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Bless Me, Ultima

Rudolfo A. Anaya

Tres (3)

Dos (2)

Cuatro (4)

Summary

When Antonio wakes, he ponders the fate of Lupito’s soul and those of the men who killed him. He thinks that, according to Catholic principles, Lupito must be in hell because Lupito died having committed a mortal sin. He hopes that God will forgive Lupito, but he thinks sadly that God does not forgive anyone. He wonders whether the water of the river will carry Lupito’s soul away.

Antonio lies in bed and listens to his parents quarrel. Their frequent Sunday morning arguments about religion are a result of Gabriel’s Saturday night drinking. María is a devout Catholic, but Gabriel’s vaquero mindset causes him to distrust priests because to him they stand for order and civilization. Antonio knows that Gabriel’s father once dragged a priest from church and beat him after the priest preached against something that Antonio’s grandfather had done. At last Antonio goes downstairs, and María scolds Antonio for not being properly formal when greeting Ultima. Ultima requests that María not scold Antonio, as the night was hard on all the men in town. María protests that Antonio is still a baby. She says that she thinks it is a sin for boys to become men. Gabriel hotly declares that it is not a sin, only the way of the world, and María argues that life corrupts the innocence and purity that God bequeaths to children. She says bitterly that if Antonio becomes a priest, he will be spared from the corruption of life. Gabriel pours coffee for Ultima, and Antonio realizes with some surprise that Gabriel and Ultima are the only grown-ups he knows who eat or drink before taking Communion on Sundays.

Many women in town are dressed in mourning because they have lost sons and husbands in the war. Antonio notes that the war has indirectly claimed two more victims: Chávez’s brother and Lupito. Antonio lingers near his mother, who smoothes his hair, and he feels soothed by her presence. He feels another jolt of anxiety when he realizes again that when he starts school soon, he will have to leave her. Antonio and Ultima discuss the events of the previous night. Antonio asks Ultima how his father can take Communion if he committed the sin of firing at Lupito. Ultima replies that she doesn’t think Gabriel fired at Lupito, but she warns that no one should presume to decide whom God does and does not forgive. On the way to the church, the family passes a brothel situated in a ramshackle mansion that belongs to a woman named Rosie. María makes her children bow their heads as they pass, and Antonio realizes that Rosie is evil, but evil in a different way from a witch. Before mass, Antonio mingles with the other boys. As they play, they discuss the night’s events. One of the boys brags that his father saw Lupito kill the sheriff. Antonio says nothing about Lupito’s death.

Analysis

Antonio’s thoughts and actions in this chapter indicate a new obsession with sin and punishment. Ultima acts as a mentor to Antonio, guiding his inexperienced mind through new adult terrain. For example, her explanation that the men of the llano will not kill without reason is an attempt to address Antonio’s curiosity regarding the morality of murder. Ultima also tries to teach Antonio a larger moral lesson regarding salvation and damnation. Her suggestion that people must make independent moral decisions but should not make decisions regarding salvation and damnation introduces into the novel the idea that morality is not absolute. Ultima uses Catholic terms in her explanations to Antonio because Antonio is trying to make sense of Lupito’s death within a Catholic framework.

One sign that Antonio is leaving his childhood behind is his realization that the grown-ups he loves and trusts can make mistakes. Narciso and Gabriel’s failed attempt to save Lupito, as well as the triumph of Chavez’s and the others’ blind anger and fear, forces Antonio to confront the fact that good intentions and good actions do not always achieve their desired results. As Antonio’s mentor, Ultima does not tell him what to think; rather, she tells him how people like his father and Narciso make moral decisions. Her approach gives Antonio the freedom to apply his understanding to his own decisions. Ultima’s style of teaching implies that she is more interested in helping Antonio develop into an independent person than in teaching him any particular moral outlook on life.

María’s and Gabriel’s opinions regarding the transition between childhood and adolescence are based on the issues of sin and punishment that preoccupy Antonio. His mother associates growing up with learning how to sin, while Gabriel and Ultima view growing up as an inevitable process that is not good or bad in itself. María’s worldview results from a primarily religious outlook on life, but Gabriel and Ultima’s embodies a natural outlook. As a boy becomes a man, he uses his experiences and his knowledge to make decisions. The pressures that accompany each of these outlooks flare up when the subject of Antonio’s future comes up yet again. María’s religiosity leads her to the conclusion that the only hope for Antonio’s salvation lies in his becoming a priest, while Gabriel’s love of independence causes him to insist that no one but Antonio should decide whether he becomes a priest. His response reveals both his belief that meddling in another’s destiny is wrong and his aversion for priests. María, as a staunch Catholic, supports meddling in Antonio’s future as much as possible because the state of his soul is at stake. She also fears Antonio’s inevitable maturation for precisely the reasons that Ultima seeks to guide him: because he will start making his own decisions soon and will no longer constantly look to her for guidance.

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