Much of the plot is powered by different characters' desires for revenge and punishment. Chávez wants revenge against Lupito, Tenorio wants revenge against Ultima and Narciso, and even Ultima wants to punish Tenorio for tampering with fate. It seems that the gods also have a similar human need for punishment – at first it is only the Christian God with his horribly eternal Hell, but even the golden carp plans to drown all the sinners someday. The briefly-mentioned atomic bomb also represents a real-life cataclysmic punishment that echoes the apocalypses of the gods.
In the end, Ultima and the Virgin of Guadalupe are the only compromising, forgiving alternatives. The Virgin Mary is a Christian symbol, but Antonio sees her as a mother-figure willing to listen and forgive, unlike the strict male gods. Ultima is also a mother-figure, and though she punishes Tenorio for his crimes she asks that he be forgiven, and accepts her own death to balance out his.
Punishment and Forgiveness ThemeTracker
Punishment and Forgiveness Quotes in Bless Me, Ultima
God was not always forgiving. He made laws to follow and if you broke them you were punished. The Virgin always forgave.
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.
"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.
We drove past Rosie's house and I thought about the sins of the town and how the golden carp would punish the sinners. He would drown them in clear, blue water. Then we passed the church and I thought about God's punishment for sinners. He casts them in the burning pit of hell where they burn for eternity… Drowning or burning, the punishment was all the same. The soul was lost, unsafe, unsure, suffering – why couldn't there be a god who would never punish his people, a god who would be forgiving all of the time? Perhaps the Virgin Mary was such a god?
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!
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!
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.
"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 - "
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?
"For your penance say a rosary to the Virgin," I said weakly. I didn't feel good. The weight of the jackets was making me sweat, and the revelation of Horse's confession and the way the kids were acting was making me sick. I wondered how the priest could shoulder the burden of all the sins he heard.
… the weight of the sins will sink the town into the lake of the golden carp…
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.