Analysis: Diez–Once (10–11)

Antonio’s friendship with Samuel initiates Antonio’s awareness of the conflicts in his own religion. The El Puerto priest’s inability to cure Lucas increases Antonio’s doubts. When Ultima successfully cures Lucas, Antonio comes to realize that Ultima’s spirituality is both valid and separate from the Catholic Church. Antonio’s realization that the church does not have the same kind of power as Ultima suggests to him that no single way of interpreting the world can ever comprehend everything; life requires a commingling of different perspectives, explanations, and beliefs.

In various ways, Anaya symbolically links Antonio’s character to the power of healing, showing that Antonio himself may possess some of the spirituality that he admires in Ultima. Mexican folklore traditionally associates Antonio’s middle name, Juan, with mystical powers. People who are named Juan are said to have special powers to resist witchcraft. Anaya offers us a vivid description of Ultima’s cure, but he does not explain her power. Her power is mysterious—recognizing and honoring its existence is a matter of faith and spirituality.

Part of Ultima’s authority in the community and in Antonio’s family comes from the fact that even though she is not a member of the Catholic Church, she rigorously follows a philosophy that highly values harmony and free will. She continually contrives to show Antonio how his radically different heritages can coexist harmoniously within him. When she asks Antonio to take part in the cure, for instance, she does so because she knows that he will incur a social cost for helping her, and she wants him to understand what is at stake. This respectful treatment indicates that Ultima believes that Antonio is ready to make independent decisions and accept consequences, the hallmark of adulthood.

Antonio’s friends represent the collective social voice, as many people in the community feel that Ultima’s cure is witchcraft. Although Antonio maintains his individuality, he still has to deal with social prejudice. Ernie’s mean-spirited teasing is Antonio’s first real taste of this phenomenon and represents simply another obstacle on his path to wisdom and adulthood. Whereas Ultima is able to understand the multiplicity of life and the incompleteness of any one way of explaining it, Anaya shows that many people are prejudiced by their own views and react to other views with suspicion and fear.

The inability to look past biased assumptions is especially visible in the townspeople’s treatment of Narciso. Most people simply view him as the town drunk, and only a few, like Cico, possess the perspective necessary to see that he is actually one of the magic people, like Ultima. Cico’s view that Narciso’s lush garden is drunk like Narciso illustrates his idea of tolerance and acceptance, ideals he generally shares with Ultima. Cico’s moral order does not condemn Narciso’s love of alcohol; instead, he has the ability to see beyond the blinders of social prejudice to see the good in Narciso’s magic, just as Antonio does with Ultima. His willingness to be open-minded brings him strength, but also a lot of conflict.

Cico’s decision to share the golden carp’s apocalyptic prophecy with Antonio illustrates the connection between Cico’s religion and Catholicism: both are concerned with moral decadence. The prophecy depresses Antonio because he feels that it burdens him with responsibility, implying that all men sin. As Antonio’s dreams about his older brothers reveal, he shoulders a great deal of responsibility for the moral well-being of people close to him. However, Ultima reminds him that he should concentrate on his own fate. She acknowledges the conflict he experiences between the pagan religion and the Catholic Church, but she does not tell him what to believe or what to think. Unlike Antonio’s mother, she regards knowledge as the best and most important asset in decision-making.