Summary and Analysis
That summer is a season of knowledge for Antonio. He becomes more attached to Ultima than to his mother, and, from her, he learns the stories, legends, and history of his people. She cautions him never to touch the three dolls that she fashioned, and, from around her neck, she gives him her folk scapular, a thin pouch of cloth filled with sweet-smelling herbs, for his protection until he makes his first holy communion. Many afternoons are spent waiting for the golden carp to return, and during those months, Antonio listens to migrant workers talk of the social changes — the railroads and the barbed wire — that have ended the old way of life for his people.
One night, one of Ultima's friends, the town drunk Narciso, comes to warn her: One of Tenorio's evil daughters has died, and Tenorio blames Ultima. Outside, a shot is fired, men's voices are heard, and Tenorio demands that Ultima be given to them. Ultima comes to the door, and as Tenorio moves forward, her owl swoops down and gouges out one of his eyes.
Next morning, the family travels to El Puerto to help with the harvest; Gabriel accompanies them. They pass Rosie's whorehouse, and Antonio ponders the sins that will soon cause the town to sink into a lake of water. Like God, the golden carp punishes sinners; in contrast, the Virgin forgives sinners. Antonio thinks that the best god would be a woman.
One evening, after a day of harvesting, the adults talk about Tenorio's two remaining daughters building a coffin of cottonwood branches; witches, they say, cannot be buried in coffins made of pine, piñon, or cedar. They think that the sisters will probably perform a Black Mass, a ritual which Antonio dreams about. In his dream, he looks into a coffin and sees Ultima; simultaneously, he feels himself being picked up and comforted.
Next day, Antonio joins Ultima and other people on the street to watch the Trementinas as they approach — Tenorio on horseback, a black patch over an eye socket, and his two black-clad daughters in a horse-drawn wagon that carries a casket. At the church, the priest bars entry, and Tenorio turns his horse around, glances at Ultima, and vows revenge.
The harvest completed, Antonio returns to school, where he tells Samuel that he has seen the golden carp. Prophetically, Samuel warns him that schoolboys may soon taunt him into fighting about Ultima and her alleged witchcraft. Later, Tenorio and Narciso fight about Ultima in the town saloon, and Samuel tells Antonio that the conflict over whether or not Ultima is a witch will end only when blood is spilled.
The school Christmas pageant is chaotic, and, relieved that it is over, Antonio creeps slowly home through a fierce blizzard. In front of the saloon, he sees Tenorio and Narciso fighting in the thick, blinding snow and cursing one another. Eventually Tenorio leaves, threatening to kill Narciso and Ultima. Narciso braves the blizzard winds until he reaches Rosie's, where he calls Andrew to the door and warns him of Tenoroo's threat to Ultima. Andrew, his arm around one of Rosie's girls, isn't unduly worried and goes back inside. Antonio follows Narciso silently as he leans forward into the icy wind on his way to warn Ultima. When they are on the goat path leading up to the family home, a shot rings out, men struggle, another shot is fired, and Tenorio flees. Antonio kneels beside the dying Narciso, who asks Antonio to hear his confession; afterward, Antonio makes the sign of the cross over him, then sobs uncontrollably.
Bursting into his mother's kitchen, he blurts out all that has happened, and that night, he has a nightmare: The girl at Rosie's pulls Andrew into the fires of hell. Antonio cries out to God, asking for Andrew's forgiveness. A voice answers that Andrew is condemned to hell for eternity. If Andrew is forgiven, then Tenorio must be forgiven. The Virgin appears and says that she forgives all. God intervenes and says that vengeance belongs to Him — and not even the golden carp has His powers. As the flames of hell part, the blood of Narciso flows into a river, to be mixed with the blood of Lupito. A mob gathers, demanding Ultima's blood. Antonio sees his three brothers, whipped by three women, confessing to their sinful natures and asking for Antonio's blessing. The three Trementina sisters begin dancing around him, taking cuttings of his hair, which they mix with the blood of foul things. His body begins to wither and he dies without ever having taken holy communion. He is doomed to go to Purgatory. Meanwhile, the angry mob murders his father, mother, and sisters. They behead Ultima, drive a stake through her heart, and burn her body. Then they go to the river, catch the carp that swim there, cook them, and eat them. The earth parts and the entire town sinks into the raging waters of the black void. The sun turns red. Farmers from El Puerto bury the ashes of Antonio's family, night falls, and the golden carp appears. It opens its mouth, swallows everything, and swims upward toward the stars. Its golden body becomes a new sun that shines upon a new earth.
Antonio's preoccupations with Ultima's cure and the golden carp underscore his struggle to understand his world. As his enlightenment progresses, he realizes there are different views on how the world operates, and he struggles to decide which is the true one. He still believes that one's destiny is tied to one's blood, and his father continues to reinforce that view. Antonio finds refuge in the company of Ultima. He feels protected when he is with her, and he learns about the legends of his ancestors from her.
The family friends from Las Pasturas tell about the changes they have seen in life, and Antonio begins to realize that things never remain the same although he might not want them to change. He also learns of the grief that comes with change. Anaya is reminding the reader that broad sweeping changes in one's society bring turmoil and grief, and people must learn to adapt if they are to find happiness and harmony.
At another level, Antonio learns that nostalgia is a major element in the lives of people from Las Pasturas. Their approach to dealing with the predicaments of the present is to look to an idealized past. To a great extent, both Gabriel and María share nostalgic outlooks on their respective ancestries, and Antonio is beginning to understand this, but he does not necessarily commit himself to their strategy for coping with life's difficulties.
Tenorio's visit to the Márez home allows Anaya to express the traditional view of Mexican Americans regarding witchcraft, and it also allows him to use the scene outside the house to explore the mob-like tendencies among humans, especially when they are fearful of a person. These irrational tendencies continue to remain a mystery to us all.
The dialogue that occurs between Pedro and Antonio on their way to El Puerto makes clear Antonio's views on loyalty and social reciprocity. He believes strongly that his uncles should have warned Ultima about Tenorio because she helped one of their family members. He learns that others may put their own interests ahead of loyalty and norms of reciprocity.
The storytelling that goes on at the Luna household captures elements of the oral traditions of Mexican Americans and feeds Antonio's imagination. He dreams of the Black Mass and sees Ultima lying in a coffin, a scene foreshadowing Ultima's death and preparing Antonio for her loss, as well as for the acceptance of death, which comes for all.
The scene at the school, when the boys are closing in on Antonio, delves again into the group behavior of human beings and their willingness to scapegoat when they are fearful and ignorant of the causes of events around them. The discussion among the boys about witches and religion pushes Antonio further toward his realization of the multiplicity of views about existence. His fight with Ernie demonstrates his willingness to defend not only his own views but also those persons whom he loves.
The Christmas play exemplifies Anaya's ability to capture both the spontaneity and the rowdiness of young boys. It is a hilarious scene that brings some lightheartedness to an otherwise somber novel. The play stands in sharp contrast to the powerful storm that awaits outside.
The fight between Narciso and Tenorio sets in motion a series of events that dramatically affect Antonio. First, Narciso's call for help at Rosie's and, then, Andrew's appearance at the door of the whorehouse shock Antonio. Not only does he realize that his brother has been sinning, but he feels a loss of his own innocence. Andrew's unwillingness to help Narciso drives a wedge between him and Antonio.
The murder of Narciso intensifies Antonio's inner struggle over justice and punishment. He is again forced to play the role of priest, and he gains some further familiarity with the role. As he matures, these experiences ground the decision he must make about his destiny.
The chapter ends with Antonio's eighth dream, which returns to the Day of Judgment. God's refusal to save Andrew from the fires of hell pushes Antonio to try to negotiate with Him. He promises to become a priest if Andrew is saved, but God will not hear the voice of someone who has golden idols. This part of the dream reveals Antonio's anguish over his initiation into the religion of the golden carp and foreshadows his realization that he too is a "sinner." Antonio continues to beg for the salvation of those persons whom he loves — his brothers and Narciso — but God will not save them. God tells Antonio that he wants both forgiveness for all and punishment for some — an impossibility. Antonio still believes in good and evil and the need to make punitive judgments against evil, and the dream sheds light on the limits of his ability to forgive. The Virgin, on the other hand, seems to realize that what appears to be evil is really ignorance and error, and this realization allows Her to forgive all.
In the next part of the dream, Antonio sees his own death and those of his family members. He is killed by the Trementina sisters and is doomed to go to Purgatory since he had not taken the Eucharist. This part emphasizes Antonio's anxiety regarding his own death and the importance of communion for salvation. In the destruction that follows, the wicked townspeople kill Ultima and her owl and feed upon the flesh of the carp; evil seems more powerful than good. In the end, no one from the town is left — only the farmers remain. The golden carp appears, however, and recreates everyone in a new form. And then he swallows everything, including good and evil, and becomes a new sun, shining down on a new earth.
The last part of the dream foreshadows Antonio's increased understanding of the world in which he finds himself. The golden carp is both vengeful and pure. It destroys the entire world so that it can be reborn. This suggests that destruction is a means of purification and that death must occur in order for rebirth to exist.
¿Qué pasa? What's the matter?
¡Ay Dios! Oh God!
¿Quién es? Who is it?
¡La mujer que no ha pecado es bruja, le juro a Dios! The woman who has not sinned is a witch, I swear to God!
¡Chinga tu madre! Screw your mother!
jodido one who is bad off in some way.
¿Qué pasa aquí? What's going on here?
¡Madre de Dios! Mother of God!
abrazo embrace, or hug.
the campo santo holy burial grounds; a cemetery.
mitote gossip; also a rambunctious dance.
¡Las putas! The whores!
Ah la verga — a reference to the penis.
¡Puto! a sodomite; also, a promiscuous man.
¡Te voy a matar, cabrón! I'm going to kill you, you jerk!
¡Hijo de tu chingada — ! Son of your screwed [mother] — !
¡Pinche — ! an expletive meaning damned, stingy, vile.
¡Por la madre de Dios! For the mother of God!
huevos balls, as in testes.
maldecido a cursed person.
¡Ay que diablo! Oh, what a devil!
Cabronas putas. Pimped whores.
diablas putas — . devilish whores — .
¡Dios mío! My God!