Bless Me, Ultima
The tragic consequences of life can be overcome by the magical strength that resides in the human heart.
As Antonio sleeps, Lupito, Narciso, and Florence appear in Antonio’s dreams. They say that Antonio prayed the Act of Final Contrition for them “in his innocence” even though they were outcasts. When Antonio asks why he must see so much violence, a voice tells him that creation lies in violence. Antonio watches a priest defile an altar with pigeon’s blood and Cico defile the river with the golden carp’s blood. He has a vision of Tenorio murdering Ultima by killing her “night-spirit.” Antonio cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” Narciso, Florence, and Lupito tell Antonio that they live only in his dreams. When Antonio awakes, Ultima suggests that he go to his uncles in El Puerto. Antonio has seen too much death. His uncles can teach him about growing life. Before he leaves, Ultima advises him to be ready to make life’s changes part of his strength.
Gabriel explains that he does not mind sending Antonio to María’s brothers because he will still be with men who can guide him into manhood. He admits that the vaquero’s way of life is fading, so he is ready to end the long conflict with María. Antonio replies that he wants to be both a Luna and a Márez. Gabriel explains that every man takes his past and makes something new with it. As Antonio muses out loud that it is possible to make a new religion, he asks his father if the priest who led the Lunas to El Puerto was actually their father in more than the metaphorical sense. Gabriel confirms his suspicions.
When Antonio asks why there is evil in the world, Gabriel replies that people call things they do not understand “evil.” He explains that understanding comes only with life experience. He says that acquiring knowledge is not as easy as swallowing the host at Communion. He believes that Ultima’s magic comes from the understanding she has gained from her years of working with the sick and the frightened.
During the summer with his Luna uncles, Antonio’s nightmares cease to disturb his sleep. Although Antonio does not know what his future holds, he is glad to learn the Luna way of life. When Tenorio’s sick daughter dies at the end of the summer, he vows to everyone who will listen that he will kill Ultima. Pedro resolves to stand by Ultima this time. He tells Antonio that they must drive to Guadalupe directly after supper, so he sends Antonio to Prudencio’s house to pack for the journey home.
During the walk to Prudencio’s home, Tenorio tries to trample Antonio with his horse. Antonio throws himself down the embankment to hide in the bushes by the river. Tenorio shouts that the owl is Ultima’s spirit, so he plans to kill Ultima by killing the owl. Antonio runs ten miles to Guadalupe to warn Ultima. When he reaches his parents’ house, Pedro’s car screeches to a halt in front of the house. Gabriel runs to the door and asks what has happened. Pedro asks if they have seen Antonio.
Meanwhile, Antonio spies Tenorio near a juniper tree. When Antonio shouts a warning, Tenorio aims a rifle at him. Ultima calls her owl, and it attacks Tenorio. Tenorio shoots it during the struggle and aims his gun at Antonio again. Before he can kill Antonio, Pedro shoots Tenorio dead. Antonio takes the dying owl to Ultima’s bedside. Ultima explains that her teacher told her to do good works but not to interfere with destiny. Her death and Tenorio’s death are simply the restoration of the original harmony. She tells Antonio that he must burn all of her possessions at sunrise. Tonight, he must bury the owl next to a forked juniper tree. Before she dies, Ultima blesses Antonio “in the name of all that is good and strong and beautiful.” He goes and buries the owl.
Love life, and if despair enters your heart, look for me in the evenings when the wind is gentle and the owls sing in the hills. I shall be with you—“
In two days we would celebrate the mass of the dead, and after mass we would take her body to the cemetery in Las Pasturas for burial. But all that would only be the ceremony that was prescribed by custom. Ultima was really buried here. Tonight.
Antonio’s final dream addresses his crisis of religious faith. The three people he tries to save present declarations in his dream that each follow the same pattern: first, they state that Antonio prayed for them in his innocence; then they proceed to show him the failure of all three spiritual paradigms in his life. The dream hints at Antonio’s understanding that people often disobey the rules of their own religions. His dream also foreshadows the manner of Ultima’s death. Seeing the failure of all three spiritual paradigms, Antonio asks God why he has forsaken him, a question that echoes Jesus’ last words on the cross and illustrates the depth of Antonio’s anguished doubt.
The voice that breaks into Antonio’s dream, reminding Antonio that violence is the seed of creation, suggests that Antonio must learn to accept that violence brings change, and, in fact, that change is a kind of violence. This viewpoint supports the novel’s argument that the transition into adulthood requires a person to develop the kind of faith that can accept doubt, contradiction, and loss in the absence of absolute answers. Ultima continues to act as Antonio’s mentor as she advises his parents to send him to his uncles to learn about “growing life.” She also reiterates the novel’s concern with violence as a part of change when, before Antonio leaves, she advises him that he must learn to accept change and make it a part of his strength.
Antonio’s conversation with his father signals Antonio’s departure from absolute modes of thinking. Gabriel has finally come to terms with the sweeping changes that are destroying the vaquero way of life. Antonio learns that adults face change their whole lives, and Gabriel’s assertion that every man builds something new from his past echoes Ultima’s statement that Antonio has to make change a part of his strength.
Antonio’s final separation from Ultima is also a test of the lessons that she has taught him regarding the ambiguity of good and evil. When the battle between Ultima and Tenorio comes to its violent end, Antonio has reason to remember his father’s relativist attitude toward evil. Antonio finally begins to understand the spiritual value that Ultima places on harmony. After he affirms both his Luna and Márez heritages, he feels at peace with his identity, and his sense of peace helps him to understand what Anaya has intended to show us all along, that his maternal and paternal heritages are compatible. He ceases to see them in terms of incompatible opposites but as opposites in a balanced unity. This is how he comes to understand the cycle of life and death as well so that death ceases to be an evil thing. Antonio regards it as another change that brings grief. This time, he recognizes that change can also bring wisdom and a deeper understanding.
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