Free Study Guide: Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya - Free BookNotes|
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BLESS ME, ULTIMA: PLOT ANALYSIS / CRITICISM
One day that summer, Antonio confirms Cico's story by following the line of water around the town. He finds that it is true that the town is surrounded by water. He waits on many afternoons to catch sight of the golden carp. He thinks over the legend.
He experiences good times before the awful storm that is to break over his house. The people of Las Pasturas visit the house when they come to town for supplies. Gabriel is then happy. They tell stories about the places they have worked: picking cotton in east Texas, running whiskey in dry counties, picking broom corn, picking potatoes in Colorado. While in Colorado one of their sons was killed by a tractor. The men cry "and it is all right to cry, because it is fitting to grieve the death of a son." The talk always returns to the old days in Las Pasturas.
The first pioneers were sheepherders. They imported cattle from Mexico and became vaqueros (cowboys). "They were the fist cowboys in a wild and desolate land which they took from the Indians." The railroad came. Barbed wire came. The songs of the corridos (folk songs) became sad. When the people of Texas met the people of the llano there was much bloodshed. The people were uprooted and they were closed in. They moved west and became migrants.
María does not like the people of the llano. She considers them drunkards. Her only friends in Las Pasturas are Ultima and Narciso. He had helped her when her twins were born. One night when María has a strange premonition about Narciso. She recalls that he helped her when she needed him. He did not sleep for three days so he could help get things for Ultima. Gabriel calls for a drink of thanksgiving for the good harvest at El Puerto. As he stands there, Narciso bursts in. Narciso is a huge man. He says Tenorio's name and points at Ultima. He kneels at her feet and kisses her hand. He tells Ultima to hide. María rushes the children upstairs, but Antonio holds back and hides so he can watch. Narciso tries to tell them, then they hear Ultima's owl hoot a warning. Narciso says that Tenorio's daughter died at El Puerto today. Tenorio has blamed Ultima. He has gathered a group of men and convinced them to burn her as a witch. Jesús Silva has come from El Puerto with the warning. María wants to flee and Ultima says "A man does not flee from the truth." Narciso wants her to escape the lynching they have planned for her. Gabriel says if Tenorio does not have proof, then they have nothing to worry about. Narciso says Tenorio claims to have found Ultima's stringed bag under his dead daughter's bed. Antonio jumps up and says it cannot be because he has the bag. He shows them the scapular under his shirt. At that moment they hear a gunshot outside.
Gabriel walks to the door without his rifle. The men outside hold torches. Tenorio calls Gabriel's name. Antonio stands beside his father. Antonio notices that some of the men have drawn crosses on their foreheads with charcoal. Tenorio calls for the witch, but will not reveal himself. Gabriel forces the men to identify themselves. Finally Tenorio speaks up and says he accuses her. Before he can finish his accusation, Gabriel grabs him by the collar and pulls him forward. He calls him a bastard and a "whoring old woman." He pulls Tenorio's beard. He throws him to the ground. Another man steps between them and says the charge of witchcraft must be cleared up. The other men hold crosses of green juniper and piñón branches. They have also pinned crosses made of pins and needles to their coats and shirts. One of them has run needles through the skin of his lower lip.
Gabriel calls out to Blas Montaño, the man who has just spoken. The man hangs his head. Tenorio repeats the demand for the witch. They begin to chant, "give us the witch." Narciso comes out and has Gabriel's rifle. He names the men: Blas Montaño, Manuelito, and Cruz Sedillo. He says they shame their names by following Tenorio. He says the death of Tenorio's daughter will allow the residents of El Puerto to sleep more easily. Blas says they are here "on an errand that is a law by custom." Narciso laughs at them and calls them fools for following Tenorio. Narciso says there is a simple test for the charge of witchcraft. He pulls the needles from the man's lip and asks if they are holy. The man says they were blessed last Sunday by the priest. He tells them to pin the holy needles to the door in a cross. A witch cannot walk through a door marked by the sign of Christ. They assent that it is a true test. All agree to abide by the test. Cruz Sedillo places the needles. He testifies that he has seen a woman judged by such a test because her body burned with pain at the sight of the cross. If Ultima crosses the threshold, she can never again be accused of witchcraft. He calls upon God as a witness.
All the men turn and watch the door. Ultima stands in the door and asks who it is that accuses her. Tenorio calls his name out. Ultima's owl attacks him and gouges out one of his eyes. One of the men points and they all look up to see that Ultima has walked through the door. Narciso says it is proven. The men fall back at Ultima's approach. They know her power is good because she passed the test. The men turn to leave. Tenorio cries out about his blinding and curses Ultima.
María comes out and leads Ultima back inside. Gabriel says he might
have to kill Tenorio some day. He thanks Narciso for his help. They go
inside for a drink. Antonio bends down and picks up the two needles that
had been stuck in the door frame. He does not know if someone broke the
cross or if they had fallen.
This is a chapter which encapsulates the events of an eventful summer very briefly. Much of the chapter is written in the iterative, a verb tense which indicates recurring action. He describes going often to the river; he describes the men of Las Pasturas coming at different times, visiting, and telling stories; he describes his continuing mentoring by Ultima; and he describes his continuing to meditate on all he has seen and heard.
Ultima has predicted that death will touch the Trementina sisters. She warned Tenorio about it and she warned the Lunas. It is also predicted when Antonio sees one of the dolls drooping and seeming to be in an attitude of pain. He was woozy when he first saw the doll during the curing of Lucas, but the reader will remember it. The magical correspondence between the dolls and the women continues. Because Ultima turned their curse around, she retains control over their fates. The death of one of them proves that it is dangerous to interfere with the fate of any person. The same danger attaches to Ultima because she has done the same in curing Lucas. She saves Antonio by giving him her scapular, but her own safety is threatened.
Notice again the syncretism between the folk belief in witchcraft and the Roman Catholic practice of blessing objects for people. The men who come to lynch Ultima use crosses to ward of the evil of a witch. Their priest has blessed one man's needles and he uses them to ward of evil by piercing his lip with them. The same blessed needles are placed over the door for the test. In practice, the men do not see a contradiction between Roman Catholicism whose orthodox doctrine does not any longer recognize witches and their belief in witches. In practice, the two belief systems work together fairly harmoniously.
This test of Ultima's goodness proves inconclusive after all. Only Antonio
notices that the needles which had formed the cross of the test have fallen
and broken apart, no longer forming a cross. The mystery of Ultima's power
remains a mystery. The relation between her kind of power and the power
of witches is indeterminate.
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