Bless Me, Ultima

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Bless Me, Ultima Chapter 11 (Once) Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Some time later Antonio is fishing in the river, and he hears someone calling his name. Cico appears and says he will show him the golden carp, but first he makes Antonio swear to never kill a carp. They head off and pass by Narciso's house, which is surrounded by a beautiful garden. Cico makes them go into the garden and Antonio is amazed by the magical place. Cico tells him how drunken Narciso dances and plants things by the light of the moon, and that there is a secret spring somewhere in the garden.
Narciso is condemned by the townspeople as a drunk, but a few compassionate people (like Cico, or the Márez family) can see that he has his own magic without judging him. Anaya again advocates looking past strict rules for the spirit within, and trying to see the bigger picture. Narciso is an alcoholic, but he has a magic of agriculture shared by no one else.
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Cico says no one knows about the golden carp except him and Samuel, and it is only a feeling that made them trust Antonio. The gang of town boys appears and makes fun of Ultima, and Horse puts Antonio in a headlock. Antonio feels sick from the heat and the boys' cruelty, and he vomits. This surprises them into letting him go, and Antonio and Cico run away.
The gang of boys again acts as a mirror of society in general, as they fail to understand Ultima and so mock her as a witch. Antonio is left with the harder, more complex duty of defending something unconventional but morally right.
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They walk to a place Antonio has never been before, to a secluded pond on a clear creek called El Rito. They wait for the golden carp, speaking only in whispers, and Cico takes out a spear to hunt the evil black bass of the pond, the fish that eats other fish.
The secluded place acts like a church, and Cico's faith in the carp has a great effect on Antonio. This experience will mirror his first communion in the Catholic church.
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Cico points and then salutes, and the golden carp appears. It is bigger than Antonio and covered in golden scales. Antonio feels like he is beholding the Virgin or God, and he trembles at the miracle. He realizes this experience is what he has been hoping to happen at his first communion, and he suddenly feels that he has sinned. The golden carp circles back once and then disappears.
Witnessing the carp is a tangible religious experience that contrasts with the seeming invisibility and ineffectiveness of the Christian God. Antonio can't help processing the world through the lens of Catholic sin and punishment, and so he feels like he has betrayed God just by seeing the carp.
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A huge black bass leaps from the water and knocks Cico's flung spear aside. Cico is disappointed but says it is only a game between him and the fish. They wait and the golden carp returns. Antonio worries that a fisherman will catch and kill the carp, but Cico says only a few special people can see him. He explains that the carp swims up to the Hidden Lakes in the hills, where there is a strange power or a mermaid. People who go there hear a singing that calls them to leave the cliff and enter the deep water. A shepherd had drowned there the summer before.
Like Ultima, Cico opens up a new world for Antonio and provides new and terrifying knowledge that sometimes opposes his parents' beliefs. Cico and his mythology represent the religions of the indigenous peoples, so they act as a counterpoint to Spanish Catholicism and are another necessary part of the Chicano identity.
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Antonio is amazed at all the strange and magical things he has learned. Cico tells the prophecy of the golden carp. After the old people were turned into carp, new people came to the valley who were just as sinful. The carp decreed that if they kept sinning, their sins would sink the land into the water and everyone would drown. Cico says the town is totally surrounded by water already.
The golden carp seems like a kinder, more naturalistic alternative to God, but Cico's legend reveals that the carp also can't resist punishing those who disobey him. Both religions include a disapproval of the perceived increase in sin that has occurred in Guadalupe in modern times.
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Antonio is distressed by this. It seems unfair to him, but Cico says that everyone knows and keeps on sinning. Antonio remembers that becoming a man is learning to sin, so no one will be safe when the time comes. He leaves with a heavy heart.
Cico reiterates María's sentiment – becoming an adult is learning to sin, so every adult has sinned. Antonio feels the unfairness of universal punishment but also fears its inevitability. He sees no way out for himself, or for others.
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Antonio asks Ultima about the golden carp, and she smiles and says she cannot tell him what to believe. When he grows up he has to discover his own truths.
Ultima again offers knowledge but wants Antonio to choose his beliefs for himself. She continues to treat him as an adult.
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That night Antonio dreams of all the dead people in the waters of the golden carp. His parents have been spared, but they argue about what water flows in Antonio's veins – the moonlit water of the Virgin, or the salt water of the ocean which binds him to the golden carp. The apocalypse begins, but then Ultima appears and calms the storm. She lectures Gabriel and María that the waters of the moon and the sea are the same, and only different parts of one cycle.
Antonio processes his inner conflict through the image of water in his blood and the old divide between Luna and Márez. In the dream the two families represent Catholicism and the carp, but Ultima appears and shows the harmony of the bigger picture. The lesson again is that Antonio doesn't have to choose from his heritage, but must embrace all its contradictory aspects together.
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