Summary and Analysis
The news that the war is over brings great happiness to the Márez family; immediately María lights many candles, allows Ultima to burn incense, and insists that the whole family pray rosary after rosary together. The memory of the long prayer sessions segue into one of Antonio's dreams: He is at the river, where he hears the voices of his " lost brothers" saying that they are coming home from beyond the land of their father's dreams (California), from the land of the golden carp (the Far East). They ask Antonio for his hand, his "saving hand" — and then, suddenly, with a crash, their "dark figures" tower above him. Antonio wakes in a fright and runs out into the cold night, where he sees his brothers cresting the hill, coming homeward.
Once more, the family is united. María is happy that Miss Maestas praises Antonio and that, once more, she can cook for the "lost sons" even though Gabriel talks continually of his dream to move the family to California. Winter comes soon, and happiness fades in the Márez household. Antonio's brothers sleep during the day and, at night, drink, play billiards, and spend many hours at Rosie's whorehouse, incurring many debts. One of the brothers, León, has terrifying nightmares, and Ultima tends to him. Moody and restless, the brothers soon realize that they weren't meant to put down roots in this village. Their father's dream is unrealistic, while their mother's dream seems very realistic: Tony will become a priest, or a farmer, like the Lunas. They jostle and toss little Tony and teasingly ask him for his blessing before they strike out to seek their destinies elsewhere. Tony eagerly says that he will bless them — and they spank him and toss him on top of the chicken coop before they disappear down the road toward Rosie's, where they'll say goodbye to the girls. Instinctively, Antonio knows that they will become lost again. He longs to bless them — one more time.
Antonio's brothers come home from the war and, for a time, make the family feel whole again. As the novel develops, María's religiosity becomes more and more evident. She prays regularly and orders the family to pray with her. Antonio's dream following one of these prayer sessions presents the giants of his infancy as lost and dying. The brothers thrust Antonio into the role of a priest by asking for his saving hand. Their dying reflects their lost social lives, and it seems to Antonio that they are being punished for wrongdoings. Their travel to the land of the golden carp foreshadows Antonio's introduction to its legend.
The return of the veteran sons revives Gabriel's dream to move the family to California. This possibility of moving intensifies Antonio's dilemmas about his destiny. The decision by the brothers to leave evokes a concern with obedience to parental authority and the possible repercussions for failing to do so. Antonio believes his brothers will be lost again, and he will be left to realize his mother's dreams, thereby absolving them of any guilt associated with failing to live up to parental expectations. Antonio assumes the role of priest and tries to bless them, but they laugh and take off to Rosie's whorehouse. Antonio is left with feelings of loss and vague associations between the breeding of cattle and his brother's relations with the girls at Rosie's. The spanking unconsciously reinforces the physical, sometimes violent, nature of sexuality. His understanding of what goes on at Rosie's house is still shallow, but he is beginning to make some connections.
¡Mis hijos! My sons!
Perdón. Forgive me; I'm sorry.