Ultima to Agua Negra. Antonio realizes that María teaches him that every man is tied to the earth in his need for nourishment and security, but Ultima and Gabriel teach him that the land serves a more spiritual function: immortality comes from freedom, and freedom is nourished by the land, air, and sea.

When they arrive, Ultima instructs Antonio and Gabriel to build a platform in the yard and to cover it with juniper branches. Ultima asks Gabriel to place three bundles on the platform and set it all on fire. Gabriel informs Antonio that his father once told him that the Comanche burned their dead on platforms like this. When the platform is burned completely, Ultima declares that the curse is lifted. Téllez mentions that a month earlier he challenged Tenorio for speaking badly of Ultima. Soon thereafter, the evil things began to occur in his home.

That night, Antonio dreams that his brothers call for him to give them rest from their restless sea-blood. Antonio replies that he cannot help them. He baits his hook with their livers and begins to fish in the river. They continue to cry out, so he unbaits his hook and throws their livers into the River of the Carp. Finally, they rest.

Summary: Veintiuno (21)

Antonio and Cico decide the time is right to take Florence to see the golden carp. Antonio confesses his doubts about the God of the Catholic Church. Cico explains that there are many gods, and that Antonio’s god is jealous. Antonio will have to choose between the carp and the God of the Church. They find their friends waving excitedly at them next to the shores of the Blue Lake in the section where swimming is forbidden. Horse shouts that Florence hasn’t emerged from the water. Just as Cico prepares to dive for Florence, Florence’s body floats to the surface. Antonio prays the Act of Contrition over Florence’s body but despairs that it is useless because Florence never believed. When the lifeguards finally arrive, Horse and the others lie and say they tried to persuade Florence not to swim in the forbidden area. Sickened, Antonio runs along the river.

Analysis: Diecinueve–Ventiuno (19–21)

Antonio’s intensified religious doubts illustrate the extent to which he had pegged his hope for moral understanding on a miraculous epiphany during his Communion. His disillusionment indicates the degree to which Antonio is still a child, even if he is an unusually thoughtful and morally curious one. It is naïve, of course, for him to think that the act of receiving Communion might revolutionize his moral understanding of the world, but his power of understanding and belief is still so strong that he is able to convince himself completely. However, his childlike faith takes a blow after his disappointment. After repeated failures to receive God’s explanation of the existence of evil, Antonio even ventures the thought that God himself does not exist. His faith in God is further challenged when Ultima is able to lift the curse on Téllez’s home, an act a priest failed spectacularly to accomplish.

The novel describes the process of entering adolescence as involving a loss that is to be mourned, but to which children must resign themselves. Antonio senses that his friends are also undergoing a lot of change, and this section begins to dramatize the turmoil of adolescence, symbolizing the fact that Antonio really is growing up. Like all the book’s depicted life changes, adolescence brings a share of loss and regret, as we see when the Vitamin Kid does not want to race anymore and when Antonio mourns the loss of “something good.” Nevertheless, he accepts the changes in his friends and his relationship with them as inevitable, indicating his broad perspective and his courageous determination to adapt to the changes he faces.

Antonio’s despair of understanding why evil exists actually leads him to greater spiritual understanding. As a result of his failed religious inquiry, Antonio finds a sort of peace in his spiritual relationship with the land and nature. He owes his multifaceted appreciation of these things to the different influences of his mother, his father, and Ultima. Antonio has finally achieved a kind of harmony regarding his radically different heritages. His ability to enjoy peacefully the land’s beauty provides him with respite from the unanswerable question of evil. He also finds respite in the multiplicity of religious traditions: at the moment his confidence in Catholicism wanes to almost nothing, Antonio begins going again with Cico to wait for the golden carp. While watching the golden carp, Antonio achieves a sense of peace that Catholicism does not give him. The golden carp allows him to appreciate the beauty of the moment, soothing his constant anxiety regarding the existence of evil; the power of the carp to soothe him indicates that, as Ultima believes, the idea of a religious tradition is not an all-or-nothing principle. It is possible to appreciate the truths that lie within a tradition of Catholicism without being utterly devastated when they prove incomplete, because there are other traditions in the world, and each can answer questions that the others leave blank.

Antonio assumes the role of a priest for the third time, and this time signals his final loss of hope in the Catholic church. Tragically, Florence dies just before Antonio and Cico can initiate him into the religion of the golden carp. In this scene, Antonio performs as a priest by reciting the Act of Final Contrition for Florence, but he has no sense of hope while he does so. In addition to the tragedy of seeing a friend die, Antonio is also exposed to the nastier side of human moral weakness when the lifeguard on duty yells at the boys for ruining his “perfect record.”

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