Bless Me, Ultima By Rudolfo Anaya Summary and Analysis Chapters 17-19

Summary

In March, unusual, eerie dust storms become prevalent and Antonio hears adults blaming the atomic testing taking place south of Pasturas. The seasons have been disturbed, the old ones say, because man has gained too much knowledge, and too much knowledge will destroy mankind. Antonio's father cautions him not to blame bombs; man himself is to blame — for misusing the land and drying up wells. Deeply immersed in his catechism lessons, Antonio yearns for solid answers, for ultimate knowledge, and for direct, one-on-one communication with God. He feels certain that once he has taken communion, he will hear God's voice, speaking to him, unraveling the multitude of mysteries that confound him.


Antonio is adrift in a sea of confusion. He fervently wants to believe in God, but his friend Florence sternly and logically denies the existence of Heaven, Hell, and God. To Antonio's argument that God is continually testing our faith in Him, Florence chides that because God knows everything — there is no need for "testing." Antonio is more confused than ever because he understands Florence's logic, and he himself deeply desires knowledge — the original sin of Adam and Eve. At the same time, he believes in the godlike goodness and promise of the golden carp. Later, he witnesses a priest singling out Florence for undeserved punishment. Standing in the aisle, sunlit, his arms outstretched in chastisement, Florence seems like an angel to Antonio. Despite the priest's terrifying grains-of-sand analogy of eternity, Antonio realizes that Florence does not fear eternity. If Florence does not fear eternity and everlasting punishment, Antonio fears for his friend's fate and tries to convince Florence to at least believe in the golden carp — if in nothing else.

At last, it is Easter Sunday; Antonio wears new shoes, as well as his first new suit. On the way to the church, he meets several of his rowdy friends who joke about the catechism questions and demand that Antonio be their "priest," dancing and singing around him and confessing to voyeuristic sexual thrills. Confused and sickened by the vivid sexual talk on this holy day, Antonio tries to protect Florence when the boy is jeered at by his catechism-wise classmates. He states that, as priest, he can forgive Florence for blasphemy. Angered by his favoritism, the boys turn on Antonio and jerk his shirt off in a symbol of defrockment; then one of them jumps on his stomach and pounds his chest. Afterwards, Florence points out how ridiculous it was for Antonio to succumb to the boys' demand that he be their "priest."

During Easter Mass, Antonio is keenly aware that when the priest raises the chalice high, it no longer contains wine. It has become blood — not only Christ's blood, but also the blood of Lupito and Narciso. At communion, he is anxious as he receives the wafer and holds the saliva-slick body of Christ in his mouth. He knows, however, that he must complete this act if God is to speak to him. He swallows the wafer — and waits to hear the voice of God. Suddenly, he feels a poke in the back; it is time to move on. Others are waiting. The mass is ending, and God has not spoken to Antonio about the consequences of the death of Lupito, the evil of the Trementina sisters, the murder of Narciso, the defiant views of Florence, or the mystery of the golden carp. He calls to the God that is within him, but there is no reply. He looks at the statue of the Virgin, and the choir begins to sing. Easter Mass is over.

Analysis

Antonio is elated that he will soon make his first holy communion. He expects that the event will provide him with understanding and the world will then make sense to him. Catechism lessons intensify his conviction that communion will provide answers to his questions.

The pressures of change on the people are dramatized through apocalyptic interpretations of the detonation of the atomic bomb. Folk responses to the bomb link knowledge and destruction, and portend humankind's demise.

Gabriel's view of the dust storms and the plains expresses a regard for nature and its ways. Antonio learns that humans are part of nature and must assume responsibility for their actions, especially those that degrade nature. Anaya is expressing here aspects of the land ethics of New Mexican Chicano/as. The elders' views on the bomb, seasonal disturbances, and knowledge reveal many superstitious beliefs that inform them how the world operates. Antonio struggles to make sense of the world around him and is confused by the competing modes of knowledge that surround him. He wants to know which is the true view of the world.

Antonio's discussion with Florence makes him aware of the rational limitations of Catholicism. He realizes that he may share in Original Sin by virtue of his desire for more knowledge. Antonio is moving closer to the realization that he too has his own dark side.

When the priest punishes Florence, Antonio realizes that life is not necessarily fair. The angelic Florence is truly an atheist and an existentialist, and Antonio worries about his friend's soul. Ironically, just before he is to make his first holy communion, Antonio commits to showing Florence the golden carp as a means of giving him some higher meaning in life.

Antonio's first communion with God leaves him unfulfilled, and his faith in the power of God continues to diminish. He begins to realize that there are no absolute answers to his questions.

The episode with the group of kids causes Antonio to suddenly realize that Florence truly believes that he has not sinned. Antonio incurs the wrath of the other kids because he tries to protect Florence, and, in the process, he learns that he cannot be their priest. This incident provides him with a deeper understanding of the role of a priest and moves him closer to a decision regarding his own destiny.

Glossary

Padre nuestro que estás en los cielos. Our Father who art in heaven.

bulto a wood carving of a holy person; also, a ghost.

Voy a tirar tripas. I'm going to throw up.

gabacha a white woman.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

A deuteragonist is




Quiz