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BLESS ME, ULTIMA BY RUDOLFO ANAYA: CRITICISM / ANALYSIS
Antonio is interrupted by Horse tackling him. Antonio rises and has to pull thorns out of his bloody cheek. Horse tells them about a fight between Roque and Willie in the boys' bathroom. Lloyd joins them and adds details about the fight. He tells them a person can be sued for fighting. Bones and Horse wrestle. As the boys talk about the fight, the conversation moves to catechism. Abel wants to know why they have to go. They all claim that Protestants go to hell. Florence tells them if a person does not believe in God, her or she does not go to hell. He goes to catechism only to be with his friends. Antonio wonders what will happen if Florence is left out of heaven in the end. Florence agrees it would be the worst punishment "the Old Man could give you." That is his term for God. Florence says he does not believe in God because of his life. his mother died when he was three years old and his "old man" drank himself to death, leaving his children. He cannot reconcile how God could let this happen to an innocent child. Antonio understand he questions because they are similar to his own. The boys ask all the perennial questions of faith. They especially center on the problem of evil, why winter has to come, why death happens, and such like. In the midst of the questions, Antonio realizes he is motivated to keep his faith in God because he cannot imagine living outside of faith.
As Florence asks his questions, Antonio wonders if the golden carp is a better god. They walk toward the church and see the cross. Antonio tells Florence what his father has told him about the weather coming in cycles, years of good weather and years of bad. He tells Florence it might be that God comes in cycles too. He wonders if God has hidden Himself and will come back in centuries from now. He wonders if other gods rule in His absence, perhaps the Virgin Mary or the Golden Carp. Just at that "moment of blasphemy," the wind swirls around the boys. Antonio cries out for forgiveness.
They hear the church bell ring and they run inside. They hear the priest tell them about the Devil's misleading ways. The priest tortures Florence for being late. He makes the boy stand with his arms outspread in the middle of the aisle. Florence looks like an angel standing there. Antonio had been excused for being late.
The boys are asked to pray the catechism. Antonio can hear Bones faking it, "Buzz, buzz, buzz," The priest quizzes them. The boys satirize the catechism, answering when the priest says God is everywhere, that God is at Rosie's. They make ghost sounds at the name of the Holy Ghost.
The children answer the priest's questions about Catholic theology. Rita answers
al the questions with the right answer. Antonio thinks girls always know
the answers. Antonio has many questions but he never asks the priest,
He guesses that the priest would not like it. Florence is the only one
who does, and he is always being assigned penance. The priest instructs
the children about hell. He explains the concept of eternity. When Bones
speaks out of turn, the priest hits him hard on the hand with a board,
raising a blister. Antonio sees an old woman in the back of the church
nodding approvingly. The priest's analogy of the meaning of eternity disturbs
the children greatly. All the while, Florence stands with his arms outstretched,
"unafraid of eternity."
Before the catechism lesson, Antonio's conversation with Florence reveals a great deal about his developing modified belief system. He has become more comfortable with the idea that there can be more than one god ruling. He cannot see the Christian God's agency in the world, but he can see the agency of the Golden Carp and the Virgin. He can also understand the words of his father as having theological import. His father's pagan belief system, the idea that the earth rules the fortunes of people and people must act in respect for the earth or face the retribution of the earth, echoes and reinforces other belief systems and therefore works well as an alternative explanation for vexing questions.
Although Antonio is devout, Anaya allows room for the comic in the midst of
the seriousness of catechism. He records the life of children who are
unable to maintain the sense of seriousness and who do not understand
the ominous warnings of the priest. The scene of catechism presented here
is a sense of torture. The priest arbitrarily tortures Florence for being
late and excuses Antonio. Florence is a sort of Christ figure of the chapter,
an odd comment since he is an atheist. The priest is cruel and frightening.
Presenting Catechism in this way enables Anaya to critique the manner
in which the church has elevated its doctrines about human kindness and
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