Summary and Analysis
That night, Antonio dreams of violence: Lupito, Narciso, and Florence — the outcasts from town, those for whom Antonio prayed the Act of Contrition. He also sees his young friends attack one another with sticks and knives. Cico spears the golden carp and the waters run red. A priest desecrates the church altar. Florence tells him that the old gods are dying and points to the hills, where Tenorio has killed the night-spirit of Ultima, now dying in agony. Overwhelmed by all the destruction and violence, Antonio asks why God has forsaken him — and he awakens, sobbing. Ultima comforts him and suggests that he has seen too much death; growing, she says, involves change, and life is filled with sadness when a boy becomes a man. It is time for him to go to his uncles in El Puerto, where he will learn about growth, about "growing life."
Before Antonio leaves, Maria asks Ultima to bless them both. Antonio kisses Ultima and, driving away with his father, knows that he will never again see his sisters, his mother, nor Ultima in the same beauty of that sunny morning.
On the journey, Gabriel tells his son that he himself became a man when he was about seven years old, while he was learning the art of being a good sheepherder. Now it is time that Antonio learn to make a man of himself. The days of freedom on the great plains are over, and Antonio must take what is valuable from Gabriel's heritage, his strong sense of Márez freedom, and yoke it with his steady, settled Luna heritage and thereby create something new from the materials of the past. All the things that are antithetical, Antonio realizes, must be coalesced into a new reality: the plains and the river valley, the moon and the sea, and even God and the golden carp — all must merge and be changed, for religion itself must change when it cannot answer the questioning needs of the people.
As for evil, Gabriel tells his son that "evil" is only that which people don't understand. True understanding, he says, that which Antonio seeks, takes a lifetime; it is not a simple matter of participating in a single holy communion. Understanding means having sympathy for people, and Ultima's sympathy is so complete that she can touch and heal the souls of others. That is her magic.
That summer, working alongside his uncles, silently learning to respect and care for the earth, taking note of how they all work in communion with the cycles of the moon, Antonio gathers strength. He sleeps peacefully.
Late in the summer, while working at irrigating a cornfield, Antonio learns that his parents will be coming soon to take him back to their village. Uncle Pedro praises Antonio's learning and says that there has not been an educated Luna for a long time — to which Antonio states that he is, first, a Márez and, second, a Luna. Pedro agrees, stressing again how proud the Lunas are of him.
Their talk is cut short when Juan arrives and talks privately with Pedro. Overhearing them, Antonio realizes that another Trementina sister has died and that Tenorio has once again vowed to kill Ultima. Juan is reluctant to become involved; their father will be angry. Pedro, however, reminds him that Ultima healed their brother Lucas; they are indebted to her.
Heading toward the main road into town, Antonio encounters Tenorio, who curses him and tries to run him down. Foiled by the boy's quickness, Tenorio tries to trample him, but Antonio jumps down an embankment and hears Tenorio galloping away, vowing to kill Ultima's owl, the spirit of "the old witch." In a moment of epiphany, Antonio realizes that the owl is indeed the protective spirit of Ultima; it is her soul. She must be warned.
Ahead of him, he sees the lights of town, the familiar juniper-spotted hills, and the lights within his home. Pedro's truck pulls up to the house just as Antonio notices that Tenorio is near the juniper tree. Antonio cries out, and Ultima calls to her owl, which swirls above Tenorio. A shot is fired, and Tenorio picks up the body of the dead owl, dancing and howling that he has won. Another shot rings out, and Tenorio jerks his head and clutches his stomach; over by the trucks, Uncle Pedro is holding a pistol.
Antonio wraps the owl in a blanket and rushes to Ultima, who is lying in bed. Ultima tells him that her owl is not dead; it is simply flying to a new place, just like she herself is getting ready to do. The owl was given to her by an old man to be her spiritual bond to the harmony of the universe. She was to do good by healing the sick and showing people the path to goodness. Harmony will return with the deaths of Tenorio and herself. She accepts death because she accepted working for life. Antonio is to clean out her room the next day, burn her medicines and herbs, and bury the owl beneath a forked juniper tree.
Kneeling, Antonio asks Ultima to bless him. She touches his forehead and blesses him in the name of all that is good, strong, and beautiful. She tells him to love life and to look for her in the gentle evening winds when he despairs.
Later, in the moonlight, after he has buried the owl beneath a forked juniper tree, Antonio hears the sheriff's siren. If help had arrived sooner, would Ultima still be alive? Ultima, he knows, would not approve of such thoughts. She will be buried in a pine coffin at a cemetery in Las Pasturas in a ceremony prescribed by custom, but Antonio knows that she will really be buried beneath the forked juniper tree.
In his final dream, Antonio sees the three figures that he was helpless to save, both physically and spiritually. The destruction of his three sources of understanding — God, the golden carp, and Ultima — leaves nothing for him to believe in, and he is filled with horror and great despair. Upon rejecting the violence he sees, he is told that violence contains the seeds of creation. This points to the resolution of conflict, albeit in the apocalyptic view that some must die in order for others to live. The statement by the departing figures that they exist only in his dreams points out to Antonio that his concerns are not necessarily part of the external world, that he can stop their dream-wanderings.
The dream foreshadows Antonio's shift from absolutist thinking to relativism. To transcend absolutism, one must withdraw one's commitment to a particular perspective in order to be able to appreciate other perspectives. Antonio's transcendence intimates a cosmic death balanced by regeneration and rebirth. Out of conflict and chaos comes a new level of understanding that restores unity and harmony to the world. But this understanding, as portended by the dream, is something he must achieve on his own. Ultimately, individuals must live their own lives in accordance with their own views.
Before leaving for El Puerto, Antonio learns from Ultima that he should grow strong from the experiences of life rather than despair from them. He learns that growth involves change and that he should accept changes in life. When Ultima blesses him, she does so in a pagan rather than a Christian way. Antonio has come to accept non-Christian views and feels quite comfortable with them. He knows that holy blessings are not limited to the Church.
Antonio's talk with his father on their way to El Puerto is crucial to his development because it reveals new understandings to him and furnishes many answers to his questions. First, it makes clear to him what he has been seeking: independence of thought. He learns that he must assume responsibility for his own behavior and not look any longer to his mother for constant guidance.
Second, he learns that his father has given up on his dreams; things have changed and certain lifestyles are no longer possible. Such is also the case with his mother's dreams, and Antonio knows that he has to make a life of his own, one that incorporates his past in a unique way with his life in the present. He knows he has to build a strong life out of the elements that have been handed to him by the past and the present.
Finally, he learns how understanding comes about and how people fear that which they don't understand. Understanding comes through living; it involves having sympathy for others and recognizing our mutual interdependence as human beings. Problems and difficulties in life are overcome by the magical strength of the human heart. It is Ultima's understanding that is the source of her magic.
With the Lunas, Antonio finds peace within himself, and his nightmares cease. He feels the rhythms of the universe by working the fields in accordance with the cycles of the moon. Although he affirms himself as a Márez, he knows the Lunas are also part of his being. He is at peace with himself on this regard.
His encounter with Tenorio reveals Ultima's identity as the night-spirit. Running to warn her, Antonio overcomes his fear of darkness and escapes the death call of la llorona. He runs with resolution because now he runs to fight evil, unlike in the early part of the novel, when he ran away from the horror of darkness and the death of Lupito.
Ultima's death marks the birth of Antonio's manhood. His initiation into a deeper understanding has begun. He is no longer afraid of death and does not have to look to the gods of his dreams for direction because he knows to look within himself and to life for strength. Antonio is able to accept Ultima's death as part of the great cycle that is revealed to him in his dreams. The universe is ordered and there is a purpose to everything, but human understanding discovers this truth only through a lifetime of experience. In the end, it is being at peace with oneself, others, and nature that makes one at peace with the universe.
Te doy esta bendición en el nombre del Padre, del Hijo, y el Espíritu Santo I bless you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
acequia an irrigation ditch.
tío an uncle.
¡Hijo de la bruja! Son of the witch!
¡Espíritu de mi alma! Spirit of my soul!
velorio a wake to honor the dead.