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The whole family is glad that Ultima has come to stay
with them. Mária is happy to have a woman to talk to, and Antonio’s
two older sisters are happy to have someone to help with their chores
so that they can spend more time playing together with dolls. Gabriel
talks to Ultima about his desire to move to California, a wish he
now feels will never come true because his older sons are fighting
in World War II, and he cannot move his young family alone.
Antonio is happy because he and Ultima quickly become
friends. Ultima takes Antonio on walks to gather herbs and teaches
him about their healing properties. Antonio says that he begins
to hear the voice of the river. He senses that his family’s peaceful
isolation is about to end. Jasón’s father, Chávez, comes to the
Márez home shouting that Lupito, a local war veteran, shot Chávez’s
brother, the sheriff, dead. When Gabriel joins Chávez and the other
men searching for Lupito, Antonio secretly follows them to the river.
He sees Lupito, armed with a pistol, hidden in the water. Antonio
makes a small noise, and Lupito looks down at him. But just then,
the searchlights fall on Lupito, and he is confronted by his pursuers.
Lupito runs off again into the reeds, out of sight of the men on
the bridge. Gabriel and Narciso, the town drunk, try to explain
to the mob that Lupito is shell-shocked because of the war, but
after crying out something about Japanese soldiers, Lupito shoots
his pistol into the air, drawing the fire of his pursuers. Lupito
begs Antonio for his blessing as he dies.
Antonio runs home, sobbing and reciting the Act of Contrition, the
last prayer that Catholics say before dying. When he realizes that Ultima’s
owl has been with him the whole time, he loses his fear. He fears
that the river will be stained with blood forever. He thinks about
the town, which he knows his father despises, and the llano, and
he wonders why Lupito had to die. He remembers when his father built
their house. Rather than choosing to build on a patch of fertile
ground, Gabriel built a house on a barren place at the start of the
llano. Antonio enters the house and Ultima meets him. She cleans
him and puts him to bed. Ultima explains that it is not for them
to judge whether Lupito or the men who killed him will go to hell.
Antonio dreams of his three older brothers discussing their father’s
dream to build a castle in the hills. When Antonio states that they
must gather around their father, they reply that he is supposed to
fulfill María’s dream and become a priest. When they try to cross the
River of the Carp to build Gabriel’s castle, a mournful voice calls Antonio’s
name. His brothers shrink in fear, saying that it is La Llorona,
the “Weeping Woman,” or Lupito asking for his blessing. Antonio
declares that it is the presence of the river. He calms it so that
his brothers can cross.
Antonio’s changing attitude toward nature reflects the
ways in which he is developing into an independent and thoughtful
young boy. As a child, Antonio’s fear of the llano represents his
dependence on his family and his youth. Later, Ultima helps him
appreciate the natural beauty of the wide plains that his father
loves so much. Her guidance allows Antonio to find harmony between
his conflicting paternal and maternal heritages. This development
foreshadows Antonio’s ultimately optimistic end, but it also suggests
a new period of difficulty and conflict that parallels his general
transition away from childish innocence and toward a more adult
wisdom. After he witnesses Lupito’s death, Antonio becomes preoccupied with
sin, punishment, and the loss of innocence. Antonio’s confrontation
with ideas of good and evil manifests itself in his use of religion
to try to understand the world. Antonio recites the Act of Contrition
as he runs home, even though he doesn’t fully understand its significance.
Furthermore, Lupito forces Antonio to take the figurative role of
priest when Lupito asks Antonio for a blessing. Antonio must suddenly
deal with the moral significance of an adult dilemma.
Antonio’s dream about his brothers further symbolizes
the conflict between his maternal and paternal heritages. But unlike
his brothers, Antonio now senses that there is greater strength
in embracing his entire heritage than in choosing any one part of
it. The novel suggests that Antonio’s maternal and paternal heritages result
from the same conflict, the conflict between Spanish and indigenous
cultures. Antonio’s struggle to reconcile his family heritage is
much like the struggle to evaluate the influences of the varying
cultures of New Mexico.
Anaya’s reference to the legend of La Llorona demonstrates
how Bless Me, Ultima breaks from a traditional
Western canon of great works. Like the more commonly known legend
of Medea, La Llorona is the story of a woman who kills her children
in a fit of rage. However, the legend of La Llorona is more relevant
within Antonio’s culture as an illustration of his continuing fear
of veering from his parents’ expectations. The legend of La Llorona
is a classic of Mexican and Chicano folklore. Some versions of the
tale suggest that La Llorona kills her children because their father
leaves her or makes her jealous of her children. Many versions of
the legend suggest that she died or killed herself when she realized
what she had done. Her spirit wanders the river, crying out for
her lost children.
Many versions of the tale associate La Llorona with evil.
Some versions describe her visits to lustful young men whom she
lures to their deaths. Other versions describe her efforts to steal
living children who are out by the river late at night, mistaking
them for her own dead children. Because some versions imply that
the children are disobeying their parents, parents often use the
story to frighten children into obedience. In some versions, however,
La Llorona is a sympathetic figure deserving of pity. In others,
she is a malevolent force to be feared. Gabriel and Narciso ask
the mob to have mercy on Lupito because he was mad when he killed
the sheriff. The connection is that Lupito and La Llorona were both
insane when they murdered, and thus they cannot be held accountable
to rational moral judgment.
The pairing of La Llorona and Lupito in Antonio’s dream
shows that he is beginning to deal with morally ambivalent issues.
Antonio wants to make moral sense out of Lupito’s death, but easy
answers elude him. The figure of La Llorona expresses Antonio’s
anxieties about growing up, about disobeying his parents, and about
wandering by the river. His dream ends with the voice of María mourning that
her son is growing older, an apparition that phrases Antonio’s anxiety
about leaving his mother in her own voice. Antonio is developing
an independent self-consciousness and learning to combine elements
of both his parents’ heritages. As a young boy, though, he is still
ambivalent about the consequences of change.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Bless Me, Ultima!