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As the summer comes to an end, Antonio spends his mornings
walking with Ultima, gathering herbs and medicines from the llano.
During this happy time, Antonio grows to love both the llano and
the river. Ultima teaches him that plants have spirits like people
and tells him stories about the old days. Antonio realizes that
Ultima is happiest when she is out on the llano, and her happiness
helps him to realize that he too is a part of the llano and a part
of nature. Antonio tells Ultima that he will soon visit his mother’s
brothers, and Ultima tells him that she is an old friend of his
mother’s father. He asks her why his Luna relatives are so quiet,
and she replies that it is in the Luna blood to be quiet like the
moon, just as it is in the Márez blood to be loud and restless like
the sea. (In Spanish, la luna means “moon” and el mar means “sea.”)
Antonio feels the presence of the river and wonders again about
Back at home, Antonio and Ultima dry the plants on the
chicken shed. María tells them over dinner that, as Antonio had
expected, it will soon be time to visit the Lunas to help with the
harvest, a yearly ritual that keeps Antonio close to his grandfather
and uncles. Antonio spends the rest of the afternoon playing at
Jáson’s house and then cuts wild alfalfa by the river to feed to
Every night, Antonio’s family prays before María’s statue
of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a beautiful, two-foot-tall likeness
of the Virgin in a blue gown. Antonio loves her because she always
forgives; the Virgin is his favorite saint. He knows that she is
the patron saint of his land. On the foot of the statue a little
paint has chipped away so that the white plaster is visible, and
Antonio thinks of the plaster as the Virgin’s pure soul.
That night, Antonio hears Ultima’s owl singing its mournful
song outside his attic window. Antonio slips into sleep and has
a dream in which the Virgin speaks to María. The Virgin promises
María that his older brothers will return home from the war safely.
When María asks her to make Antonio a priest, Antonio sees the Virgin wearing
the clothing of mourning for him while standing on the moon. When
he cries out in his sleep, Ultima comes to comfort him.
Because Anaya’s audience likely has had little previous
experience with the culture he describes, Ultima is a mentor figure
not only to Antonio, but also to us as readers as well. She relates
both to Antonio and to the general reader cultural beliefs about
the spirits of plants in nature and also historical information
about Antonio’s indigenous ancestors and about the Spanish in Europe.
Ultima’s guidance introduces Antonio to his cultural identity as
a Chicano. The knowledge she conveys to him is particularly important
not only because Antonio will be in school soon but also because
of the changes his culture will face as it integrates with a modernized world.
In particular, Ultima’s advice that Antonio does not need to choose
between his parents’ conflicting wishes for him gives Antonio the
resolve to move beyond his parents’ split views. Ultima’s lessons
illustrate a deeper desire: she wants him to listen to the voices
of the land and his heritage. She believes that this knowledge will
help him build his future out of the pieces of his ancestral past.
Although María’s devout Catholicism represents the Spanish
elements in her cultural tradition, the form of Catholicism she
practices is naturally a mixture of both Spanish and indigenous elements.
The legend of the Virgin of Guadalupe is partly an allegory of the
cultural and racial clash between Spanish colonists and indigenous
peoples. When the Spanish came to the New World, they launched an
intense campaign to convert indigenous people to Catholicism. The
legend has it that the Virgin Mary appeared to a native man who
was baptized with the Christian name Juan Diego. However, she appeared
with the dark skin of the indigenous peoples of Mexico. She told
Juan Diego that she wanted a church built on the hill of Tepeyac,
the former location of an Aztec temple destroyed by the Spanish
The Virgin is the embodiment of both the novel’s main
forces of conflict and their inherent resolution; the Virgin both
defines and heals the cultural struggle that preoccupies Antonio
and his world, and she is thus a figure of extraordinary psychological
importance in the book. Her story relates the original conflict
between the indigenous peoples of Mexico and the Spanish colonists.
Juan Diego, as a native man, had a great deal of difficulty getting
an audience with the Spanish bishop. The bishop refused to believe
Juan Diego’s story. When the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego for the
fourth time, she instructed him to pick some roses to take to the
bishop as proof for his story. Juan Diego obeyed her. When he opened
his cloak to spill the roses out in front of the bishop, the image
of the dark-skinned Virgin Mary was emblazoned on his cloak. Thus
the bishop constructed a small church on the hill; it was later
replaced with a larger, more elaborate church, the Basilica. The
dark-skinned Virgin Mary became known as the Virgin of Guadalupe,
sometimes referred to as the Queen of Mexico. Representations of
her image contain deep reds and blues, prominent colors in Mexican
Antonio’s relationship to the Virgin of Guadalupe highlights
his growing moral awareness. Before, he was largely concerned with
sin and punishment. In this chapter, he begins to include forgiveness
as an element of moral dilemmas. He views the Virgin of Guadalupe
as the sweet, forgiving mediator between sinners and a wrathful, unforgiving
God. His dream about the Virgin of Guadalupe reveals that he has
begun to consider the possibility that he too can sin. He dreams
that she prays in mourning over him, implying that she is asking
God’s forgiveness for him.
The dream also reveals Antonio’s developing awareness
of his own mortality. The dream has multiple meanings. It is possible
that the Virgin is mourning his death. It is also possible that
the dream means that becoming a priest does not save Antonio from
sin as his mother wished. It could also mean that Antonio disappointed
his mother’s wishes by not becoming a priest. The dream symbolizes many
of the conflicts that plague Antonio as he grows out of his childhood
ignorance and innocence. It represents his preoccupation with sin
and punishment and the possible significance of disobeying his mother’s
wishes for him. He is struggling to integrate his developing independence
into a defined moral structure. The absence of a clear line between
right and wrong in the dream illustrates Antonio’s struggle with
moral ambiguity. He is afraid of the inevitability that he will
increasingly be subject to moral judgment as he grows older. However,
he does not have to be alone while he makes the journey into the
adult world of moral decision-making. Ultima is there to comfort
him when he awakes.
On a subconscious level, Antonio relates to Ultima in
the same way as he does to the Virgin. Throughout Bless
Me, Ultima, Ultima is referred to as the mujer que no ha
pecado, or “the woman who has not sinned.” Antonio also had a dream
that Ultima’s owl flew the Virgin to heaven. His parents frequently
inspire the fear of punishment and judgment, but Ultima does not.
Antonio reveals thoughts and feelings to her that he is not comfortable
revealing to his parents, and in this way, she is the living embodiment
of understanding and forgiveness, just as the Virgin is the iconic
embodiment of understanding and forgiveness.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Bless Me, Ultima!