Bless Me, Ultima

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The Golden Carp Symbol Analysis

The Golden Carp Symbol Icon
Antonio discovers the golden carp at a time when he is starting to doubt his mother's Catholicism. The golden carp is supposedly a god sent to guide the other carp, who were once ancient people who sinned. Tony can actually see the carp and feel a sense of enlightenment, as opposed to the seeming ineffectiveness of the Christian God. The carp at first represents the ancient Native-American ways and an alternative to Catholicism (and so another half of Tony's religious struggle), but later Tony learns that the carp also plans on drowning the town's sinners, so it then seems like yet another unforgiving male god.

The Golden Carp Quotes in Bless Me, Ultima

The Bless Me, Ultima quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Golden Carp. 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 9 (Nueve) Quotes

"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.

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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 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 17 (Diecisiete) Quotes

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 22 (Veintidos) Quotes

"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.

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The Golden Carp Symbol Timeline in Bless Me, Ultima

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Golden Carp appears in Bless Me, Ultima. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 7 (Siete)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...giants, and they tell him about the wide world they have seen, and mention the golden carp , and ask Antonio to save them. He wakes up sweating and then sees that... (full context)
Chapter 9 (Nueve)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Knowledge Theme Icon
Language and Culture Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...himself into a carp so he could take care of them. He became a huge golden carp , and he still lives in the river. Antonio is shaken by Samuel's faith in... (full context)
Chapter 10 (Diez)
Knowledge Theme Icon
Language and Culture Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
Antonio tries to learn more about the golden carp but Samuel is gone for the summer. Gabriel, meanwhile, is sad that his sons have... (full context)
Chapter 11 (Once)
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Knowledge Theme Icon
Language and Culture Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Knowledge Theme Icon
Language and Culture Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
Cico says no one knows about the golden carp except him and Samuel, and it is only a feeling that made them trust Antonio.... (full context)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Language and Culture Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
Cico points and then salutes, and the golden carp appears. It is bigger than Antonio and covered in golden scales. Antonio feels like he... (full context)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Knowledge Theme Icon
Language and Culture Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Language and Culture Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Knowledge Theme Icon
Antonio asks Ultima about the golden carp , and she smiles and says she cannot tell him what to believe. When he... (full context)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Language and Culture Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Chapter 12 (Doce)
Growing Up Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Chapter 13 (Trece)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Language and Culture Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...mass because she was a bruja. They drive through Guadalupe and Antonio thinks about the golden carp 's punishment of water and God's punishment of fire. He wonders if there is any... (full context)
Chapter 14 (Catorce)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Language and Culture Theme Icon
...beats them as usual. Andrew hangs back and Antonio tells Samuel how he saw the golden carp . Samuel is pleased, but he warns Antonio to watch out for the other kids,... (full context)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Knowledge Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...if he has already lost his innocence somehow, and if it is because of the golden carp . (full context)
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Language and Culture Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...wants a god who punishes and forgives according to Antonio's whims – but even the golden carp would not give up the power of punishment. (full context)
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
When there is no one left the Lunas gather the ashes and evening comes. The golden carp appears. He has decided that everything will be made new, and he has swallowed even... (full context)
Chapter 17 (Diecisiete)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Language and Culture Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...maybe God comes in cycles, and maybe when God is gone the Virgin or the golden carp rules in his place. There is a thunderclap as he speaks and Antonio fears that... (full context)
Chapter 18 (Dieciocho)
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Knowledge Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...take communion so he will be saved from hell, but Florence refuses. Samuel thinks the golden carp might be a better god for Florence, and he and Antonio decide to show the... (full context)
Chapter 20 (Veinte)
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...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 they all find rest. (full context)
Chapter 21 (Veintiuno)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Knowledge Theme Icon
Language and Culture Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
It gets warmer and Antonio and Cico go to see the golden carp again. Antonio is still unsure about God, as he failed to heal Lucas or help... (full context)
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
The golden carp appears and Antonio feels peaceful and happy at the sight of it. He wonders what... (full context)
Chapter 22 (Veintidos)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...an altar by pouring pigeon 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... (full context)