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Antonio is delirious with pneumonia for several days.
Narciso’s death is declared an accident by the coroner. When Andrew
enters Antonio’s sickroom, he seems uncomfortable. After he leaves, Ultima
assures Antonio that he didn’t reveal Andrew’s secret in his delirium.
María likes to hear Antonio read prayers in both English
and Spanish. Unlike many of their people, she wants her children
to know both languages. León and Eugene come to visit for Christmas. They
bought a car in Las Vegas but have totaled it during the drive to
Guadalupe. The tension between Gabriel and his sons grows. When
León and Eugene leave for Sante Fe, Andrew goes with them.
Antonio hopes that his first Communion will bring him
an understanding of why Tenorio’s evil goes unpunished. Tenorio
confronts Antonio on his way home from school one day. He shouts
that another of his daughters is dying and vows to kill Ultima,
but he hurries away without harming Antonio. When Antonio reports Tenorio’s
threats, Ultima assures him that Tenorio won’t ambush her as easily
as he did Narciso.
Antonio and his friends begin taking catechism lessons
with Father Byrnes. That spring, fierce dust storms incite
rumors of the atomic bomb. Antonio eagerly looks forward to receiving
the knowledge of God. Gabriel laughs when Antonio reports that some
people think the atomic bomb has caused the fierce dust storms.
He replies that the wind is the voice of the llano. By
blowing dust in their faces, it is telling the people that they
have sucked the land dry with overgrazing.
Although he doesn’t believe in God, Florence attends
the catechism lessons because he wants to be with his friends. Florence’s mother
died when he was three, and his father slowly killed himself with
drink. Now his sisters are prostitutes at Rosie’s house. He asks Antonio
why God would do such things to him. Antonio cannot answer because
these are the very questions that haunt Antonio himself. When Antonio
and Florence are late to catechism lessons, Father Byrnes punishes
Florence but not Antonio. Florence stands patiently in the aisle,
holding his arms out to his side, while Bones quietly vandalizes
a pew near the oblivious Father Byrnes. Father Byrnes tells a frightening
story to explain how long eternity is. He tells the children to
imagine that they must move a huge pile of sand across the ocean
by allowing a little bird to move one grain of sand at a time. When
the bird has finished moving the pile of sand, the first day of
eternity has passed.
Antonio begs Florence to go through with confession and
Communion to save himself an eternity in hell. Samuel suggests that
the golden carp might be a better god for Florence. They decide
to take Florence to see him during the summer.
María buys Antonio a new suit for his first confession
and Communion. Antonio’s friends decide to make him pretend to be
a priest so he can hear their confessions. The children gather around,
eager to listen. Horse confesses that he made a hole to see into
the girls’ bathroom at school. Antonio assigns a penance and remembers
the golden carp’s prophecy. Bones confesses an even more titillating
sin, witnessing two high school students having sex, and Antonio
gives him the same penance as Horse. When the children try to force
Florence to play along, Florence states that he has no sins because
God has sinned against him. The children shrink in horror and suggest beating,
stoning, or killing him for his blasphemy. Antonio shouts that he
absolves Florence of all his sins. The children fall on Antonio in
anger and begin to beat him. They stop only when the priest calls them
into the church for confession. Florence tells Antonio that he should
have given him a penance, adding that Antonio could never be their
In these chapters, it becomes clear to Antonio that social
prejudice and entrenched assumptions often unfairly determine the
course of justice. Because the Catholic mainstream in the town considers
Narciso to be nothing more than the town drunk, no one is interested
in punishing his murderer. The coroner illustrates this unexamined prejudice
when he decides to rule Narciso’s death an accident, in defiance
of every piece of available evidence. This event teaches Antonio
about the tragic unfairness of social prejudice. Antonio also begins
to deal with the linguistic component of his cultural identity when
María insists that he learn his prayers in English as well as in
Spanish. She still hopes that Antonio will be a priest, a spiritual
leader for his people, and by insisting that fluency in English
and Spanish will make him a better priest, María demonstrates
her awareness of the fact that Anglo culture is placing increasing pressures
on her own culture. She considers bilingualism a good way to adapt
to these changes. Antonio has already felt the sting of Anglo arrogance
toward his cultural and ethnic identity at his school.
The conflict between Antonio’s maternal and paternal
heritages ceases to be his major preoccupation in these chapters,
as the main conflict of the novel becomes Antonio’s struggle to
find a coherent way to understand his experiences. Neither Catholicism
nor Ultima’s brand of spirituality can completely reflect Antonio’s evolving
sense of identity and destiny. After society refuses to punish Tenorio
for murdering Narciso, Antonio struggles to understand why there
is evil in the world. He regards the Catholic Church with both extreme
hope and extreme doubt. As a bulwark against these doubts, he places
all his hopes on his first Communion, certain that it will bring
him complete understanding.
Father Byrnes’s unjust punishment of Florence and not
Antonio when both boys are late demonstrates to Antonio that even
priests can be prejudiced and unfair, and the action undermines
Antonio’s faith in the goodness of the Catholic Church. However,
in Antonio’s society the only suggestion that there is room for
questioning religious tenets comes from Florence’s willingness to
question Catholic orthodoxy during classes. Florence’s concern is
that Father Byrnes’s teaching does not give the children a hopeful
understanding of God but a fear of him. And despite Father Byrnes’s
teachings, it is hope that sustains Antonio in the face of doubt
and the incontrovertible recognition that there is evil in the world.
Antonio desperately wants Florence to have some form of hope as
well, a wish he acts on when he agrees with Samuel that perhaps
the golden carp will give him hope where the Catholic God has failed.
The authority of the Catholic Church, however, is implicitly undermined
by the attitude with which Antonio’s friends treat the confession
ceremony. The children sensationalize the confessional ritual with
sexual voyeurism and compete with one another to confess the worst
sin. None of them would probably explicitly acknowledge the element
of voyeurism that is inherent in confession, even to themselves.
However, their behavior suggests that they have subconsciously recognized
that the ceremony has a titillating element. This experience shows
Antonio that he may not be suited to life as a priest. Florence
does not suggest that it is any failing in Antonio, but rather that
his mock congregation is not ready for the kind of priest that Antonio
Ace your assignments with our guide to Bless Me, Ultima!