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Bless Me, Ultima

Rudolfo A. Anaya

Doce–Trece (12–13)

Diez–Once (10–11)

Catorce (14)

Summary: Doce (12)

Antonio notices three wax-covered clay dolls on Ultima’s shelf. One seems to be bent over in pain. Ultima forbids him to touch the dolls and warns him to stay away from Tenorio. She gives him an amulet containing dried herbs to protect him from danger. One evening, Narciso bursts into the Márez home to report that one of Tenorio’s daughters has died. Tenorio told everyone that he found Ultima’s little pouch of herbs under his daughter’s bed. Narciso warns Ultima that Tenorio is coming with a drunken lynch mob hungry for a witch’s death. At that moment, Tenorio and his cohorts arrive. With Antonio at his side, Gabriel demands that they identify themselves and state their business.

To guard against witches, one man has thrust through his lips needles that have been blessed by a priest. Narciso declares that they can pin the needles over Gabriel’s door in the sign of a cross. If Ultima is a witch, she cannot walk through the door. The mob agrees to abide by the test. Ultima’s owl suddenly gouges out one of Tenorio’s eyes. When everyone looks up, Ultima has passed through the door. The mob disperses, but Tenorio vows to kill Ultima. Antonio notices that the needles are no longer pinned above the door. He never finds out if they simply fell or if someone had broken the cross.

Summary: Trece (13)

Gabriel accompanies his family to El Puerto and stays to take part in the Lunas’ harvest for the first time. Antonio ponders the conflicting belief systems of the Catholic Church and the golden carp. He wishes there were a god that always forgave and never punished. He wonders if God is too much like a man. Antonio asks Pedro why he and Antonio’s other uncles did not come to warn Ultima like Narciso did. Pedro admits that he was a coward, but he vows to stand by Ultima from now on. Antonio’s uncle, Mateo, reports that the surviving Trementina sisters have woven a cottonwood coffin for their dead sister because a witch cannot be buried in a pine, cedar, or piñon coffin. He describes the frightful ceremony for a Black Mass funeral. Antonio has a dream in which Mateo’s description of the ceremony is enacted, but when he looks inside the coffin, he finds Ultima. He awakes just in time to see the El Puerto priest refuse to give the dead woman the funeral mass and, therefore, burial in hallowed ground. The whole town witnesses their public shame. Tenorio will never again be able to sway the townspeople to join his vendetta for revenge.

Analysis: Doce–Trece (12–13)

Bless Me, Ultima largely describes the process of leaving childhood behind as adult knowledge is acquired. During the remainder of the summer, the anxiety-prone Antonio learns that coping with change and disappointment is a normal part of living, and one that he must accept. At no point does life stop changing. Moreover, change inevitably brings loss and grief, which Antonio learns from watching Gabriel grieve by drinking and muttering to himself angrily because his sons have rebelled. But change can also bring redemption and forgiveness, which Anaya shows when Gabriel finally begins to understand that his sons must build independent lives and that the Márez spirit he admired in them led them to abandon his dream for their own. By witnessing the drama between Gabriel and his brothers, Antonio learns that rebellion against parental authority is a normal part of becoming an adult.

When Gabriel’s old friends from the llano come to town for supplies, Anaya uses their stories as a vehicle for examining the social and economic changes affecting their lifestyles. They demonstrate how railroads and barbed wire are causing the vaquero lifestyle to change and slowly disappear. Antonio listens to the tales of hardship and realizes that his father pines for a life that is already fading. Again, change is shown to be inevitable, and it brings hardship and grief. However, Antonio recognizes that as the vaqueros drink and reminisce about the good old days, they discuss a past that is heavily idealized. María also idealizes her ancestral past—she neglects to mention that the priest who led the Lunas to El Puerto was actually their father. She also idealizes the role of the priest, an important realization for Antonio. He must learn to evaluate truths on his own because other peoples’ truths are colored by their personal experiences and losses.

Although Antonio is coming to accept the imperfections in his mother and father, he still has a lot to learn from his parents. Although Gabriel has come to terms with the loss of his old way of life, he retains the vaquero’s fierce spirit of independence, as we see when the mob comes for Ultima and he does not hesitate to defend her. Antonio stands by his father’s side and learns a valuable lesson in personal integrity. Antonio also learns that not everyone has the courage to stand by his or her convictions when they become unpopular. His Luna uncles did not warn Ultima about Tenorio’s evil plans, because they were afraid. Again, Antonio is learning that there are many moral pitfalls in adulthood.

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