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Bless Me, Ultima

Rudolfo A. Anaya

Catorce (14)

Doce–Trece (12–13)

Quince–Dieciocho (15–18)

Summary

Antonio returns to school in the fall. Samuel is pleased that Antonio saw the golden carp. He warns Antonio that their classmates will not understand his family’s defense of Ultima. When Antonio arrives at the schoolyard, Ernie tries to pick a fight by saying Antonio has a witch in his house. He also shouts that Andrew visits Rosie’s house regularly. Antonio ignores the charge against Andrew, but he stands up for Ultima. He and Ernie get into a fight, and before long, everybody is fighting in a pile. The teachers separate the boys, but no one is punished. No one teases Antonio about Ultima afterward.

On the day that Antonio’s class is scheduled to give a Christmas play at school, a fierce blizzard covers the ground with snow. Antonio and his rambunctious friends are the only students in their class who show up to school. Their teacher, Miss Violet, decides to have them perform the play in front of the rest of the school anyway. The boys practice all morning, but some of them are not happy at playing the girls’ parts. The play becomes a hilarious farce.

Walking home morosely, Antonio sees Tenorio, the saloon-keeper, and Narciso, the town drunk, fighting in the street. Another of Tenorio’s daughters is sick. Before stumbling away, Tenorio vows to kill Ultima. Narciso rushes off to find Andrew, one of Antonio’s older brothers. Antonio follows Narciso to Rosie’s house. To Antonio’s horror, Narciso knocks on the door and asks for Andrew. Antonio wonders if the fact that Narciso is looking for Andrew at the brothel means that Andrew has already lost his innocence. When Andrew refuses to take Narciso seriously and warn his parents of Tenorio’s threat, Narciso trudges into the blizzard to do it himself. Antonio stays out of sight and follows him.

Antonio hears a pistol shot ring out. He finds Tenorio and Narciso fighting under a juniper tree. When Antonio screams, Tenorio aims at him, but his pistol refuses to fire. After Tenorio flees, Antonio hears Narciso’s last confession. He stumbles home to report what he has seen. Antonio falls into a deep fever and dreams that he begs God and the Virgin to forgive Andrew and Narciso. The Virgin replies that she will not forgive Narciso if Antonio does not ask her to forgive Tenorio as well. Antonio cries out for Tenorio to be punished, but God declares that he cannot be a god who is all-giving while taking vengeance on Tenorio at the same time. Antonio cries for God to forgive his own sins.

In his dream, Antonio sees the blood of Lupito and Narciso mix in the river. A mob gathers, calling for Ultima’s blood. Antonio’s brothers beg him to bless and forgive them. However, they turn into the Trementina sisters when Antonio approaches them. They cut Antonio’s hair and mix it with a toad’s entrails and a bat’s blood. Afterward, they drink it, and Antonio dies despite his mother’s prayers and Ultima’s magic. Antonio is sentenced to purgatory because he died without taking the Eucharist. Lead by the sisters, a mob kills Ultima, Antonio’s family, and Antonio’s friends. Afterward, the mob catches and eats carp. A great hole opens in the ground, and water rises out of it, but the sinners take no heed. The sun turns red, and the sinners’ skin falls off. When there is no one left alive in Guadalupe, the farmers from El Puerto come to gather the ashes of Antonio and his family. They bury the remains in the holy ground of their fields. The skies clear, and the golden carp swallows everything, good and evil. He ascends to the heavens to become a new sun, shining over a new world.

Analysis

Anaya describes the process of leaving childhood behind not only as the development of a personal belief system, but also the willingness to defend those beliefs. Like his defense of Ultima against the mob in Chapter 12, Antonio’s fight with Ernie in Chapter 14 demonstrates his willingness to defend his beliefs even when they are unpopular. Although Gabriel and Ultima clearly influence Antonio’s behavior, Antonio’s own personal experiences have led him to defend his beliefs as well. Ultima’s continual emphasis on the importance of considering different moral frameworks in making decisions certainly affects Antonio, but ultimately, it is Antonio himself who decides what decisions he will make. Understanding that morality cannot be considered absolute or clearly defined gives Antonio greater power to find his own truths. Gabriel’s example of fierce individualism gives Antonio the courage to defend the truths he chooses for himself. The golden carp story supports Ultima’s lesson that there are multiple but equally valid modes of moral reasoning. In Cico’s religion, Narciso is not a moral outcast because of his drinking, for example. Simply knowing this fact gives Antonio the courage to be different.

The episode of the Christmas play shows the multiple ways in which children relate with one another; Antonio’s friends are neither entirely negative nor entirely positive forces. Although their teasing can frequently be brutal, they are also able to include Antonio in their games. In contrast to the adult world of the novel, forgiveness is easy to come by among the children. Antonio frequently wrestles with difficult issues in his family life, and his friendships with his classmates function as a way for him to escape those pressures.

Antonio’s sighting of Andrew at Rosie’s house connects reality with Antonio’s earlier unreal dream scene. Although the dream presented an idealized version of Andrew, Antonio is forced to relinquish this image of Andrew when he sees him at Rosie’s house. In Antonio’s dream, Andrew promises not to enter the brothel until Antonio loses his innocence. If Andrew’s entrance into the brothel in this chapter means that Antonio has indeed lost his innocence, then it means that Antonio has lost his childish, innocent worldview, rather than his sexual innocence. As Antonio grows up, he begins to see the complexity of making moral decisions; he is no longer innocently able to assume that right and wrong are absolute categories.

Performing the Catholic Act of Final Contrition for Narciso symbolically places Antonio in the role of priest, connecting Narciso’s death to Lupito’s, during which Antonio heard Lupito’s final confession. With Narciso the experience is different because Antonio personally knows Narciso; Lupito is a stranger. Antonio’s dream illustrates how this experience furthers the development of his sense of spirituality and morality. Again, the dream deals with forgiveness, sin, and punishment. The elements of betrayal and vengeance further complicate the matter. It is possible that Andrew’s refusal to help Narciso indirectly leads to Narciso’s death. The refusal might have led to Antonio’s death if Tenorio’s gun hadn’t misfired. Therefore, Antonio himself is dealing with feelings of betrayal. God’s response to Antonio’s request that he forgive Andrew is wrathful. Throughout this conflict, God functions in Antonio’s dream as an alter ego for Antonio. He symbolizes the part of Antonio that has difficulty forgiving Andrew for letting him down.

Another effect of Antonio’s entrance into adolescence is his ability to confront his own imperfections and become curious about religion. Antonio realizes that his desire for vengeance against Tenorio might be unfair. Antonio cannot realistically expect to avoid the darker side of human emotions. Because he dreams that a mob calls out for Ultima’s blood, Antonio subconsciously acknowledges that his desire for revenge against Tenorio is just as savage. His dream is also the first in which he himself dies. Antonio’s dream also demonstrates that he has gained a greater understanding of Cico’s religion. The golden carp’s apocalyptic prophecy depressed and frightened him because it seemed so fatalistic. However, his dream shows him how Cico’s religion contains the promise of salvation as well.

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