Bless Me, Ultima

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The Virgin of Guadalupe Symbol Analysis

The Virgin of Guadalupe Symbol Icon
The Virgin of Guadalupe is a Christian figure, but one with a special meaning for the Mexican and Chicano people. The legend goes that Mary revealed herself to a man in ancient Mexico and asked him to build a church. Antonio sees the Virgin as something separate from the rest of Catholicism – a mother-figure who is willing to listen and forgive, unlike the strict, punishing God. Even though she is a Catholic symbol, for Antonio the Virgin symbolizes something of that "new religion" he resolves to build at the novel's end – she has aspects of several cultures and religions, and feels truer and more comforting to his identity.

The Virgin of Guadalupe Quotes in Bless Me, Ultima

The Bless Me, Ultima quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Virgin of Guadalupe. 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 4 (Cuatro) Quotes

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.

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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.

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 14 (Catorce) Quotes

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.

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The Virgin of Guadalupe Symbol Timeline in Bless Me, Ultima

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Virgin of Guadalupe appears in Bless Me, Ultima. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 (Uno)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Language and Culture Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
Antonio starts to fall asleep and he prays to the Virgin Mary. María wants him to become a priest someday, but she does not know about... (full context)
Language and Culture Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...owl is a comforting, watchful presence. That night he dreams of the owl and the Virgin of Guadalupe gathering the children in Limbo and flying them to heaven. (full context)
Chapter 4 (Cuatro)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Language and Culture Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...help her brothers with the harvest. After dinner they pray to the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Antonio's favorite saint. He imagines that she is a real person who is... (full context)
Chapter 5 (Cinco)
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...the devil across the river, but then he hears Ultima's owl and thinks of the Virgin and feels comforted. (full context)
Chapter 7 (Siete)
Language and Culture Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...excited. María hears that her sons are returning and she cries and prays to the Virgin for hours, until all the children eventually fall asleep. (full context)
Chapter 9 (Nueve)
Language and Culture Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...a grade. She is sure he will become a priest, and immediately prays to the Virgin. (full context)
Chapter 11 (Once)
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Language and Culture Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Language and Culture Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...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... (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
...always punish people, but would forgive them in their lostness and confusion. He thinks the Virgin Mary could be a god like that. (full context)
Chapter 14 (Catorce)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...won't come down. Horse screams and fights until he is finally convinced to play the Virgin. Abel tries to leave for the bathroom the whole time but Miss Violet won't let... (full context)
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Language and Culture Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...Narciso, but only if he can also forgive Tenorio. Antonio protests and then sees the Virgin, who says she forgives everyone, even Tenorio. God says Antonio wants a god who punishes... (full context)
Chapter 16 (Dieciseis)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Knowledge Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...Tenorio should live. Antonio starts praying after school for answers, and he prays to the Virgin more and more often. He hopes to meet the Virgin of Guadalupe just like the... (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
...he proposes that 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... (full context)
Chapter 19 (Diecinueve)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Knowledge Theme Icon
Christianity vs. the Supernatural Theme Icon
...been troubling him, but no answers come. He looks at the church's statue of the Virgin and feels empty. (full context)