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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.
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
Ace your assignments with our guide to Bless Me, Ultima!