Bless Me, Ultima

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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

"Ay, how true," my mother said and clutched me tightly, "and what a sin it is for a boy to grow into a man--"
It was a sin to grow up and be a man.

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker), María Luna Márez (speaker)
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

It is the day after Antonio's first real traumatic experience—witnessing the death of Lupito. As the family prepares for Mass, Ultima calls Antonio a "man," only for María to contradict her and say that Antonio is still a "baby."

Throughout most of the book, Antonio is faced with conflicting forces pulling him in different directions, both regarding what he will grow up to be and whether he will grow up at all. María, as we see here, consistently clings to Antonio's childhood innocence, and wants to keep him from being corrupted by the world and becoming a man. She connects this innocence with the perceived innocence of the priesthood, and so (later) wants Antonio to become a priest when he gets older—she knows she can't keep him from aging and maturing, but she does want to keep him innocent. Here she explicitly connects "becoming a man" with "sin," and Antonio immediately internalizes the message by repeating it to himself. This particular worldview will later conflict with others Antonio experiences, and be the cause of much confusion and inner turmoil for him.

"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.

God was not always forgiving. He made laws to follow and if you broke them you were punished. The Virgin always forgave.

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Virgin of Guadalupe
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Antonio ponders Catholicism and its tenets, as he understands them. Antonio still thinks with the simplicity and literalism of a child, but he is also, as usual, very perceptive and thoughtful. He knows that as a good Catholic, he is supposed to love God more than anything else, but Antonio can't help finding God harsh and unforgiving, an aloof figure who demands perfection and punishes those who break his laws. However, Antonio sees the Virgin Mary—particularly the Virgin of Guadalupe—as a kinder, more forgiving, and more relatable figure.

On one level this seems to be just the young, sensitive Antonio finding comfort in a loving mother-figure rather than a judgmental father-figure. But the Virgin of Guadalupe is also unique in her special connection to Antonio's Chicano identity. She is a Catholic figure, but also one intimately connected to the indigenous peoples of Mexico, and so not wholly connected to the religion of the white colonizers. In this way she symbolizes the kind of blend of cultures that make up Anaya's vision of Chicano identity.

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 8 (Ocho) Quotes

"And, they still have Tony," Gene said and looked at me. "Tony will be her priest," he laughed.
"Tony will be her farmer," León added.
"And her dream will be complete and we will be free!" Gene shouted.

Related Characters: Eugene Márez (speaker), León Márez (speaker), Antonio Juan Márez, María Luna Márez
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

Antonio's brothers have returned home from the war, and they seem to have been greatly changed by their experiences. In this passage we see how they, too, have faced pressure from their parents about what kind of men they will be. Clearly María has given up on Eugene, León , or Andrew becoming a farmer or priest, and so she now pins all her hopes on Antonio—and in this scene, the brothers pin their hopes on him too, trying to rid themselves of responsibility and the pressure to please their mother (and their father, who wants to work alongside his sons and "be free" with them). In general, this passage shows Antonio being further weighed down by familial expectations and differing cultural and religious influences.

Chapter 9 (Nueve) Quotes

You are innocent until you understand, the priest of the church said, and you will understand good and evil when the communion is placed in your mouth and God fills your body.

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker)
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote comes from one of Antonio's vivid, sometimes prophetic dreams. This particular dream is very thematically important, as it brings up ideas of sexuality, the "corrupting" force of knowledge, and also the kind of divine knowledge that supposedly comes with one's First Communion (according to the dream-priest, at least). Anaya uses "dream logic" to connect ideas in a compelling manner, and here he makes an intriguing association—using language that typically describes Adam and Eve and the Biblical "Fall of Man" to instead describe Holy Communion.

Antonio looks forward to his First Communion, hoping that when he receives the wafer (the body of Christ, according to Catholic doctrine) he will get some answers to his many questions. Yet here the dream-priest compares this divine knowledge to a loss of innocence, and also uses the language of the Biblical book of Genesis, where Adam and Eve are cast out of Paradise because they ate the fruit that makes them "understand good and evil"—punished for seeking forbidden knowledge. This suggests that there is no way to gain any kind of knowledge or understanding and remain innocent, but also implies that an ignorant innocence is perhaps not something worth clinging to anyway.

"The golden carp," I said to myself, "a new god?" I could not believe this strange story, and yet I could not disbelieve Samuel. "Is the golden carp still here?"
"Yes," Samuel answered. His voice was strong with faith. It made me shiver, not because it was cold but because the roots of everything I had ever believed in seemed shaken. If the golden carp was a god, who was the man on the cross? The Virgin? Was my mother praying to the wrong God?

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker), Samuel (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Golden Carp, The Virgin of Guadalupe
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

Samuel has told Antonio about the golden carp, a kind of pagan god who supposedly lives in the river surrounding the town. The golden carp becomes a crucial symbol in the novel after this, representative of a kind of naturalistic, indigenous alternative to Catholicism, but also a god who shares many characteristics with the Christian God. (What Antonio first learns is that the god became a carp to protect his people, similar to Christ's sacrifice—but later Antonio will learn that the carp, too, plans to harshly punish all sinners just as the Christian God does.)

Antonio learning about the golden carp is a good example of how gaining knowledge shakes his innocence, making him more mature but also more troubled and confused. Antonio is learning that simplistic world-views rarely hold the entire truth, but he also suddenly has complex, seemingly contradictory information to process.

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.

"But it's not fair to those who don't sin!" I countered.
"Tony," Cico said softly, "all men sin."
I had no answer to that. My own mother had said that losing your innocence and becoming a man was learning to sin. I felt weak and powerless in the knowledge of the impending doom.

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker), Cico (speaker), María Luna Márez
Related Symbols: The Golden Carp
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

Previously, the golden carp had seemed like an alternative to the Christian God, a more "natural" and forgiving deity (and also one more connected to the indigenous peoples of the region, instead of the white Christian colonizers of the past), but here Antonio learns that the carp, like God, plans on punishing all the sinners of the town with death—and everyone sins, so no one will escape punishment.

This passage, then, connects to Antonio's learned belief that growing up and gaining knowledge means losing one's innocence and sinning—and sin must always be punished. Furthermore, Antonio now learns that this isn't just a Catholic idea, or just his mother's idea, but is a pagan idea too.

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.

You foolish boy, God roared, don't you see you are caught in your own trap! You would have a God who forgives all, but when it comes to your personal whims you seek punishment for your vengeance. You would have my mother rule my heavens, you would send all sinners to her for forgiveness, but you would also have her taint her hands with the blood of vengeance
Vengeance is Mine! He shouted, not even your golden carp would give up that power as a god!

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Golden Carp, The Virgin of Guadalupe
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

Antonio has seen Tenorio kill Narciso, and, traumatized, he has fallen into a fever. In his feverish state Antonio has more vivid and fantastical dreams, and it is from his dreams that this quotation is taken.

Antonio wants God to forgive Narciso, as he knows that despite his flaws, Narciso was a good man at heart and certainly didn't deserve to die as he did. The God of Antonio's dream, however, calls Antonio out on his hypocrisy—if God forgives Narciso, then he must forgive Tenorio as well (something Antonio protests against). And if God punishes Tenorio, then he must punish Narciso as well. The dream-God then brings up the Virgin of Guadalupe, suggesting that his "mother" isn't the easy way out Antonio had hoped—she cannot be inconsistent either, forgiving those Antonio wants to be forgiven and punishing those he wants punished. The dream-God then goes further—even the golden carp, he says, who is an even more drastic alternative to Christianity, would not give up the power of punishing sinners.

In his dream, at least, it seems there is nowhere Antonio can turn to find the kind of understanding that he seeks. At the same time, he is starting to realize the more difficult aspects of a worldview based on empathy and forgiveness—if he is truly to embrace his instinctual beliefs, then Antonio must learn to forgive even people like Tenorio.

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 17 (Diecisiete) Quotes

"The atomic bomb," they whispered, "a ball of white heat beyond the imagination, beyond hell - " And they pointed south, beyond the green valley of El Puerto. "Man was not made to know so much," the old ladies cried in hushed, hoarse voices. "They compete with God, they disturb the seasons, they seek to know more than God Himself. In the end, that knowledge they seek will destroy us all - "

Related Symbols: The Atomic Bomb
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

The atomic bomb appears only briefly in the novel (indeed, only in this passage), but it still acts as an important symbol. Here the people of Guadalupe discuss the rumored testing of atomic bombs in the New Mexican desert—part of the U.S. war effort during World War II (when the novel is set). On one level, this is a rare reminder of the larger outside world beyond the borders of Antonio's home region, and the ominous kind of cultural encroachment that is associated with that world—it is a place of war and danger. The idea of the bomb also connects to the book's common motif of apocalyptic punishment, like the Hell of the Christian God and the flood of the golden carp—a kind of universal punishment from which no one can escape. Lastly, the way the "old ladies" discuss the bomb testing ties it to the theme of forbidden knowledge, especially within a religious context. The scientists developing the bomb are seen as "competing with God" and pursuing knowledge that "man was not made to know." This is a direct echo of the Biblical Adam and Eve story, and the idea Antonio has often heard reinforced, that gaining too much knowledge can only mean sinfulness and punishment.

There seemed to be so many pitfalls in the questions we asked. I wanted answers to the questions, but would the knowledge of the answers make me share in the original sin of Adam and Eve?
"And if we didn't have any knowledge?" I asked.
"Then we would be like the dumb animals of the fields," Florence replied.
Animals, I thought. Were the fish of the golden carp happier than we were? Was the golden carp a better God?

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker), Florence (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Golden Carp
Page Number: 197
Explanation and Analysis:

Antonio has been going to Catholic catechism class, preparing for his First Communion and hoping for answers to some of his existential questions, but he only feels more conflicted the more he learns. Here he talks with his friend Florence, who is an anomaly among Antonio's peers—he is an atheist.

In this passage knowledge is again associated with sin, and with the "sorrow" of growing up and losing one's innocence. This is also reinforced by the Adam and Eve story, in which their "original sin" was essentially seeking knowledge that was forbidden to them. Antonio wants to avoid sharing in this sin, but he is also insatiably curious, and furthermore wants to take Communion precisely so he can gain knowledge—but, presumably, knowledge of divine origin that is somehow not "sinful." This seeming contradiction is, of course, confusing to Antonio, and Florence's defiant defense of Adam and Eve's sin only adds to his inner conflict. Lastly, this conflict again makes Antonio consider the golden carp, and wonder whether it would be a "better god"—here not because the carp is more merciful or natural, but rather because the carp is a "dumb animal," neither offering nor forbidding any kind of knowledge at all.

Chapter 19 (Diecinueve) Quotes

I closed my eyes and concentrated. I had just swallowed Him, He must be in there! For a moment, on the altar railing, I thought I had felt His warmth, but then everything moved so fast. There wasn't time just to sit and discover Him, like I could do when I sat on the creek bank and watched the golden carp swim in the sun-filtered waters.
God! Why did Lupito die?
Why do you allow the evil of the Trementinas?
Why did you allow Narciso to be murdered when he was doing good?
Why do you punish Florence? Why doesn't he believe?
Will the golden carp rule - ?
A thousand questions pushed through my mind, but the Voice within me did not answer.

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker), Tenorio Trementina, Narciso, Florence, Lupito, The Trementina Sisters
Related Symbols: The Golden Carp
Page Number: 221
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Antonio finally receives his First Communion. He has been hoping that with the wafer will come divine knowledge and answers to his many questions about God, life, and death—but Antonio feels and hears nothing, and is devastatingly disappointed. According to Catholic doctrine, Jesus is actually physically present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, and so Antonio assumes that because he has eaten the wafer, "He must be in there"—God must be inside of him now, and thus he should be getting some answers. Antonio then gives a brief list of some of the questions that have been tormenting him the most, offering a good encapsulation of many of the book's plot points and themes up to now.

Ultimately, this moment creates an increased sense of disillusionment with Christianity for Antonio, but it also allows him to articulate some of the larger themes behind his questions—why sometimes good people are punished and bad ones "forgiven," how seemingly contradictory cultures and religions could be reconciled, and even why death itself exists in a world supposedly created by a benevolent God.

Chapter 21 (Veintiuno) Quotes

The lonely river was a sad place to be when one is a small boy who has just seen a friend die.

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker)
Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:

Antonio has made the decision to tell Florence about the golden carp—assuming that his thoughtful, kind friend would be able to understand and properly appreciate the river deity—only to find that Florence has just tragically drowned.

Overwhelmed by this latest and most devastating tragedy, Antonio hides next to the river to cry and be alone, and the adult narrator-Antonio looks back on himself as a "small boy who has just seen a friend die"—a tragic moment of stepping back and simply describing the sad realities of life. For Antonio, growing up is about gaining knowledge and experience, but often it seems that it's mostly about death, sadness, and disappointment, and learning to accept the tragedy and unfairness of the world.

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."

The thundering report of the rifle followed the flash of fire. That shot destroyed the quiet, moonlit peace of the hill, and it shattered my childhood into a thousand fragments that long ago stopped falling and are now dusty relics gathered in distant memories.

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker)
Related Symbols: Ultima's Owl
Page Number: 258
Explanation and Analysis:

Tenorio has just shot Ultima's owl, having figured out that the bird is some sort of life force or "familiar" for her, and that killing it will ultimately kill Ultima as well. At this climactic moment, however, the narrator (adult Antonio) suddenly steps back, placing the present sound of the rifle shot in the larger context of Antonio's entire childhood history.

In a way, this narrative decision shows Antonio already acting on Ultima's and Gabriel's important advice—he is drawing strength from his memories and experiences, even the painful ones, and using them to create something new (the story itself). Antonio does not react to Tenorio's murderous act with rage, but neither does he offer forgiveness. Instead he simply offers understanding, and an acknowledgement that this act has deeply affected his entire life, including the very narrative he is relating now.

"Take them to their room," I said to my mother. It was the first time I had ever spoken to my mother as a man; she nodded and obeyed.

Related Characters: Antonio Juan Márez (speaker), María Luna Márez
Page Number: 259
Explanation and Analysis:

Tenorio has just killed Ultima's owl and tried to shoot Antonio, but then Pedro Luna has shot Tenorio and killed him. Everyone is confused by the scene, and Antonio here responds with authority, telling his mother to take his sisters inside—speaking "as a man." This shows Antonio growing up in a definitive way, strengthened by his past experiences of tragedy. He is now facing death yet again, but has learned to respond to it with courage and calm. It's also worth noting the nature of his "command"—he wants his mother to take his sisters inside so they don't have to witness the tragedy that he has seen. In a way, this shows Antonio trying to preserve his sisters' innocence while he can, despite the fact that his own innocence has been lost.

"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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