Bless Me, Ultima

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A kind, elderly curandera (healing-woman) who comes to live with the Márez family. Ultima has strange powers and shares a deep connection with the earth. She befriends Antonio and becomes his mentor and guide. Ultima symbolizes the mysterious powers of the indigenous peoples as well as the spirit of the land itself, although she is misunderstood by many to be an evil witch. Her owl acts as a protector and is also the embodiment of her soul, so she dies when it does.

Ultima Quotes in Bless Me, Ultima

The Bless Me, Ultima quotes below are all either spoken by Ultima or refer to Ultima. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Growing Up Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Warner Books edition of Bless Me, Ultima published in 1994.
Chapter 1 (Uno) Quotes

Ultima came to stay with us the summer I was almost seven. When she came the beauty of the llano unfolded before my eyes, and the gurgling waters of the river sang to the hum of the turning earth. The magical time of childhood stood still, and the pulse of the living earth pressed its mystery into my living blood.

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker), Ultima
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines, which open the book, briefly introduce many of the novel's main themes, and do so in vivid, almost fantastical language. Antonio, the narrator, is looking back on his childhood from a vantage point of greater age and maturity, and he reflects on the summer he spent with Ultima while mentioning several themes that will come up again later: the power of the land and the connection of Chicano culture to the landscape, the "magical" qualities of both childhood innocence and nature itself, and the idea of growing up and accepting the unstoppable passage of time. This passage also is a reminder (important in hindsight) of just how young Antonio is when all these events are happening.

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Chapter 3 (Tres) Quotes

"But I want to know, there are so many things I want to know," I insisted.
"A curandera cannot give away her secrets," she said, "but if a person really wants to know, then he will listen and see and be patient. Knowledge comes slowly--"

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker), Ultima (speaker)
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

Antonio is very curious and eager for definite answers, at this point particularly about Lupito's death and the idea of the afterlife. While María, in her Catholic worldview, has associated gaining knowledge with sin, Antonio can't help but continue to want that knowledge—and in his immaturity he wants it now. Ultima, however, teaches Antonio that knowledge comes best with experience, and so one must be patient. This is a good example of Ultima's role as a mother figure and spiritual guide for Antonio—encouraging his growth but also protecting him, allowing him to experience the world for himself but also giving him the strength to endure it.

Chapter 4 (Cuatro) Quotes

"It is the blood of the Lunas to be quiet, for only a quiet man can learn the secrets of the earth that are necessary for planting – They are quiet like the moon – And it is the blood of the Márez to be wild, like the ocean from which they take their name, and the spaces of the llano that have become their home."

Related Characters: Ultima (speaker)
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage describes one of the fundamental disparities, or inner contradictions, within Antonio's identity—the conflicting pull of his mother's nature and his father's nature. Here Ultima lays out that disparity in clear terms: the Lunas (María's family) are quiet and diligent like the moon ("luna"), and they tend to be farmers or priests. The Márez (Gabriel's family), however, are wild and unrestrained like the ocean ("mar"), and they tend to be vaqueros (cowboys). Each parent wants Antonio to grow up and follow in their family's footsteps, but clearly Antonio cannot grow up to be only a true Luna or a true Márez—he is both.

It's worth noting here that although the Luna and Márez seem irreconcilable, they already have been united in Antonio's parents themselves. As he says elsewhere, "their blood and their ways had kept them at odds, and yet for all this, we were happy." Furthermore, both of their natures center around the land itself—whether it is farming its soil, or riding across its plains.

As usual, Ultima doesn't force Antonio to choose here, but only describes both sides of the "argument." This is an early hint of one the crucial lessons Antonio will ultimately learn: that he must embrace all the disparate parts of his heritage and build upon them.

Chapter 6 (Seis) Quotes

"Ay! My man of learning!" my mother smiled when I entered the kitchen. She swept me in her arms and before I knew it she was crying on my shoulder. "My baby will be gone today," she sobbed.
"He will be all right," Ultima said. "The sons must leave the sides of their mothers," she said almost sternly and pulled my mother gently.

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker), Ultima (speaker), María Luna Márez (speaker)
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

Again María makes it clear that she doesn't want Antonio to grow up and lose his innocence, but if he must, she wants him to be a "man of learning" and become a priest. This desire obviously comes from María's strong Catholic faith, but also from her family's tradition of priesthood and her idea that becoming a priest means staying innocent and avoiding the sin of "becoming a man." (This idea becomes confusing for Antonio later, as being a "man of learning" is associated with becoming a priest and receiving divine knowledge, but elsewhere knowledge is associated with sin, pride, and corruption.)

Ultima, then, again acts as a figure of gentle but firm wisdom, encouraging Antonio to grow up but also to make his own choices and grow up in the way that is best for him. It's also interesting to note that Ultima's quote at the end of the passage is seemingly a reference to a Bible verse from Ephesians: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." That verse refers to marriage, and so isn't wholly applicable in its entirety here, but it is surprising that Ultima—the figure usually most connected with the supernatural and paganism—seems to be so comfortable quoting from the Bible (if indeed she is).

Chapter 11 (Once) Quotes

"The golden carp," I whispered in awe. I could not have been more entranced if I had seen the Virgin, or God Himself… I felt my body trembling as I saw the bright golden form disappear. I knew I had witnessed a miraculous thing, the appearance of a pagan god… And I thought, the power of God failed where Ultima's worked; and then a sudden illumination of beauty and understanding flashed through my mind. This is what I had expected God to do at my first holy communion!

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker), Ultima
Related Symbols: The Golden Carp, The Virgin of Guadalupe
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

In the company of Cico, Antonio actually sees the golden carp: a magnificent, fantastical, and seemingly holy creature. Antonio is awed at the sight, but then he again feels conflicted, and wonders if he has sinned against the Christian God—while also wondering if the Christian God is the "wrong God" altogether. In this moment Antonio contrasts the seeming reality and power of the carp (and Ultima's magic, which is associated with the carp in his mind) against the seeming ineffectiveness and aloofness of Catholicism. Antonio is seeing things literally, observing life through the eyes of a child, but because of this literalism he draws perceptive conclusions: he has actually seen the carp, and has seen Ultima perform miracles, but he has yet to see any evidence of the power (or even existence) of the Christian God. The vision of the golden carp, then, is a kind of epiphany or granting of divine knowledge, but one that Antonio still feels is somehow improper or sinful.

Chapter 12 (Doce) Quotes

Ultima and I continued to search for plants and roots in the hills. I felt more attached to Ultima than to my own mother. Ultima told me the stories and legends of my ancestors. From her I learned the glory and tragedy of the history of my people, and I came to understand how that history stirred in my blood.

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker), Ultima, María Luna Márez
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:

Ultima continues to act like a mother figure and guide for Antonio as he grows up, as here the narrative briefly speeds up to cover a time of idyllic peace and learning. The majority of Antonio's time spent with Ultima emphasizes the healthier parts of growing up for him—not always witnessing death or experiencing religious crises, but rather gaining knowledge of the land and his own heritage and culture. It is arguably this kind of knowledge—learning the "glory and tragedy of the history of my people"—that is most useful to Antonio as he matures, and that also informs Anaya's project in the novel itself.

Chapter 14 (Catorce) Quotes

And I remembered my dream. Andrew had said that he would not enter the house of the naked women until I had lost my innocence. Had I already lost my innocence? How? I had seen Lupito murdered… I had seen Ultima's cure… I had seen the men come to hang her… I had seen the awful fight just now… I had seen and reveled in the beauty of the golden carp!

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker), Ultima, Andrew Márez, Lupito
Related Symbols: The Golden Carp
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:

While following Narciso, Antonio sees his brother Andrew at Rosie's brothel. Antonio then remembers his dream (described in a previous quotation) about Andrew not entering the brothel until Antonio himself had lost his innocence. Thus Antonio is shocked to see his brother in such a "sinful" state, but is even more appalled at what this might mean for his own soul.

Antonio continues to connect "innocence" with both the idea of childish ignorance and Catholic doctrine, and so sees the loss of innocence as inherently being sorrowful and sinful. Furthermore, he then sees anything that seems to contradict Catholicism as perhaps being the cause of his loss of innocence—not just his tragic experiences of death (Lupito's murder and Ultima's near-murder), but notably his witnessing of Ultima's magic and the golden carp. Antonio is distraught, and fears that he has condemned himself with his actions—immediately looking past Andrew's perceived loss of innocence and worrying about his own possible sinfulness.

Chapter 16 (Dieciseis) Quotes

I could not understand why Narciso, who did good in trying to help Ultima, had lost his life; and why Tenorio, who was evil and had taken a life, was free and unpunished. It didn't seem fair. I thought a great deal about God and why he let such things happen.

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker), Ultima, Tenorio Trementina, Narciso
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:

Antonio is still troubled by Narciso's death, and with it the perceived unfairness of Catholicism and God's punishments and "forgiveness." In his feverish dreams Antonio recognized the difficulty of embracing either total forgiveness or total justice, yet here he still longs for a God who would better conform to his own experiences and new knowledge of life's complexity. By now Antonio has grown disillusioned with both the Christian God and the golden carp, and has only the Virgin of Guadalupe left as a last hope for an empathetic and understanding (but also just) deity.

At this point Antonio has also just returned to school after Christmas vacation, and he feels more removed from his peers than ever—because of the violence, death, and magic he has seen, but also because his intense questioning of life, death, and religion makes him an outsider.

Chapter 22 (Veintidos) Quotes

"Ay," she tried to smile, "life is filled with sadness when a boy grows to be a man. But as you grow into manhood you must not despair of life, but gather strength to sustain you – can you understand that."

Related Characters: Ultima (speaker)
Page Number: 245
Explanation and Analysis:

After experiencing so much tragedy in such a short amount of time (and at such a young age), Antonio's parents and Ultima decide to send Antonio to stay with the Lunas, his uncles on his mother's side, for a month, so that hopefully he can rest and regain his strength. As Antonio prepares to leave Ultima, she offers him this "blessing," prefiguring the final blessing that gives the novel its title.

As Ultima acknowledges here, growing up means sadness, pain, and the loss of innocence, but she then reminds Antonio that it also means greater strength and wisdom in reaction to such things. As she often does, Ultima teaches the lesson of drawing on personal experience, knowledge, and heritage to construct one's own individual strength as one matures.

"Ay, every generation, every man is a part of his past. He cannot escape it, but he may reform the old materials, make something new --"
"Take the llano and the river valley, the moon and the sea, God and the golden carp – and make something new," I said to myself. That is what Ultima meant by building strength from life. "Papá," I asked, "can a new religion be made?"

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker), Gabriel Márez (speaker), Ultima
Related Symbols: The Golden Carp
Page Number: 247
Explanation and Analysis:

As Gabriel drives Antonio to go stay with the Lunas, the father and son have an illuminating and important conversation. Gabriel seems worn out, and no longer has his old fierce desire to make his sons follow in his own footsteps—instead, he now recognizes that becoming a man means to "make something new." This, then, is exactly the lesson Antonio needs to hear, as he continues to struggle with inner conflicts within his own identity and the world-views of those around him.

Antonio's mental response to his father's statement then acts as a kind of thesis statement for Anaya's novel. Antonio must embrace all the seemingly disparate parts of his identity, culture, and religion, and use them to make something new and fundamentally his own. This means accepting at once Luna and Márez ("the moon and the sea"), God and the golden carp, Native American, Spanish, and English culture, curanderismo (Ultima's magic and knowledge) and Catholic priesthood, the "llano and the river valley," and using them to make a new, personal "religion"—a project arguably fulfilled in the writing of the novel itself.

And that is what Ultima tried to teach me, that the tragic consequences of life can be overcome by the magical strength that resides in the human heart.

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker), Ultima
Page Number: 249
Explanation and Analysis:

Gabriel and Antonio continue their conversation as they drive to the Lunas' farm. Gabriel expresses a relatively relativistic view of evil, similar to Ultima's—saying that most "evil" is just things people don't understand. Antonio (as narrator, looking back on his childhood) then makes a crucial point: that Ultima's "magic" is, in the end, primarily just understanding and empathy. This is not a belief system critically tied to either Christianity or paganism, but is instead about the "magical strength that resides in the human heart." This is a crucial lesson for Antonio as he grows up and tries to reconcile both his belief systems and the seeming unfairness of life—notably why Tenorio is still allowed to get away with his "evil."

"Bless me, Ultima --"
Her hand touched my forehead and her last words were, "I bless you in the name of all that is good and strong and beautiful, Antonio. Always have the strength to live. Love life, and if despair enters your heart, look for me in the evening when the wind is gentle and the owls sing in the hills. I shall be with you --"

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker), Ultima (speaker)
Page Number: 260-261
Explanation and Analysis:

It is from this passage that the book takes its title, and the scene also acts as both a tragic climax and a kind of "moral" to the story. Ultima's final blessing echoes the many priestly blessings (whether fake or real) in the novel, but her blessing doesn't mention God at all, or even magic—instead it focuses only on Antonio's own inner strength, his memories and experiences and hardships, and the land itself. There is nothing explicitly supernatural or Christian about it, and the "power" Ultima invokes to bless Antonio is merely "all that is good and strong and beautiful." As Antonio has come to realize over the latter part of the book, Ultima's greatest power and wisdom is rooted in empathy, understanding, appreciation of nature, and inner strength.

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Ultima Character Timeline in Bless Me, Ultima

The timeline below shows where the character Ultima appears in Bless Me, Ultima. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 (Uno)
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Antonio Márez remembers when he was six years old and Ultima came to live with his family. He begins the story as a child lying in... (full context)
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They talk about how Ultima has helped them in the past and tended to María when her sons were born,... (full context)
...the first time soon. His sisters, Deborah and Theresa, giggle and ask rude questions about Ultima before she arrives. María gets angry and demands that they respect Ultima and call her... (full context)
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...happy, so he does it. Soon the family's truck approaches: it is Gabriel returning with Ultima. Theresa is afraid, but Deborah, who speaks only English now, reassures her. María scolds them... (full context)
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Ultima steps from the truck and the children greet her formally, but when Antonio takes her... (full context)
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Ultima enters the house and Antonio smells the fragrance of many herbs surrounding her. An owl... (full context)
Chapter 2 (Dos)
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Ultima quickly assumes the family's routine, helping with the chores and listening to Gabriel's frustrated dream... (full context)
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Antonio enters the house and Ultima greets him gives him some medicine to drink. She tries to soothe his questions about... (full context)
Chapter 3 (Tres)
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Antonio wakes up to the white sun and finds that Ultima's potion has healed his cuts. He thinks about Lupito's soul and wonders if it is... (full context)
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They get ready for church and Ultima asks how Antonio is doing. María scolds him for not greeting Ultima formally enough, but... (full context)
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They get ready for mass and María and Ultima wear black because so many families are mourning sons and husbands lost in the war.... (full context)
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Antonio asks Ultima about his father's soul and how he can take communion if he killed a man... (full context)
Chapter 4 (Cuatro)
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Ultima and Antonio gather herbs in the llano together every morning, and Ultima teaches him about... (full context)
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...they sit by the river and eat prickly pears. Antonio asks about his family and Ultima explains how the Márez are loud and wild like the ocean, while the Lunas are... (full context)
Chapter 5 (Cinco)
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...only ten miles from Guadalupe, but it is the only trip the family ever takes. Ultima goes with them this time. María gets very excited when they reach her hometown, but... (full context)
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Antonio's grandfather is named Prudencio. María greets him excitedly and then Ultima hugs him like an old friend. They discuss the boys away at war, and Lupito,... (full context)
Chapter 6 (Seis)
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...offends his wife. She starts to cry when she thinks about Antonio growing up, but Ultima reminds her that all sons must leave someday. (full context)
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Antonio thinks of what Jasón told him about the magic in written letters, and how Ultima cannot protect him at school. Deborah uses English slang and her father disapproves. María goes... (full context)
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They are finally ready to go and María asks Ultima to bless the children. When she places her hand on Antonio's head he again feels... (full context)
Chapter 9 (Nueve)
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...gains knowledge, and when he takes communion Antonio will know about good and evil. Then Ultima appears and says that innocence exists in the llano, among nature. (full context)
Chapter 10 (Diez)
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...of El Puerto failed to cure him. Pedro Luna arrives and after much ceremony asks Ultima if she will come with him to heal Lucas. (full context)
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Ultima agrees, but she reminds them of the consequences of tampering with fate. Pedro accepts responsibility.... (full context)
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Ultima gathers her herbs and declares her readiness, looking small but dignified. She says Antonio must... (full context)
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...to El Puerto. On the way, they see an omen of the horned moon, which Ultima says is good luck for the Lunas as they live and farm by the cycles... (full context)
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...saloon, and at first he will not look at them. When he finally turns to Ultima his face is dark and cruel, and he makes the sign of the cross and... (full context)
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...an ominous dust storm and Tenorio tries to run them over with his horse, but Ultima pulls Antonio aside just in time. The mourning women hurry away from the Luna house... (full context)
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Antonio wonders if Ultima can succeed where the Church failed. Ultima bathes Lucas and prepares an herbal remedy. They... (full context)
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Coyotes howl outside the house but than Ultima's owl appears and attacks them. Antonio slips into a dream state and Ultima feeds Lucas... (full context)
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Antonio wakes up and Ultima says they have defeated the death spirit, but the evil spirit remains. She makes another... (full context)
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When he wakes up Ultima feeds Antonio more atole, and says Lucas has been almost healed. Antonio vomits and then... (full context)
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Everyone enters the house rejoicing and thanking Ultima, but she tries to slip away. She says maybe the Lunas will save her life... (full context)
Chapter 11 (Once)
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...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... (full context)
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Antonio asks Ultima about the golden carp, and she smiles and says she cannot tell him what to... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 12 (Doce)
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Antonio spends the summer thinking of the golden carp and Ultima's cure of Lucas. Gabriel starts drinking more and often complains about how his sons have... (full context)
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One night Antonio asks about the three dolls on Ultima's shelf, especially one of them that seems twisted with pain. Ultima won't let Antonio touch... (full context)
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...from the people of El Puerto. María does not like anyone from the llano except Ultima and Narciso, both of whom helped her in times of great need. (full context)
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One night Narciso suddenly bursts in to the family's house, yelling that Ultima must hide. He rambles about Tenorio, and the owl gives a cry of warning from... (full context)
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Narciso and María want Ultima to flee, as the men pursuing her are drunk and don't need proof that she... (full context)
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...bruja could pass through such a door, and that this is a true test if Ultima is a witch. Ultima appears and Tenorio accuses her to her face. Suddenly the owl... (full context)
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Tenorio is enraged and vows to kill both Ultima and Narciso one day, but finally the men pull him away and go. As the... (full context)
Chapter 13 (Trece)
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...Pedro why the Lunas did not warn them about Tenorio coming from El Puerto, since Ultima had saved Lucas's life. Pedro says their father forbade them to disrupt the town's harmony... (full context)
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...night Antonio dreams of the same Black Mass, but then in the coffin he sees Ultima. The dream awakens him and Antonio sees Ultima watching a funeral procession for the dead... (full context)
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...bury the daughter in unholy ground now. The Trementinas pass by, wailing, and Tenorio gives Ultima the evil eye. When the work for harvest is completed Antonio's family prepares to return... (full context)
Chapter 14 (Catorce)
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...pleased, but he warns Antonio to watch out for the other kids, especially because of Ultima and her encounter with Tenorio, which they won't understand. (full context)
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...of Antonio's brother for "whoring," which Antonio doesn't understand. One of the boys, Ernie, calls Ultima a witch. Antonio starts to fight him and the other boys all pile on. The... (full context)
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...bartender pulls them apart. Tenorio says another of his daughters is dying, and again accuses Ultima. He threatens Narciso with death and then disappears. (full context)
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Narciso is distressed and intends to go warn Ultima that she is in danger. Antonio is also worried, and he follows Narciso. Narciso looks... (full context)
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...and his communion is still far away, and he wonders if his father can protect Ultima. He slips into a reverie and then hears a gunshot. He comes upon Narciso and... (full context)
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...with blood on his hands and tells what happened. His parents are in shock but Ultima immediately carries Antonio to bed. He falls into a fever and Ultima tends to him... (full context)
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...townspeople come to wash in a river of Narciso and Lupito's blood, and then demand Ultima's blood as well. Antonio's brothers appears and ask him to bless and forgive them. Then... (full context)
Chapter 15 (Quince)
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...Narciso die, but Andrew doesn't know that Antonio saw him at Rosie's. Christmas comes and Ultima tells Antonio stories about Narciso when he was young and dignified. (full context)
Chapter 16 (Dieciseis)
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...killed Narciso. Tenorio sees Antonio and curses at him, and again he vows to kill Ultima. He says his second daughter is dying now. (full context)
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When Antonio gets home and tells Ultima what happened, she makes sure Tenorio didn't hurt Antonio in any way but assures him... (full context)
Chapter 20 (Veinte)
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Antonio spends more time with Ultima and worries that Tenorio is still after her. Téllez, one of Gabriel's old friends, comes... (full context)
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Ultima explains the situation – the house is haunted by the spirits of three Comanche Indians... (full context)
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They drive out to the llano and Gabriel and Ultima share their love for the freedom and beauty of the land. They reach Téllez's house... (full context)
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Ultima has them build a platform and cover it with juniper branches, and places three bundles... (full context)
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...their livers for fish bait and they ask him to use the power of God, Ultima, or the golden carp to help them. He casts their livers into the river and... (full context)
Chapter 22 (Veintidos)
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...blood on it, Cico defiles the river by spearing the golden carp, and Tenorio murders Ultima by killing her "night-spirit." Antonio cries out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken... (full context)
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Antonio wakes from the nightmare and Ultima gives him a potion. She says he has seen too much death for his age... (full context)
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...understand. God does not give understanding – only experience does. He adds that much of Ultima's magic is just great empathy with other people and the earth. Antonio is not sure... (full context)
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...news that Tenorio's second daughter has died, and that Tenorio is again drunk and after Ultima's blood. The Luna brothers decide to help Ultima this time, despite their father's wishes, as... (full context)
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...hopes Antonio is dead. He vows to avenge his daughters, and says he has discovered Ultima's secret – the owl is Ultima's spirit, so it is the owl he must kill.... (full context)
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...run the ten miles to Guadalupe, and he thinks of Narciso's last rush to save Ultima. Antonio knows he must defend her because she is a symbol of good overcoming evil.... (full context)
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...calm, but then Tenorio appears with a rifle. He points the gun at Antonio, but Ultima commands the owl to attack him and Tenorio shoots it. The gunshot seems to shatter... (full context)
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Antonio sees the owl is dead and looks frantically for Ultima. The others don't understand what the owl means, so they think the danger has passed.... (full context)
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Antonio enters Ultima's room and sees she is dying. He pleads with her to live, but she accepts... (full context)
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Antonio kneels and requests a blessing. Ultima asks that he have "the strength to live," and she says she will be there... (full context)
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...his own, new dream out of the dreams of his past. Later they will bury Ultima with a Catholic mass, but Antonio knows he is really burying her here and now. (full context)