Free Study Guide: Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya - Free BookNotes

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BLESS ME, ULTIMA: FREE STUDY GUIDE / ANALYSIS

CHAPTER 3

Summary

When morning comes, Antonio feels that the time of youth is fleeing. He feels the sun rising and hears it mix with the mockingbirds' songs. He feels the sun wash his face clean. He knows the llaneros are people of the sun while the Lunas are people of the moon, but he also knows that "we are all children of the white sun."

Antonio notices a bitter taste in his mouth. He remembers Ultima's medicine. He examines his arms and face and finds that last night's cuts are only think pink lines now. He recognizes the strange power in Ultima's medicine.

He wonders about Lupito's soul. He knows that according the Roman Catholicism, Lupito had died with a mortal sin on his soul and so he would go to hell. Then he wonders if God would forgive Lupito and send him to "Purgatory, the lonely, hopeless resting place of those who were neither saved nor damned." Then he realizes God does not forgive anyone. He wonders if the waters of the river will wash Lupito's soul away. He thinks maybe the water would seep into the earth and Lupito's soul would water the orchards of the Lunas. He wonders next of Lupito will be doomed to wander the river bottom for years like la Llorona.

Antonio lays back and watches the dust mites dance in the sun beams. He wonders about the men on the bridge having to walk the earth with a mortal sin on their souls. He hears his mother downstairs calling his father. Antonio always listens to his parents' Sunday morning argument from his bed in the attic. His father only works half days on Saturday. Afterwards he drinks and becomes angry. He curses everyone, including his wife for being the daughter of farmers and forcing him to be tied to one piece of land. Another argument concerns religion. Gabriel does not strongly believe in religion. He often calls the priests women, as a term indicating weakness. Antonio remembers a story about his father's father who had taken a priest from his church and beaten him for speaking against him.

Another whispered tale concerned the first priest who went to El Puerto. The colony settled there under a land grant from Mexico. The priest, a Luna, led the colonization. Antonio's mother wants him to become a priest to carry on this heritage. She is a devout Catholic. She believes the soul is only saved through the Holy Mother Church. She also believes the world would be saved by people turning to the earth. "A community of farmers ruled over by a priest, she firmly believed, was the true way of life."

His mother calls Deborah and Theresa for breakfast, then she calls Antonio. He is soothed by the repetition of the family's routine. María announces that they will have no breakfast, but will go directly to communion. She tells Theresa and Deborah to offer half their communion for their brothers and half for what happened last night. When they ask her, she will not tell them what happened last night. Antonio feels Ultima's hand on his head. She asks him how he feels and he nods his head. María scolds Antonio for not greeting Ultima properly. Ultima tells her to leave Antonio to her. Gabriel pours Ultima coffee. Antonio notices that his father and Ultima are the only adults he knows who break their fast before communion.

María exclaims that Antonio is only a boy, not a man as Ultima has intimated. She says it is a sin for a boy to grow to be a man. Gabriel objects and says it is only a fact of life. María counters that "life destroys the pureness God gives." Gabriel answers that everything Antonio sees and does makes him a man. María cries out that if only Antonio would become a priest he would be saved. She wants to talk to Father Byrnes about it, but Gabriel reminds her Antonio has not even been through his catechism. Not only a priest, but Antonio himself will have to decide if he will become a priest.

Antonio runs to do his chores. It is autumn. He knows he will soon be going to visit his uncles' farms for the harvest. Then he would be going to school. He looks across the river. A mist blurs the trees and buildings of the town. He thinks that already the bells of the school are ringing. He lets the cow out to graze and is glad that she does not head in the direction of the river. He prays for the soul of Lupito to be taken to his rest. Antonio is afraid to think anymore. He sees the railroad tracks and knows they run to the town of Las Pasturas. Suddenly he hears his mother calling him.

María and Ultima are dressed in black for mourning. Because of the losses of the war, it seems as though the whole town is in mourning. Antonio hears his father talking about the night before. He knows that indirectly the war of the Japanese and Germans has claimed two more lives in Guadalupe. Antonio's mother calls him to her and smoothes his hair down. She smells sweet to him and he feels soothed being near her. He knows he will be taken from his mother when he begins school. His sister Deborah has told him the teachers only let them speak English at school. Antonio is afraid. The family proceeds up the path toward town. They call it the goat path because every day when their father returns home from work, the children run to greet him and he calls them his cabroncitos or cabritos (little goats).

Some people whisper that Ultima is a woman without sin. They whisper "curandera" when she passes. Some whisper "Hechicera (sorceress), bruja (witch)." Ultima asks Antonio why he is so thoughtful. He says he is thinking of Lupito and the fact that his father was on the bridge. He wonders how Gabriel can go to communion if he has sinned. Ultima tells him that one llanero will not kill another without just cause. She adds that she does not think Gabriel fired at Lupito. She tells Antonio never to judge who God forgives and who He does not. He wants to know what Ultima gave him last night to sleep. She laughs at his inquisitiveness. She tells him a curandera cannot give her secrets away, but if he wants to know he has to be patient and watchful. Knowledge will come to him slowly.

At the bridge, María hurries her daughters across while Gabriel lingers and looks into the river. What happened last night seems to be a dream now to Antonio. They enter the town. Only one house stands away from the rest, a big gray stucco house. It used to belong to a wealthy family, but now it belongs to a woman named Rosie. Antonio knows Rosie is evil in a way that is different from the evil of witches. Antonio has heard the priest preach against the women of Rosie's house. María makes her children bow their heads as they pass it.

He hears the church bells ring and thinks of it calling the people to the six o'clock mass. He realizes the church bells are announcing Lupito's death. The bells call the women who pray for their men. The church brings the living and the dead close together. The church is the biggest building Antonio has ever seen. People gather outside the doors and talk about last night.

Antonio joins the children from town. They are mostly older than he is. Ernie brags that his father saw Lupito shoot the sheriff. Horse denies the truth of this. The children call this boy Horse because he has a horse's face and he stomps the ground. Bones curses and acts out the shooting. Samuel says he went to the river that morning and saw blood on the sand. Samuel lives upriver from Antonio's house past the railroad bridge. The Vitamin Kid challenges them to a race and paws the ground. Everyone calls him the Vitamin Kid, even the teachers, because he is always running.

Horse calls out "bullshit" and spits. Florence spits a bigger ball of mucous. Abel laughs saying Florence beat Horse. Horse grabs Abel and flips him so that Abel lands hard on the ground. He whispers "Cabron" (bastard). Horse makes him take back his word that Florence beat him. When Abel gets out of range, he taunts Horse, saying Florence did beat him.

Ernie continues with his story of his father seeing the shooting last night in the cafe. Horse again claims Ernie is lying and tries to engage Florence in another spitting contest. Florence refuses. Antonio has never seen another Spanish speaking person who is a light as Florence, a boy with blond hair. Ernie says brains and blood were spattered all over the cafe.

Lloyd claims that Lupito will go to hell. He says it is the law. Florence laughs and says everyone from Los Jaros goes to hell. Los Jaros is the neighborhood across the tracks. Horse, Bones, Abel, and Florence live there. Horse tells Florence he will go to hell since he does not believe in God. Horse challenges Florence to a wrestling match. Lloyd objects that it is a sin to wrestle before mass.

Horse catches sight of Antonio and calls him over. When Horse reaches for his neck, Antonio ducks and comes up yanking Horse's leg. He flips Horse on his back. Everyone laughs. Horse comes up to Antonio who fears he will be beaten but stands his ground. Horse looks at him closely and then lets out a loud cry that sends Antonio scooting backward. He asks Antonio's name. Antonio replies first Anthony Márez and then says Antonio Juan Márez y Luna out of respect for his mother. Horse wants to know if he is Andrew's brother. Horse forgives him for throwing him. He says he is smart. All the boys gather around and ask Antonio where he lives. He becomes part of their gang. They all run to mass to get "the premium pews at the very back of the church."

Notes

In recognizing that despite differences between the llaneros and the Lunas, all are children of the white sun, Antonio shows his potential as a person who can unify the two sides of Mexican-and Spanish-American heritage.

Antonio begins to question the answers of religion when he sees Lupito killed. Anaya accomplishes a great deal by having Antonio as a child narrator. Antonio can ask the basic questions of received wisdom, questions adults have long since reconciled or forgotten. He asks these questions with a pure heart, not a cynical skepticism. His most urgent question has to do with forgiveness. He searches among religious traditions he knows to find which will satisfy his desire to see Lupito forgiven. As he understands it, the Catholic church has a very rigid schema for determining sin and judgment. Lupito will go to hell because he has committed a mortal sin without confession before he was killed. The second tradition, that which reveres the river as a sort of god, would see the river washing Lupito's blood downstream where it would fertilize the crops of the Lunas. The third possibility for life after death is that of la Llorona. She is the sorrowful woman who haunts the banks of the Guadalupe river looking for her lost sons. Antonio wonders if he will have to fear Lupito as well as la Llorona when he goes to the river at night.

María Luna's vision for the salvation of the world is an interesting mix of traditions. First, she is a devout Catholic and second she believes if people would turn to the earth they would be saved. Her version of Catholicism is far different from the kind in which all things earthly are considered sinful.

The boys from town, especially Horse and Bones, are extremely odd figures. They represent the children from the barrio, who have to fend for themselves. They pride themselves on the severity of their curses and the strength of their bodies to run, fight, or spit. Yet Horse and Bones are more than just barrio kids. They seem to represent animal spirits in children's bodies. In bringing them into the novel, Anaya creates a bridge between the religion of the ancient Native Americans, in which people have animal spirits, and the city life of poor kids. The ancient traditions thrive in the barrio as well as in the country by the river. Antonio's virtues show up clearly against the backdrop of these boys. He stands his ground even when he is terribly afraid. They also provide a running commentary on the different ideas of the afterlife.


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