Free Study Guide: Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya - Free BookNotes|
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BLESS ME, ULTIMA: FREE STUDY NOTES
Antonio thinks of how hard it is to forgive men like Tenorio. He wonders if that is why God cannot forgive because he is too much like a man.
When they arrive in El Puerto, they find the community in great excitement over what happened the night before. They are all waiting for Tenorio to return home to bury his daughter. The priest will not let her be buried on the holy ground next to the church. However, harvest is a time for work not mitote (an Aztec word for a ritual dance). Antonio's uncles are farmers who "take their only truth from the earth." Working helps everyone forget.
After the first day of the harvest, they all return by the light of the moon, eat a heavy supper, and settle into Uncle Mateo's room. Mateo is the storyteller of the family. María and Ultima are off to themselves tying red chile into ristras (strings). The Lucas aunts are cordial with Ultima but keep their distance. Antonio senses that she likes it that way.
Uncle Mateo says it is bad what the Trementinas do. He watches out for his father because Prudencio will not allow talk of witchcraft in his presence. Uncle Juan says he talked to Porfirio Baca, who told him the two remaining sisters made the coffin that day. Uncle Mateo says they gathered cottonwood branches and weaved a coffin. Such a practice proves she is a bruja because a bruja cannot be buried in a casket made of pine, piñón, or cedar. Another uncle says Tenorio returned home that day blind in one eye. Mateo says they will gather tonight and read from their Black Book. They hear the cry of a coyote outside. "Evil was in the autumn night air." The children are told that the Trementinas will burn sulfur instead of incense and they will sing and dance around the coffin, pulling their hair and flesh. They will kill a rooster and spread its blood on the dead sister. Someone asks why they do this. Mateo answers that it is for the devil, so he will come and sleep with the corpse before it is buried. He says they only bring her to church to keep up appearances. Someone asks him how he knows all of it and he says jokingly that his sweet wife, Ortea told him. She nods in agreement and everyone laughs because she is deaf and dumb and has been since birth.
Antonio dreams that night of the witches' Black Mass. He sees everything his uncle had described. When he looks in the coffin, he sees Ultima. He cries out in his sleep and feels someone pick him up. He feels at peace and does not wake up again until morning.
The house is unusually quiet, so Antonio rushes to get dressed and outside. The villagers line the street looking toward the bridge in great excitement. Antonio sees Ultima standing alone beside the house. He runs to her and holds her hand. Her shawl is wrapped around her head, covering her face. It is the funeral procession of the Trementina woman. As the two women on the wagon pass Ultima, they turn their faces away from her. The coffin is a basket woven of cottonwood branches. Tenorio leads the procession on his horse. The wagon travels to the church. The priest will not let them into the church. "The entire village was witness to the excommunication." Tenorio is especially upset that he will no longer be able to win the townspeople's support. He has heretofore held them by fear. Now they will take courage from the priest's example. The sisters cry loudly. "They had tampered with a man's fate and they now knew the consequences."
By the afternoon, everyone feels better for having worked to harvest the crops. Prudencio supervises the disposition of all the yields: the green chile is roasted and set to dry; the red chile is strung into ristras; slices of apples dry on the lean-to roofs; jellies and preserves are boiled; corn is roasted; blue corn is ground; the rest is stored for the livestock.
"Then as quietly as the green had slipped into the time of the river,
the golden time of the harvest was completed." Antonio's family must
return to Guadalupe where he and his sisters will soon begin school again.
Uncle Juan takes María and Gabriel aside and tells them the Lunas
want Antonio to spend a summer with them. They say "he has the feel
of the earth in his blood." He needs to know their way in order to
choose for his future. They want to initiate him next summer. Gabriel
only says he will consider it.
Antonio is bothered by the two forms of gods he knows, the golden carp and the Christian God, both of whom punish people. In trying to think of a god that would not punish, he thinks of the Virgin Mary. While the Virgin Mary is not a deity, Antonio is young enough and flexible enough in his thinking to consider her as a possible candidate for one. He applies his experience with actual women to the problem of judgment. The women he knows always forgive. Therefore, in his child's logic, he thinks women in general do not judge, but always forgive. The best god would be like a woman.
Here Anaya certainly goes a great way in critiquing the patriarchal gods worshipped by the patriarchal societies that form Antonio's heritage. Because men rule in those societies, their gods are male. Moreover, their gods rule in a distinctly patriarchal way: they pass judgment; they punish; and they are distant rather than approachable. The one feminine element of Antonio's religious heritage is the Virgin Mary, the mother of God, who has gradually been placed in the theology of Catholicism as an intercessor who attempts to soften God's harsh judgment. Since God is not approachable, the people pray to the Virgin and ask her to intercede between them and God's wrath. Antonio entertains the idea of letting go of the masculine deities and retaining Mary as a god. Anaya once again relies on Antonio's youth to be able to speculate in such a free fashion, when speculation like this by an adult would be considered blasphemy.
However, Anaya does not accompany this critique of religious patriarchy with a critique of earthly patriarchy. The latter one stays intact and unquestioned. Ultima, certainly a powerful woman in the novel, does not have contact with other women except María. Other women are regarded as ignorant and they exist on the periphery of the important action of the novel.
The priest of the Roman Catholic church recognizes the Trementina woman as a witch and refuses to let her into the church for her mass. Such a recognition by the church leader of the power of witchcraft seems bizarre until one understands that syncretism also operates in the practices and doctrines of the church, not only in the practices of curandismo.
Antonio's fears about Ultima come out in his dream that she is in the coffin
of the witch. Apparently, he has not resolved his questions about the
source of Ultima's power. He cannot deal with these fears in his waking
state because it would mean irreverently questioning Ultima's goodness,
so he does so in his dreams.
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