Summary and Analysis Chapter 20



Each Sunday thereafter, Antonio attends mass, hoping to hear God, but each Sunday, he leaves unsatisfied, and soon school is out and it is time for him to travel to El Puerto, where he will spend the summer learning about farming from his uncles. He wonders about his destiny and tells Miss Violet, his teacher, that a man's destiny is like a flower unfolding itself to the sun, the earth, and water.

Antonio perceives the plains and the hills to be filled with life, yet he senses a dark shadow over all their lives. He is worried about tracks near the juniper tree, where Narciso was killed, and about the news that old Tenorio's second daughter is dying. He is also disturbed when the rancher Téllez asks for Ultima's help in purging his house of what seems to be evil spirits who break dishes, cause a coffee pot to jump around and spill coffee, and rain stones down from the sky onto the roof of the house. A priest blessed the house, but the blessing was ineffectual; it changed nothing. Now, only Ultima can intervene and banish the evil.

Ultima explains that three lingering ghostly Comanche souls from long ago were improperly buried and now have been manipulated by the witch-like Trementina sisters to torment the Téllez family. She says that she can help Téllez, but she reminds the rancher that he must accept the consequences of her interference with destiny.

Antonio accompanies his father and Ultima across the plains and listens to them speak of their plains heritage and the inherent values that come from living on the plains. It is a conversation that is filled with hope and beauty, startling contrasts to what he experiences inside the Téllez house, as he listens to the rain of melon-sized stones on the roof. Calmly, Ultima tells the men to build a platform, upon which she will place three bundles, symbolic of the three Comanche men who were improperly buried. After setting fire to the platform, as was the Comanche tradition, Antonio hears Ultima's owl hoot. Her work is done. Téllez tells her that supernatural things began happening to him after Tenorio denounced her and he defended her honor about a month ago, in a saloon in El Puerto.

That night, Antonio dreams of his brothers, calling to him from the depths of the river, asking for release from their sea-blood. Tony tells them that he has no power and then baits his hook with their livers. They cry out in such pain that he removes the livers and throws them deep into the muddy waters of the River of the Carp.


Antonio continues to seek answers through holy communion but finds none. He knows he is searching for something but doesn't know what he seeks. With conflict both around and inside him, he withdraws from his classmates and becomes more and more obsessed with his questions. Turning to his school teacher for advice, he begins to develop sources of support outside the family.

Antonio feels that everyone is older, and this insight is confirmed when the Vitamin Kid is more interested in walking with a girl than in racing Antonio across the bridge. Antonio knows something has ended and is saddened by the change. Anaya is signaling that an important period has ended in Antonio's life and that a new one is beginning. Antonio must now come to grips with change, the only real constant in life.

He spends time with Ultima but senses that Tenorio is nearby, and he becomes worried about her, especially when he hears that another Trementina daughter is dying. The healing at the Téllez ranch, the second healing in the novel, affirms his view that Ultima's power is good yet different from that of a priest. His faith in the power of the Church continues to erode, yet he deepens his understanding of himself.

Antonio acknowledges the influences that Gabriel, Ultima, and his mother have had on him. He has learned to love the beauty of the plains and the knowledge that he is part of the earth. More and more, he seems to be moving toward the recognition that the views of his parents are compatible rather than mutually exclusive. As he develops cognitively, he moves from dichotomous, polarized views of reality toward the recognition of the dialectical unity of opposites and the relativity of "truth."

In the ninth dream, Antonio is unable to release his brothers from their wanderings. Instead, he casts himself as a provider of pain by baiting his hook with their livers and thereby causing them enormous suffering. Only by removing their livers from his hook is he able to release them from their agony. This dream reveals Antonio's new perception of himself as someone capable of punishment. Moreover, it reveals that he is beginning to accept change and fragmentation. He is unconsciously beginning to accept the wanderings of his brothers and his own loss of innocence. His maturation is measured by his willingness to accept the permanence of change.


Agua Negra Black Water.

¡Gracías a Dios que venites! Thank God that you came!

Benditos sean los dulces nombres. Holy be the sweet names.

yerba de la vívora a snake, or a rattlesnake, weed.

comancheros Indian traders.

grillos crickets.

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