Summary and Analysis Chapters 4-5



One day in late August, while Antonio and Ultima are searching the hills for wild herbs and roots, he learns that even plants have spirits and that they must be told why they are being harvested; he is deeply impressed by Ultima's wisdom and begins to repeat her chants and imitate her walk. Sometime later, Ultima tries to explain to him why his mother's people and his father's people are so different; she likens the Lunas to the continually orbiting moon and the Márez to the restless, ever-changing ocean. Although Antonio lives on vast, empty plains, he is enchanted by both the moon and the ocean. Which will be his destiny? Later, during prayer time at home, he discerns a similar duality of contrasts between God, who is stern and not always forgiving, and the Virgin, who is loving and always forgiving. That night, he dreams that his mother is fervently praying to the Virgin, asking her to bring his brothers home. A voice assures her that the boys will return, and she, in turn, prays that Antonio, her fourth son, will become a priest. As he sees la Virgen praying over him, Antonio screams out in the darkness, and Ultima calms him.

Next morning, Antonio and his mother and sisters travel to El Puerto to help their Luna relatives with the harvest. Antonio is especially fond of his Uncle Pedro, who calls him "Tony." After dinner, Maria speaks of Antonio's becoming a priest and guiding the Luna family. When everyone has gone to bed, Antonio is comforted by the sound of Ultima's owl, gently hooting.


In this chapter, Antonio, the child-protagonist, develops a spiritual relationship with the plants of the plains. Ultima becomes more fully his mentor and he learns the uses of the different plants and roots. Through her, he learns to feel at ease with the presence of the river and to work in harmony with the elements. From her, he learns about the ancient ways of his ancestors.

Antomo's thoughts about la Virgen de Guadalupe reveal his preoccupation with punishment and forgiveness. For Antonio, God is a punishing, vengeful god, while la Virgen is forgiving. She represents purity, compassion, and mercy. Humans are born with sin which cannot be washed away except through one's holy communion with God. The dream reflects Antonio's emerging preoccupation with understanding whether or not he too is sinful and evil.

The dream, the third in the novel, reveals Antonio's concern about the souls of his brothers being doomed to eternal damnation. Antonio is concerned with the loss of innocence, the guilt that comes with sin, and his fear of death and the punishment of hell. His dream-death presents la Virgen in mourning over him, implying that she is requesting God to show mercy and forgive Antonio for his sins.

The trip to El Puerto reveals Antonio's fondness for Uncle Pedro and locates for the reader the sites of the brothel, the church, Tenorio's bar, and El Puerto. The spatial relationships among these sites set the geographic context for many of the events that occur as the novel develops. Anaya also provides graphic images of the communal activities that Antonio remembers from his previous visits.

The discussion at the Luna house affirms Antonio's association of his brothers with the loss of innocence. Uncle Juan expresses concern about Antonio's development and the need to prevent him from becoming "lost" — like his brothers. Antonio's peaceful slumber to the singing of the owl and under the watch of la Virgen associates the goodness of the owl with that of the Virgin. It also points to the sense of peace that he feels when he is with the Luna family.


la yerba del manso the plant of the lizard tail family; or, perhaps, a plant from Manzano.

arroyo a gully.

oshá a wild celery; a medicinal plant.

¡Mira! Qué suerte, tunas. Look! What luck, prickly pears.

álamos cottonwood trees, which bloom in late May and early June rather than in late summer.

manzanilla common chamomile.

mollera the membrane-covered separation between bone plates on the top of an infant's head.

chicos dried corn, usually cooked with beans.

muy sabrosos very tasty.

ristras a string of something, usually of chile.

cabritos, cabroncitos kids, small goats.

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