Bless Me, Ultima

Summary and Analysis of Chapters 8-10 (Ocho-Diez)

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The winter passes with the family all together, but Antonio senses that his brothers are beginning to feel restless. They spend the winter months in lethargic states, sleeping during the day and gambling at the pool hall at night. All of them are suffering from post-traumatic stress from their experiences in the war, and Leon, in particular, seems to be the most affected by the war sickness. Throughout the winter, Antonio’s father continues to bring up the possibility of moving to California, but none of Antonio’s brothers are responsive to the idea.

Once spring arrives, two of Antonio’s brothers, Leon and Eugene, decide that they can no longer stay in Guadalupe. They do not want to move to California with their father, but they also do not want to stay in Guadalupe and work on a highway for the rest of their lives. Andrew, the third brother, is more thoughtful and worries about how their parents will react to this decision. Yet, all three of them realize that their father’s dream of moving to California is impossible. Their mother’s dream, on the other hand, is still a possibility; Antonio can still become a priest for the Lunas. Antonio offers to bless his brothers before they leave, but they laugh at him and, after giving him a quick spanking, toss him on top of the chicken coop. As he sees his brothers walking down the hill in the direction of Rosie’s brothel, Antonio feels a great sadness and wishes that he could give them a true blessing.

That night, Antonio has another dream. His brothers lead him to Rosie’s brothel and beckon for him to enter with them. Antonio refuses to enter; if he is to be a priest, he must remain innocent of these sins. Antonio begs his brothers not to enter the house of sin, but Eugene and Leon both ignore him and enter. Andrew laughs at Antonio and promises that he will not enter until Antonio has lost his innocence. Antonio hears the voices of his mother and the priest exclaiming that innocence disappears with knowledge. Accompanied by a bolt of lightning, the figure of Ultima appears in the dream and declares that Antonio’s innocence lies in the lonely winds of the llano.

Antonio wakes from his dream to discover that his brothers are shouting at his parents downstairs. Leon and Eugene have decided to leave Guadalupe and, although Antonio’s parents try to persuade them to stay, they are both gone when Antonio wakes in the morning. Antonio’s mother blames the wildness of the Marez blood, and Antonio’s father realizes that he will never be able to fulfill his dream of moving to California. Andrew is the only one who has decided to stay, and he tells Antonio that he will study for his high school diploma and get a job in town.

Back at school, Antonio continues to excel in his studies and, by the end of the year, he has improved so much that he is promoted to the third grade. Thrilled at his success in school, Antonio decides to go fishing with Samuel before heading home. As they fish, Samuel tells Antonio the story of the golden carp. Many years ago, a people had lived in the land and enjoyed much prosperity. The only thing that the gods had forbidden for them to eat was the carp in the river. After forty years of drought, all of the plants in the land had died, and the people were forced to catch and eat the carp in the river to survive. The gods were so angry that they turned all of the people into carp and doomed them to live in the river for the rest of eternity. One of the gods took pity on his people and asked to be turned in a carp so that he could protect them. Antonio asks if the golden carp is still in the river, and Samuel tells him that, once the summer begins, his friend Cico will find Antonio and show him the golden carp to see for himself.

That summer, Antonio spends every day fishing by the river and waiting for Cico to find him and show him the golden carp. He hears rumors that his uncle Lucas has been cursed and, one morning, his uncle Pedro arrives to ask Ultima for help. According to Uncle Pedro, Lucas had interrupted the evil Trementina sisters while they were in the middle of the Black Mass. To punish him, they had cursed him with a terrible sickness, and he was now near death. Ultima warns Antonio’s parents that they could set a chain of events into motion if they ask her to cure Lucas but then agrees to take the case if Antonio will be her assistant.

Ultima and Antonio travel to El Puerto de los Lunas and arrive at a proper fee for the cure with Antonio’s grandfather. Ultima confronts Tenorio Trementina at his bar and warns him to tell his daughters to lift the curse on Lucas or face the consequences. On their way home, Antonio is nearly trampled by Tenorio on horseback, racing home to warn his daughters of Ultima’s involvement. Once back at the Luna farm, Ultima closes herself into Lucas’ room with Antonio and begins to treat Lucas, forcing a mixture of kerosene and herbs down his throat.

While Ultima is working on Lucas, the Trementina sisters attack the house in the form of coyotes but are chased away by Ultima’s owl. Antonio falls into a trance and begins to assume characteristics of Lucas’ illness; Ultima uses Antonio’s healthy body as a surrogate for his uncle’s weak body, making it easier to remove the curse. Ultima continues to give Lucas herbal remedies and then makes three clay dolls covered in wax to represent the Trementina sisters in a ritual to extricate the curse from Lucas. She sticks pins in the dolls, and Lucas vomits up green bile and a huge ball of squirming hair. When Lucas is able to eat a bowl of atole, Ultima pronounces him cured. On the way home, Ultima stops in the woods where the Trementina sisters performed their satanic rites and burns the evil ball of hair.

Analysis:

Antonio’s time at school becomes increasingly important as a way for him to mark his independence from his family. Not only is Antonio learning the magic of letters at school, he is making new friends and developing relationships with people outside of his parents. Characters like Samuel help Antonio begin to develop his own identity and start to explore ideas that he had never before considered. One such idea, prompted by Samuel’s story about the golden carp, is that Antonio’s mother might be worshipping the wrong god. Although Antonio is still closely connected to his family, his time at school sets him on his way to become a man of learning. Instead of just learning letters and numbers, however, Antonio is learning about new cultures, new people, and new faiths. He is also developing the ability to make his own decisions. Even a decision as small as choosing to go fishing with Samuel instead of going straight home is significant in this framework.

Antonio’s dream at the beginning of Chapter 9 emphasizes that he is still somewhat anxious about his future as a man of learning. In the dream, both Antonio’s mother and his priest inform him that he will lose his innocence as soon as he gains understanding. Antonio loves to learn and is enthusiastic about his progress at school, but, at the same time, he fears that his success in academics will go hand-in-hand with a loss of innocence.

In this dream Antonio also recognizes a relationship between physical pleasure and a loss of innocence. Because he might be a priest, Antonio believes that he must abstain from all physical pleasures, particularly those that would take place in Rosie’s brothel. His brothers argue that a priest is still a man with desires, but Antonio is unable to accept the idea. If he is to be a man of learning who learns from his experiences, Antonio fears that he will never be able to maintain his innocence and become a priest.

Andrew’s agreement to wait until Antonio has lost his innocence is also significant. While Antonio feels abandoned and confused by his other two brothers, as well as by his mother and his priest, he still is able to look up to Andrew as a model of adulthood. In Antonio’s eyes, Andrew is the only figure in his life that has been able to reconcile knowledge with innocence; he is the only brother who is not yet “lost.”

Antonio’s questions about sin and knowledge also translate into his questions about the golden carp and Catholicism. After Samuel’s description of the myth, Antonio begins to doubt aspects of Christianity for the first time. He wonders if his mother is completely accurate in her faith and begins to become more independent in his thinking. Antonio’s questions about Catholicism coincide with Ultima’s successful treatment of Uncle Lucas. Antonio is very cognizant of the failure of the priest to cure Uncle Lucas and doubts the efficacy of Christianity in the face of Ultima’s superior skill.

Antonio is further drawn into the world of superstition, healing, and pagan beliefs by his personal involvement in Ultima’s treatment. Antonio acts as a sort of medium for Ultima’s power and takes on his uncle’s symptoms in an effort to ground him in the Luna blood. Antonio’s spiritual nature is further suggested by his middle name, Juan, which is said to have many mystical associations in Mexican culture. Because Antonio has such a strong connection to this mystical culture, his nature is called into question. Just as Ultima is a combination of good and evil because of her blend of Catholic beliefs and ritualistic pagan actions, Antonio appears to be an amalgamation of both cultures. With this in mind, Antonio must reconcile both the conflicting cultures that surround his life and the conflicting cultures that make up his character.