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.
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.”