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Bless Me, Ultima Summary and Analysis

by Rudolfo Anaya

Chapters 4-7 (Cuatro-Siete)

As the summer comes to a close, Antonio spends most of his time with Ultima. During their daily walks, Ultima introduces him to the plants and herbs that she uses in her medicines, and she explains to Antonio that plants have their own spirits and must be respected. As he observes Ultima walking among the hills, Antonio is deeply impressed by her wisdom and nobility. Later along their walk, Antonio asks Ultima to explain why his father’s family is so different from his mother’s family. Ultima asserts that the differences in the family have to do with their blood: it is in the blood of the Lunas to be quiet like the moon, and it is in the blood of the Lunas to be wild like the ocean. Considering the contrasts in his family, Antonio wonders which type of life he will choose to live, and he and Ultima fall into silence. During this pause, Antonio becomes first aware of the presence of the river. At first he is frightened, but Ultima calms him and releases him from any further fear of the river.

At home, Antonio helps Ultima to dry the herbs they have gathered by placing them on the roof of the chicken shed. He then eats lunch with his family and spends the rest of the afternoon playing with Jason. After evening, Antonio and his family pray to a beautiful statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, something that they do every night after supper. The Virgin is Antonio’s favorite Saint because of her beauty and forgiving nature. As they are praying to the Virgin of Guadalupe, Antonio begins to wonder again about Lupito’s fate. That night, Antonio dreams that his mother asks the Virgin to allow his three older brothers to return home safely and to make Antonio a priest. The Virgin promises that Antonio’s older brothers will return safely, but then appears in a dress of mourning for the fourth son, Antonio. Antonio screams in his sleep from the nightmare, but he feels Ultima’s hand on his forehead and is able to sleep peacefully.

The next morning, Antonio wakes up to discover that his uncle Pedro is at the house. Uncle Pedro is his favorite of all of his Luna uncles because he is easy to talk to. Antonio and his family load up the truck and drive to El Puerto de los Lunas to help with the harvest. Antonio’s family always helps with the summer harvest at the Luna farm, and the trip is the main trip that they take all year. As soon as they arrive, they immediately greet Antonio’s grandfather, Prudencio. He is a very wise old man, and he urges Antonio’s mother to take faith in God whenever she worries about her sons at war. After the visit, Antonio and his family settle at the home of Juan Lunas, another of Antonio’s uncles. While they are working at the harvest, Antonio overhears his uncles talking about him as their one remaining hope for a priest in the family. They decide to invite Antonio to stay with them for a summer to see if he can learn the ways of the Luna.

In the fall, Antonio starts going to school for the first time. He is extremely nervous on his first day, but his parents argue with each other instead of quelling his fears. Antonio’s father reiterates that Antonio has Marez blood, while Antonio’s mother continues to declare fiercely that he will follow his Luna ancestry. She reminds her husband that, when Antonio was a baby and Ultima offered him all of the objects of life, he reached for the pen and paper. Before Antonio leaves, his mother asks Ultima to tell her what Antonio will be when he grows up. Ultima replies sadly that Antonio will be a man of learning. Triumphantly, Antonio’s mother quickly pushes him out the door and on his way to school. As Antonio leaves his house, he feels as if he is seeing Ultima and his parents the way they are for the last time.

Once he reaches the schoolyard, Antonio finds his way to the first grade classroom with some difficulty. Miss Maestas, the first grade teacher, is very nice to Antonio and sets about immediately teaching him how to write. Antonio is intrigued by the magic of letters and works so hard that he is able to write his name by lunchtime. Then, Miss Maestas brings him to the front of the room and introduces him in English to the rest of the class, but the other children laugh at him. Antonio feels even more isolated when he takes out his lunch and notices that all of the other children have sandwiches instead of his beans and tortillas. Ashamed, Antonio sneaks his lunch to the back of the school building and eats silently with George and Willy, two other boys from his town who can share with his sadness and isolation.

At the beginning of Chapter 7, the war has finally ended. All of the teachers at Antonio’s school are very happy, but none of the other children seem to be particularly excited. Only Antonio is happy because he knows that the end of the war means that his three older brothers will finally be returning home. Antonio’s mother is very excited and joyous that her sons are returning home safely and sets the family at prayer for the evening. They pray for such a long time that Antonio and his sisters fall asleep.

While he is asleep, Antonio dreams that he hears the voices of his brothers calling to him by the river. He cannot see them but he hears their voices and tries to find them. Antonio turns in his dream and discovers three looming shapes behind him and, awakening with a start, runs outside to greet his three brothers who have just come over the crest of the hill next to their house. Antonio’s mother cries for a long time, and Antonio’s father opens a bottle of whiskey to celebrate, happily reminding his sons that they can now start thinking about moving to California.

Analysis:

In these chapters, Antonio is still extremely preoccupied with Lupito’s death and his questions of sin and punishment. The Virgin of Guadalupe is his favorite saint because he associates her with forgiveness and purity. Yet, Antonio is unable to understand how the Virgin could coexist with God if she always forgives sinners and He always punishes sinners. When Antonio dreams of the Virgin wearing mourning for him, he is expressing his own fear that he is sinful instead of good. Indeed, Antonio, as a child, embraces the literalism of religion, finding himself trapped in its inherent contradictions, while still attempting to be faithful to it. Anaya's tone here is neither judgmental nor satiric - simply reflective of a young child's exploratory confusion.

At this point in the novel, Antonio also begins to develop a spiritual relationship with the plants and herbs through Ultima’s help. His relationship with her strengthens, and he begins to strive to imitate her walk and wisdom. Not only does Ultima teach Antonio about the local plant life, but she introduces him to the cultures and beliefs that defined earlier people, such as the Aztecs and the Moors. Ultima is trying to help Antonio to become grounded in his past and other cultures in an effort to help him forge his own identity. Only if this identity is strong will he be able to survive the gulf in expectations between his own innate desires and those of his family for him.

When Antonio goes to El Puerto to help with the Luna harvest, however, he is immediately thrust back into the pressure of the expectations of his family. His Luna uncles describe him as the one last hope for a priest in their family, and Antonio cannot help but feel the obligation to follow their path. Since his brothers have proven to be too Marez in blood to be a Luna, Antonio is expected to make up for their shortcomings; in other words, the Lunas feel that they are owed one of Maria’s sons and, since the elder three have resisted, Antonio is the only remaining possibility for them. This conflict also highlights Antonio’s understanding that his brothers may have already lost of innocence when his Luna uncles assert that Antonio is the only brother not yet “lost.”

On Antonio’s first day of school, Antonio’s mother finally receives the evidence that she needs to fulfill her dream that Antonio will be a priest when Ultima admits that Antonio will be a man of learning. However, Ultima does not necessarily mean that Antonio will be a priest. Over the course of the novel, both she and Antonio’s father make the claim that individual’s learn and grow from their life experiences. With that in mind, every person becomes a “man of learning” if he or she grows from their experiences. Ultima’s sadness at this fact could relate to the particular life experiences that are teaching Antonio. Instead of warm and happy life experiences, Antonio is being exposed to death and sadness; paradoxically, becoming a man of learning means that he must be exposed to the harshness of life.

The ending of the war is extremely significant for Antonio and his parents because it means that the entire family will finally be reunited again. In his dream, Antonio sees his brothers as giant figures who ask for his “saving hand.” Antonio is clearly unwilling to give up his idealized vision of his brothers, even with the suggestion that they have already lost their innocence. The fact that the giants are “dying” demonstrates that Antonio’s effort to maintain this vision of his brothers will be unsuccessful. It also suggests that his brothers will be unable to come back to their old lives in Guadalupe; the war has changed them too much, and they must move on in order to stay alive.

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