Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 1
Bless Me, Ultima is narrated by a young Mexican-American boy named Antonio (Tony), who lives with his Spanish-speaking Catholic family in the small New Mexican town of Guadalupe. The time is during World War II. Antonio’s three brothers are serving in the war; his two older sisters, Deborah and Theresa, live at home.
Antonio is nearly seven years old when Ultima, a wise old woman and long-time family friend, comes to live with them. She is a curandera, a woman who is able to heal the sick through her knowledge of herbs and ancient cures. She can even lift curses laid by witches. Antonio is excited by her arrival, and when he meets her he knows that she holds the secret of his destiny.
The first chapter introduces Ultima and also lays out one of the basic conflicts in the story. This is between the two sides of the family. Gabriel, Antonio’s father, is a Marez. The Marez are restless, wandering, free-spirited men who come from the llano (a Spanish word meaning plain). Antonio’s mother, Maria, comes from a family of farmers who have lived in the river valley for generations. They are rooted in the earth. There is always tension between these two sides of the family, as Antonio’s dream vividly shows. Antonio will eventually have to choose which side of the family he wants to identify with.
This chapter also introduces the symbol of the owl. The owl is associated with Ultima and shows her kinship with the natural world.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 2
Ultima teaches Antonio the names of plants and flowers and trees and birds. He learns from her the beauty of the natural world and the fact that his spirit shares in the spirit of all things.
The peace of the house is shattered one night when a man named Chávez arrives, yelling that his brother the sheriff has been murdered. He tells Antonio’s father to get his rifle and head for the bridge over the river where the killer, Lupito, is hiding. Lupito is a World War II veteran whose mental balance has been upset by his war experiences. Antonio follows them. After some turmoil and confusion, during which Antonio comes very close to Lupito in his hiding place, Lupito is killed by gunfire from the men of the town. Antonio is deeply troubled by this. He is being raised in a Catholic family, and he wonders what will now happen to Lupito’s soul. His fear vanishes when he hears Ultima’s owl hooting, and realizes that the owl has been with him all night. That night he has a dream about his three brothers, who say they are going to travel with their father, while Antonio must stay at home and become a farmer-priest to please his mother.
Chapter 2 Analysis
This chapter gives insight into Antonio’s personality. Under Ultima’s guidance, he reveals himself to be sensitive not only to the wonders of nature but also to its mysterious spirit. He can sense, for example, the presence of the river. He also possesses innate curiosity, especially about religious and spiritual matters. The incident involving Lupito is traumatic for him. It is his first encounter with death, and represents the first loss of innocence in his child’s world. After Lupito’s death Antonio begins to ask questions about good and evil, and about God and forgiveness. His quest for answers to these vital questions continues throughout the novel.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 3
The next morning, still pondering the fate of Lupito’s soul, Antonio speculates about hell and Purgatory and the forgiveness of God. He knows that the men who shot Lupito committed a dreadful sin. Still puzzling over these matters, he goes with his family to morning mass. The church is the biggest building he has ever seen. Before mass begins, he goes to the side of the church where his friends hang around. These are Ernie, Horse, Bones, Samuel, Lloyd, the Vitamin Kid, Florence, and Abel. Most of them are several years older than Antonio, who has not yet begun to attend school. The boys indulge in horseplay and discuss the events of the previous night. Antonio succeeds in throwing Horse to the ground in a wrestling match. Horse does not mind too much, and that day Antonio becomes a real member of their gang.
Chapter 3 Analysis
The conflict between Antonio’s mother and father is prominent again, when Antonio describes their Sunday morning arguments. Gabriel is not reconciled to leaving the llano and working on the highways in Guadalupe, and he blames his wife because she is from a farming family. He thinks that is why she keeps him shackled to one piece of land. The parents also disagree over religion. Antonio’s mother is a staunch Catholic who wants her youngest son to become a priest, but her husband is not much of a believer and holds a low opinion of priests.
This chapter also contains an example of what is called foreshadowing. Foreshadowing occurs when an author creates expectations or sets up an explanation of later developments. In this chapter, there is a moment that foreshadows later events. It happens when the family goes to church. People they pass on the way remark nervously about Ultima, knowing she is a curandera. One voice utters the word bruja (witch) about Ultima. This accusation will later prove central to the unfolding of the plot. Its unobtrusive appearance here helps to prepare the reader.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 4
In the late summer, on their morning walks in the llano, Antonio continues to learn from Ultima about plants and their spirits. With this knowledge he feels that he becomes part of the life that teems around him.
Ultima explains why the two sides of his family are so different. It is the nature of the Lunas, his mother’s family, to be quiet, but the Marez have to be restless because of the wild blood that flows in their veins. After that they are silent for a long time, and then gradually the silence begins to speak to him. He becomes attuned to the mysterious presence of the river.
After supper, the family prays the rosary. Antonio feels great devotion to the Virgin Mary, in part because she forgives everything, whereas God does not always forgive. God made laws and has the power to punish if those laws are broken. That night Antonio has another vivid dream, this time of the Virgin. He wakes up screaming when he sees that the Virgin is in mourning for him. Ultima comforts him.
Chapter 4 Analysis
After Ultima describes the enormous differences between the two sides of his family, Antonio becomes fully aware that one day he must make a choice-will he be his mother’s priest or his father’s son? But there is also another conflict emerging in seed form in this chapter, one that he is not yet aware of. Antonio is being brought up as a Catholic, but he is also being exposed to the spirituality practiced by Ultima, in which everything, even the nonhuman world, has a spirit. All individual spirits share in the one spirit that animates the whole of creation. This is not exactly a Christian teaching, and Antonio will soon become much more aware of an alternative spirituality that is very attractive to him.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 5
Tony and the rest of the family go to stay with his uncle Pedro in El Puerto, ten miles down the valley. Pedro is a farmer, and is Antonio’s favorite uncle. First they visit Prudencio, Antonio’s grandfather on his mother’s side. Antonio enjoys his stay there at harvest time. He overhears his mother saying that she hopes he becomes a priest, and at night he feels safe and protected.
Chapter 5 Analysis
This chapter gives a picture of life among the relatives of Antonio’s mother, the Lunas. It is a happy, settled life lived close to the land. The last three short paragraphs give a picture of the different worlds which Antonio will gradually come to understand more of-the dancing of the witches, the cries of the owl (which represents Ultima’s spirit), and the dark blue sky seen as the gown of the Virgin. Pagan and Christian elements are juxtaposed here.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 6
Antonio has his first day of school. Before leaving, his mother makes him kneel for a blessing from Ultima; all the family join him in kneeling. When Ultima places her hand on his head, he feels a great force, like a whirlwind. Ultima tells his mother that he will be a man of learning, which is what she most desires. Antonio walks to school and finds it much bigger than he had expected. He feels afraid. A kindly red-haired boy named Red shows him to his first grade teacher, Miss Maestas. He tells her that he cannot speak English. She writes his name out in a book and he then sits in a corner of the room and copies it out many times. By noon he can write his own name. But the other boy and girls laugh and point at him, especially when he eats the lunch of hot beans and green chile that his mother packed. In contrast, the other children have sandwiches with bread. Antonio sneaks out the room to eat on his own. He is almost in tears and feels like an outcast. He wants to run away and never come back. But then meets two bigger boys, George and Willy, who are also from farms, and he forms a bond with them.
Chapter 6 Analysis
In the broader context of the coming-of-age story, this chapter serves as an initiation scene. It is Antonio’s first separation from his parents, and his first day in school is a difficult one. There are hints of class divisions and perhaps ethnic divisions also between the children. Antonio finds out that the world beyond his home is not always a friendly place.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 7
The war is over and Antonio eagerly awaits the return of his three brothers, Andrew, Leon and Eugene. It is an exciting reunion, and Antonio’s father revives his dream of moving to California in a few months’ time. It is clear, however, that his sons do not share his enthusiasm. Antonio’s mother is thrilled at being able to look after her sons again.
Chapter 7 Analysis
There is not much to disturb the happiness of this family reunion, but the hint that the brothers do not share their father’s wish that they move with him to California suggests the theme of generational conflict that will emerge in the following chapter.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 8
By the following spring, all the sons have grown restless. They spend their time aimlessly, sleeping during the day and going into the town at night. Leon has bad dreams about the war. They accumulate gambling debts and one day decide they have to leave town. Gene takes the lead and Leon, even though he is older, follows along. Andrew is more independent. They discuss possibilities: maybe they could move to Las Vegas, or Sante Fe, or even Denver. Andrew tests them out regarding their father’s dream of moving to California and their mother’s desire to live along the river valley, where her family is. Gene says that they have to live their own dreams, not those of their parents. Besides, their parents will still have Tony (he is often called by this abbreviation now). They tease Tony about being their mother’s priest, and when he says he will bless them, they playfully spank him.
Chapter 8 Analysis
The conflict between generations is now apparent. When the brothers return, their parents think that all will be the same as it was before, but this cannot be. The young want to live their own lives. The war has changed them. This episode is also a sign of the social changes that began slowly after World War II: a loosening of the close-knit Mexican-American communities in New Mexico and other places in the southwest as new employment opportunities opened up in the large cities.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 9
Antonio has a disturbing dream in which he sees his brothers entering Rosie’s house, which is a house of prostitution. He begs Andrew not to enter. Andrew replies that he will not enter until Antonio loses his innocence. Antonio protests that innocence is forever. His mother, in the dream, tells him that he will lose innocence at his first communion, for then he will understand good and evil. Ultima appears and gives him a mystical answer, saying that innocence resides in the land of his birth. But this does not satisfy him.
When Tony wakes he hears the argument going on downstairs. Leon and Eugene have told their father of their plans. They do not want to go to California with him. They prefer to go to Santa Fe and live their own lives. Andrew, however, decides to take a job in town and remain living at home. He also decides to try and complete his high school education.
Tony wonders about his own future. It is the end of the school year and he has learned to read and write. He is allowed to skip second grade and go straight to third grade.
As the vacation begins, Tony goes fishing for catfish with his friend Samuel at the River of the Carp. They do not fish for carp, since that is considered bad luck. Samuel tells Tony a story: a long time ago the people who lived there were forbidden by the gods to catch carp, since the carp was a sacred fish. But then there was a forty-year drought, and because of the failure of crops, the people were forced to catch and eat carp. The gods punished them by turning them into carp and making them live in the river forever. It is therefore a sin to catch carp and a worse sin to eat one. Samuel also tells a story that the golden carp was formerly a god who took pity on his people and asked to be turned into a carp so he could swim in the river and take care of them. The idea that the golden carp is a god shocks and confuses Tony, since he had been taught to believe that Jesus was God. And what about the Virgin? Could it be that his mother is praying to the wrong God?
Chapter 9 Analysis
Tony’s world is rocked by his first exposure to pagan myths. The myth of the golden carp presents him with ideas that are very different from the Christian doctrines he is being raised to believe in. Tony does not know what to believe since the two versions of reality seem to be in conflict with each other. True to his nature, he never ceases to ask questions about where the truth really lies.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 10
In the summer there is a crucial event in young Antonio’s life. His uncle Lucas has been sick since the winter and is now dying. The local people believe that a bruja has put a curse on him. The story is that Lucas observed three witches performing a dance to the devil, and that was why they cursed him. The witches are the daughters of a man named Tenorio.
Doctors cannot cure Lucas, and the priest’s attempt to exorcise the curse has failed. The family therefore decides to ask Ultima for help. She insists on taking Antonio with her to effect the cure. When they arrive at the house, Ultima tells Antonio’s grandfather that she can cure Lucas. They agree on a fee of forty dollars. But before she starts work, Ultima says she must confront Tenorio. She and Antonio go up the street to the saloon. Tenorio speaks aggressively to Ultima and tries to intimidate her. She demands that he tell his daughters to lift the curse. She knows how they did it. Tenorio is the town barber, and after he had cut Lucas’s hair, Tenorio’s daughters gathered up the cut hair and used it to create the curse. Tenorio threatens Ultima, but she stands her ground. She says the daughters will face consequences because they tampered with fate. She then leaves the saloon.
Back at the house, Ultima begins her cure. Lucas is thin and looks almost dead. Ultima bathes him. She tells Antonio that the cure will be difficult. She mixes up some herbs and roots and forces it down Lucas’s throat. He groans in pain and convulses, but finally sleeps.
Ultima tells Antonio that good is always stronger than evil. Soon the evil daughters will be regretting what they did. Outside, they hear the sound of Ultima’s owl as it attacks the marauding coyotes. But Antonio is confused. He wonders whether Ultima’s magic is stronger than that of the doctors and the church, since they failed to cure his uncle.
Ultima gives Lucas more medicine, and Tony seems to feel his uncle’s pain as if it were his own. He loses track of time. Eventually, the death spirit in his uncle is defeated, but he still has to vomit the evil spirit out of his body. Ultima makes three dolls out of clay that resemble three women and sticks pins in them. Finally, Lucas vomits green bile and a huge ball of hair. It is his own hair that was used to curse him. The curse has been defeated. The cure has taken three days.
Ultima wraps up the hair ball and the soiled linen, and takes it to the exact place where the curse was uttered and burns it.
Chapter 10 Analysis
This chapter is really the centerpiece of the book, since it brings into clear focus the theme of good magic versus evil magic. It shows the persistence of these pagan beliefs and practices alongside the Catholic Christianity that dominates the Mexican-American community. The two belief systems are at least partially integrated, however, since the evil magic is considered in Christian thought to be the work of the Devil. But the “white magic” of Ultima is outside the Christian framework. Ultima does not perform her miracles in the name of Christ; the local church will not even allow the family to ask for Ultima’s help. They do not want people to put their faith in a curandera, but only in the teachings of the church.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 11
Tony is fishing by the river, when Cico arrives. Cico agrees to take Tony and show him the golden carp, but only if he agrees never to catch carp. Tony swears he never will. On their way they pass the house of Narciso, and Tony marvels at the beautiful garden there. They encounter some of Tony’s friends on the street and they tease him, asking him whether he has a bruja in his house, since they have heard of the miraculous healing that Ultima performed.
Cico and Antonio sit by a large pond waiting for the golden carp to appear. When it does, Tony is amazed by its size and beauty. He watches in awe and feels he has witnessed a pagan god. After the carp disappears, a black bass breaks the surface of the water. Cico throws a spear at it but misses. Cico tells Tony that the golden carp swims back up to the lakes of the Mermaid, the Hidden Lakes, which have a mysterious power. Tony must never to go there, because it is dangerous. Cico also tells Tony that the golden carp will one day rule the land. This is because the sins of the people will become so great that the town will collapse and be swallowed by water. He explains that the town is surrounded by the river and the creek, and underneath it is a large underground lake.
Tony is saddened by his new knowledge. At night he has a dream about the baptismal waters of Christianity (associated with the moon) and the natural waters of the sea, which belong to the pagan world. He does not know which he belongs to, and his parents are in dispute over it. There is a storm and he fears that the doom that Chico predicted is about to happen. Then Ultima stills the storm and explains that there is no conflict between the two kinds of waters. Everything is interconnected as one.
Chapter 11 Analysis
Tony’s exposure to pagan myths continues, and his encounter with the golden carp only fuels his vivid imagination still further. His dream, at the end of the chapter, shows how much his mind is troubled by what he feels are contradictions in the belief systems he is being presented with-Catholic Christianity on the one hand, and a radically different kind of pagan myth-based religion on the other. (Although they are different, they do both make use of the concept of sin, and the flood that is to precede the rule of the golden carp echoes the flood recorded in the book of Genesis, when God punishes man for his sins.)
Ultima’s resolution of the problem is in keeping with her earlier teachings to Tony of the oneness of all things. To her, there is no conflict between the pagan and the Christian views; they are just different aspects of the same one reality, which is the sacredness of all life. But Ultima speaks this truth only in Tony’s dream. Her advice to him in reality is that he must find his own truth. This truth is what he continually searches for as the novel continues.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 12
One day in late summer Narciso bursts into the Marez family home. He has come to warn Ultima that Tenorio’s daughter has died and that Tenorio blames Ultima and is coming to kill her. Tenorio is calling her a witch. Tony’s mother says they must all flee, but Ultima says they should not run from the truth.
There is the sound of a gunshot and several men carrying burning torches surround the house. Tenorio appears, but Gabriel, Antonio’s father, stands his ground and pushes Tenorio away. But the other men still advance, saying they have proof that Ultima’s curse killed Tenorio’s daughter. Narciso intervenes, telling the men that they are shaming their good names by acting in this way and associating with Tenorio. Narciso acknowledges they have a right to charge someone with witchcraft, and says there is a very simple test to discover whether the charges are true. He takes needles from the lip of one of the men (who has placed them there to protect him against a curse). He establishes that they are “holy needles,” blessed by a priest. Then he pins them to the door in the form of a cross. A witch will not be able to walk past them. The men agree to abide by the test. As Ultima comes forward and Tenorio directly accuses her of being a witch, Ultima’s owl swoops down on Tenorio and plucks out one of his eyes. Ultima steps past the door. She has passed the test. Tenorio curses her and says he will see her dead. He also vows to kill Narciso.
Chapter 12 Analysis
As in previous chapters, there is here an intermingling of ancient superstitions and Christianity: the “holy” needles pinned to the door, which a witch cannot pass; the owl that defends Ultima. The chapter also shows the author’s schematic method of characterization. Some characters, such as Tenorio, are completely bad; there is no redeeming quality in them. Others are completely good. In the latter category is Narciso, who acts in this chapter with courage and integrity. The enmity between these two characters is the vehicle that carries one of the main themes of the novel, good versus evil.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 13
The next day the family departs for the village of El Puerto, where Tony’s relatives on his mother’s side live. There is great excitement there, since everyone has heard what happened to Tenorio. The next day they watch the funeral procession for Tenorio’s daughter. It is led by Tenorio on horseback, followed by a horse-drawn wagon that contains the coffin. But when the procession reaches the church, the priest refuses to say the mass for the dead or allow a burial on holy ground. The procession turns around. Tenorio’s daughter will have to be buried in unholy ground. And without the having the mass said, her soul, according to Catholic doctrine, will be damned.
Chapter 13 Analysis
This brief chapter gives more insight into the local beliefs about witchcraft and its rituals. Much of this is directly opposite to Christian ritual. The night before the funeral, for example, the witches read from their Black Book; they burn sulfur instead of incense; they kill a rooster and spread his blood on the dead body (perhaps in a perverse mockery of the Christian Eucharist). All this is done so that the devil will come and sleep with the corpse before it is buried.
These details serve to build up the theme of evil in the novel, and the chapter as a whole ratchets up the tension of the overall situation, since Tenorio still vows to have revenge on Ultima. This anticipates the final showdown in the last chapter.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 14
In the fall, Tony sets off for school with Andrew. He is about to begin third grade, where his teacher will be Miss Violet. His friends tease him about Ultima, but he shows he is willing to fight, and after that they leave him alone. Just before Christmas vacation, the children prepare to perform a nativity play. But the night before the performance there is a blizzard. The following day many of the kids, including all the girls, stay at home, but Tony and all his boisterous friends are there. So the play goes ahead. Much to his embarrassment, Horse has to play the Virgin Mary. Tony plays Joseph. The performance, in front of the entire school, is a complete disaster because the boys in the performance misbehave and do not keep to their assigned roles. Even Miss Violet has to laugh.
In the afternoon, Tony walks home in a snowstorm. As he passes the saloon, Tenorio and Narciso tumble out. They are fighting. Tony watches the savage fight in horror. The bartender and two other men have to separate the two men. Tenorio repeats that he is going to kill Ultima, and that he will also kill Narciso if he is in the way. Narciso runs off to warn Andrew. He goes to Rosie’s house, where the loose women live. Tony wonders why he goes there, and then gets the shock of his life when he sees Andrew in the house with his arm around a young girl who is dressed only in a loose robe. Narciso warns Andrew of the danger from Tenorio, but Andrew does not take him seriously.
Narciso decides to go directly to Ultima to warn her. Antonio follows him. Tenorio ambushes Narciso and shoots him. The two men fight, and Tenorio shoots Narciso a second time. He then aims the gun at Tony and pulls the trigger, but the gun does not fire. The dying Narciso asks Tony to pray for him, and then to accept his confession. After Narciso’s death, Tony runs home and tells his story. His family puts him to bed and he becomes ill from his exposure to the bad weather. During the night he has nightmares about Andrew and the girl he saw him with at Rosie’s. In the dream, they both go to Hell. Tony asks God to forgive them and to forgive Narciso. God replies that he will only do so if Tony asks him to forgive Tenorio as well. Tony thinks this is not fair and wants Tenorio punished. Later in the dream, Tony’s three brothers appear as tortured spirits and beg him to help them; then the three Trementina sisters wreak their vengeance on Tony, and the wicked people kill his family and Ultima. But after the evil people fish for carp and eat what they catch, the waters rise up and destroy everything, and the golden carp rules.
Chapter 14 Analysis
After the serious matters presented in the previous two chapters, the first part of this chapter, which describes the farcical performance of the nativity play, comes as welcome comic relief. But the serious action and the tension soon return. Tony’s discovery of his brother Andrew at the brothel marks another stage in his loss of innocence. And in the aftermath of the murder of Narciso, Tony continues to struggle with problems of religion as he tries to understand the nature of forgiveness and justice. His vivid dream shows that he is deeply troubled by the recent events in all aspects of his life.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 15
Tony lies in bed with pneumonia. In town, Narciso’s death is ruled an accident or suicide. Tony keeps Andrew’s secret about being seen at Rosie’s house. A few days after Christmas, Leon and Eugene return from Las Vegas. They have been in a car wreck but are unharmed. They only stay for a few days. When they leave they take Andrew with them and head for Santa Fe.
Chapter 15 Analysis
The sub-theme of generational conflict returns. Gabriel’s sons have their own destinies to pursue and care nothing for his dreams. The departure of Andrew, who had tried to stay loyal to the family and remain at home, shows how hard it is for the young to resist the call to adventure.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 16
Tony returns to school. He feels older than his friends and keeps to himself as much as possible. He wonders why God allows such injustices in the world as to allow Narciso to be killed and Tenorio to go unpunished. He prays to God for answers. He also prays to the Virgin, because he feels that she listens to him.
Tony returns to school. He feels older than his friends and keeps to himself as much as possible. He wonders why God allows such injustices in the world as to allow Narciso to be killed and Tenorio to go unpunished. He prays to God for answers. He also prays to the Virgin, because he feels that she listens to him.
One day, on his way home from school, he encounters Tenorio. Tenorio says that his second daughter is dying from Ultima’s curse, and he is determined to destroy the witch. Tony is defiant and calls him a murderer. He goes home and tells Ultima what happened. She tells him not to worry; she is not scared by Tenorio’s threats.
Chapter 16 Analysis
This very short chapter continues the theme of Tony’s religious questioning, and further develops the confrontation between good and evil.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 17
Tony learns his catechism and prepares for his first communion, under the direction of Father Byrnes. Tony hopes that when he takes communion all his questions about the ways of God will be answered. He debates with his friend Florence, who does not believe in God. The discussion make them late for Father Byrnes’s class. Florence is punished for being late, but Tony is excused. The priest teaches them about sin and hell, and gives them a vivid picture of what eternity means for those who are damned.
Chapter 17 Analysis
The characterization of Florence is developed. As a boy who does not believe in God, he acts as a foil for the highly religious Tony. (A foil is a character who sets off another by contrast.) The seriousness of the discussion between Tony and Florence is followed by Father Byrnes’s somber teaching, but the feisty irreverence shown by Bones and Horse provides the reader with some welcome comic moments.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 18
Tony’s passionate interest in religion continues. He is concerned about the salvation of the soul and worries that his atheist friend Florence will go to hell. Tony and his friends attend the ritual of the Stations of the Cross. They get through the final week of catechism lessons and take a test. The boys quarrel following a mock-confession in which Tony acts as priest. Florence and Tony get beaten up by Horse. Over Easter, Tony is taken to church for his first confession.
Chapter 18 Analysis
The saga of the education of a young Catholic continues. It is perhaps not surprising that the ultra-serious, priest-in-the-making Tony should be mercilessly teased by his less religious friends. The presence of Horse, Bones, and the others, who behave like normal boys do, is necessary for the novel, which otherwise would become weighed down by the seriousness of its themes.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 19
On Easter Sunday, Tony takes holy communion for the first time, with his friends Bones, Horse, the Vitamin Kid and Lloyd. In a comic moment, the host (the transformed piece of bread) sticks to the roof of Bones’s mouth. As Tony receives and swallows his piece, he assumes he will now receive answers to all his religious questions. But God does not answer him. There is only silence.
Chapter 19 Analysis
For Tony, this immensely disappointing episode is another stage in his loss of childhood innocence. He is painfully learning that the ultimate questions about life are not so easily answered. He has a long road ahead of him to discover the answers for himself.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 20
After Easter, Tony goes regularly to confession and communion but he is not satisfied by the experience. He is searching for something, although he does not know what it is.
A man named Téllez, an old friend of Tony’s father, comes to Ultima for help. There are strange things going on in his house. Pots, pans and dishes are lifting themselves in the air and crashing about. Téllez believes a curse has been laid upon the house, but the priest has been unable to remove it. Tony’s father visits the house and sees the strange phenomena for himself. Ultima explains that a curse has been laid on the spirits of three Indians who were hanged by Téllez’s grandfather. They now haunt the house.
Ultima, Tony and Tony’s father go to Téllez’s ranch house to tackle the problem. As they enter the house a cloud passes overhead and darkens it. Téllez knows that this is the evil presence. There is a pounding noise on the roof. Then suddenly it stops, and the cloud moves away. But around the house now lie stones the size of melons, that have fallen from the sky onto the roof.
Ultima orders Gabriel to erect a wooden platform and pile juniper branches on it. Tony cuts the juniper branches. Ultima emerges from the house carrying three bundles, and asks that they be placed on the platform. Tony does not know what is in the bundles. Then on Ultima’s instructions, Gabriel sets fire to the platform. The fire burns until everything is turned to ashes. Ultima says the work is complete; the curse has been lifted.
Chapter 20 Analysis
This episode parallels the one recorded in chapter ten, when Ultima lifts a curse from Tony’s uncle Lucas and saves his life. Like that incident, this one shows the power of Ultima’s magic. It also serves to keep the theme of good versus evil fresh in the reader’s mind. Finally, it shows the mental growth of Tony’s father. Up to this point, he has been skeptical about religion, and has shown no interest in metaphysical questions. But when he sees for himself what the evil spirits are capable of, he willingly helps Ultima remove the curse.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 21
Tony still feels he is not in communication with God. Cico tells him that there are many gods. They see the golden carp again and decide to let Florence in on the secret. They go to the Blue Lake where they see Horse and the others frantically calling over to them. Horse and his friends have been swimming on the dangerous side of the lake. They tell Tony and Cico that Florence dived in and has not resurfaced. As the lifeguard approaches, Florence’s body floats to the surface. Efforts to revive him fail.
Chapter 21 Analysis
The death of Florence promises to raise more religious questions for Tony. Tony has now witnessed three deaths, that of Lupito, Narciso and now Florence. They all force him to ask questions about what happens to the soul after death. The dead men and boy died in completely different circumstances. Lupito was a murderer and therefore a sinner; Narciso was a good man who was murdered and made confession before he died. Florence was an atheist. What is the fate of the three souls? Tony has much to consider. He does not know the answers either, and often the official Catholic answers he is presented with do not satisfy him.
Bless Me Ultima Summary – Chapter 22
Shortly after Florence’s death, Tony dreams of the three people he has seen die: Lupito, Narciso, and Florence. He asks why he must be a witness to such violence. Florence gives him some answers that shake his faith. When he awakes, Ultima comforts him. She suggests to his parents that he should go to stay with his uncles at El Puerto for a rest. Throughout August he works in the fields and orchards, alongside his uncles and cousins. At night they sit out in the open and listen to stories. Tony becomes stronger inside, and his uncles are pleased with him.
One day his uncle Juan brings news of trouble. Tenorio’s second daughter has died, and he is calling for vengeance on Ultima. Uncle Pedro decides to go with Tony to Guadalupe immediately. He sends Tony to his grandfather’s to pack some clothes. On his way there, Tony is attacked by Tenorio who is on horseback. He manages to escape, but Tenorio shouts that he will get his vengeance that night. He says he will kill the owl that is the protective spirit of Ultima. Tony runs to warn her of the danger. He runs for miles and reaches home. Tenorio is already there, in the shadows. Ultima gives her owl a command, and it swoops on Tenorio, who manages to shoot and kill it. He then aims the gun at Tony, but before he can shoot, he is himself shot and killed by Uncle Pedro. Tony takes the dead owl to Ultima, who is lying on the bed. She is dying peacefully. She tells him to take the owl west to a forked juniper tree and bury it there. Tony asks for her blessing, and she blesses him. Then he follows the instructions she gave him and buries the owl.
Chapter 22 Analysis
Tony’s long quest for understanding reaches some kind of fulfilment in this final chapter. He learns from his father that understanding can only come with experience. God is not simply going to provide him with all the answers. He has grown stronger from his experiences over the previous two years, and this enables him to cope with the shock of Ultima’s death. He also decides that he does not want to reject any of the religious teachings he has learned about, and nor does he wish to choose one side of his family heritage over the other. Instead, he envisions a new religion that would be a synthesis of everything that he knows, including the pagan golden carp as well as the Christian God, as well as the llano (his heritage from his father) and the river valley (his heritage from his mother).
When the final confrontation between good and evil that has been brewing for a long time finally takes place, the scene resembles the episode in chapter 14, in which Tony also races to warn Ultima of the danger from Tenorio.
The novel ends on a thoroughly mystical note, as the owl is revealed to be Ultima’s spiritual guardian. This suggests the interpenetration of all things, even of the human and the nonhuman worlds.
It might appear as if evil triumphs, since Tenorio, although he is himself killed, succeeds in his desire to destroy Ultima. But Ultima knows that it is her time to die, so in that sense Tenorio has only helped to bring about the inevitable. Perhaps Tony can now meditate on the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans in the New Testament: “All things work together for good to them that love God?(Romans 8:28; King James version). This may be part of the wisdom toward which Tony is striving.