Literature Study GuidesBless Me UltimaChapter 14 Catorce Summary

Bless Me, Ultima | Study Guide

Rudolfo A. Anaya

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Bless Me, Ultima | Chapter 14 (Catorce) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 14 (Catorce)

It's fall, and Antonio is returning to school. He meets his friends at the bridge and, as always, the Kid beats him in a race across it. Samuel is pleased to hear Antonio has seen the golden carp. Samuel tells Antonio to be careful because everyone in town has heard about Ultima's owl blinding Tenorio. Some people think Ultima is evil.

In the school playground Antonio chats and kids around with his friends. Ernie says Antonio isn't dumb because "he has a witch to help him." Some boys ask Antonio about his brother Andrew's frequent visits to Rosie's brothel. The boys want to hear how and why Ultima's owl blinded Tenorio. Antonio emphatically says Ultima is "a good woman." Ernie almost challenges Antonio to a fight, but Antonio stands by his assertion. A free-for-all breaks out, but Antonio holds his own.

The days grow colder and darker as winter approaches. Antonio falls into the school routine but looks forward to Christmas vacation. The students are rehearsing a Christmas play to be performed just before vacation. The night before the performance a fierce blizzard blows into the town. By the next day the town is blanketed in snow and ice. Antonio must go to school because he's in the play. Antonio leaves for school with Andrew, who is going to stop by his workplace.

On the way they meet Samuel, who tells them about a fight the previous night between Tenorio and Narciso. The barroom fight began when Tenorio cursed Ultima, then Narciso, then the whole town. Narciso rose to their defense. Samuel fears the enmity will end only "when blood is spilled."

The school is nearly empty as the blizzard kept most students at home. The girls in the play have also stayed home. Miss Violet, the teacher who is directing the play, suggests some boys can play the girls' parts. The boys object loudly but finally agree. As the time for the performance nears the boys put on their costumes. Problems keep cropping up. The head of the Christ child doll keeps falling off. Abel has to pee but is told there's no time. Horse has been cast as the Virgin Mary, but he's reluctant to play the part. Miss Violet gives Horse a veil to cover his face and promises him an A in class if he will play the Virgin.

The dress rehearsal is a disaster. Props and scenery keep falling down. Abel still has to go to the bathroom. Soon it's time to put on the play. The audience of students and teachers arrive. The play is a disaster. Props continue to fall. Abel pees in his pants, and the audience laughs. Somehow the boys manage to continue doing the play. When the audience recognizes Horse as the Virgin Mary hilarity ensues. Almost everything goes wrong. A fight breaks out between Ernie and Horse. Florence is knocked down and breaks the lightbulb as he falls. The stage is in darkness. Mercifully the play is soon over, and a student wishes the audience a Merry Christmas.

The boys help clear the stage of the fallen props. They can hear the blizzard getting stronger. The boys leave the school to head home, but the blizzard is raging. Antonio tells Miss Violet he'll be fine going home on his own. Antonio heads out into the strangely dark snowstorm. Just as Antonio is passing the saloon, Tenorio and Narciso come bursting out, Tenorio threatening Narciso's life. Antonio watches the fight. Blood flows from both men as they batter each other. The two curse each other viciously. Finally Tenorio has had enough, and he pulls away, calling Narciso "Borracho! Puto!" (Drunk! Whore!). Tenorio says another of his daughters is sick, and he again blames Ultima. Narciso calls Tenorio diablo (devil) and says Ultima must be warned about Tenorio's rage. Narciso decides Andrew should take her the warning. Antonio follows Narciso to Rosie's brothel. Antonio wants to run away, but he can't. He hears Rosie call Andrew's name, and Andrew comes to the door. Narciso tells Andrew about Tenorio's threat, but Andrew laughs it off. He says his father can take care of it. Narciso calls Andrew pendejo (asshole) as the door slams in his face.

Although he is very drunk, Narciso decides to warn Ultima himself. Antonio follows him "like a guardian shadow." But Antonio is tired and nearly frozen. He falls behind Narciso. Suddenly Antonio hears a gunshot, and he runs toward the sound. He sees Tenorio and Narciso wrestling and fighting in "a death-grip" beneath a juniper. Antonio realizes Tenorio had been waiting in ambush to kill Narciso. Antonio hears a second gunshot: Tenorio has shot Narciso. As Tenorio aims at Narciso's head, Antonio screams. Tenorio whirls around toward him and aims at Antonio's head, but the pistol does not fire. He curses Antonio and runs away.

Antonio goes to the dying Narciso and cradles his head in his hands. Narciso is bleeding badly. He knows he's dying and asks for a priest to make confession. There is no priest, so Antonio agrees to pray an Act of Contrition for the dying man. Then Antonio leans in and hears Narciso's whispered confession. As Antonio prays for his soul Narciso dies. Antonio remains with him, crying, and then he runs home. Ultima notices Narciso's blood on Antonio's hands. Antonio, nearly collapsing from exhaustion and the cold, tells them what happened. His father rushes off to Narciso while Antonio is put to bed. Antonio manages to tell Ultima about Narciso coming to warn her and says Tenorio shot and killed him.

Antonio is quite ill and has fevered dreams. In one dream he sees Andrew and a prostitute at Rosie's. In the dream Antonio begs God to forgive Andrew, but He will not. God says he'll forgive Narciso if Antonio also asks Him to forgive Tenorio. Antonio is confused but agrees to save Narciso's soul. The Virgin Mary appears and says Tenorio is saved and all men are forgiven. Antonio objects, saying Tenorio must be punished, and God laughs and points out Antonio is "caught in [his] own trap" by wanting Tenorio punished. Antonio begs to have his sins forgiven. The dreamscape shifts. Lupito's and Narciso's blood mingle in the river, and a mob seeks Ultima's blood, which will save them. Antonio sees his brothers being whipped and begging him to save them because of their sins. The dream changes, and Antonio sees the Trementina sisters dancing around him and vowing vengeance. Antonio imagines he has died with all his sins on his soul. He sees the witches put his friends in chains. He sees his home burnt to the ground. Ultima's owl is killed and she becomes powerless. The mob beheads her, drinks her blood, and burns her body. Then the mob goes to the river, catches a carp, and eats it. An earthquake shakes the town, and the church collapses. Then the waters surrounding the town begin to drown it and all of its people. Antonio's uncles arrive from El Puerto and find the ashes of Ultima and Antonio's family. They gather the ashes and take them to El Puerto for burial. Evening comes and the golden carp appears in the lake. The golden carp opens its mouth and swallows everything, both good and evil. The golden carp rises into the air and forms "a new sun [for] ... the earth."

Analysis

The different forces of the spiritual realm collide in the schoolyard and in the barroom. Some of Antonio's school friends talk of Ultima as a witch; they say it was black magic when her owl gouged out one of Tenorio's eyes. Antonio is impelled to fight some of the schoolyard toughs to defend Ultima's benevolent spirituality even though he does not know how to explain why her owl maimed Tenorio in such a horrible way.

Later in his fights with Narciso, Tenorio uses the language of black magic to curse Narciso and Ultima. It is unclear if Tenorio, like his daughters, engages in witchcraft and black magic. Perhaps they use their black magic for him. Even if he's not a witch, he clearly revels in evil. Perhaps Tenorio's evil is not a twisted form of spirituality at all but merely the actions of a man deranged by his penchant for violence and revenge.

Antonio feels intimations of evil when he's getting ready to leave for school. He senses everything will be changed when he comes home, and he's filled with misgivings about what these changes may be. Antonio's feelings foreshadow what is to come later in the chapter. The blizzard with its strange dark snow is another portent of impending evil. Ultima warns Antonio he should "take care of the evil in the wind." This evil will play its role in Narciso's murder.

The lethal enmity between Tenorio and Narciso is also presaged when Samuel says the two men had already had a vicious, bloody fight the previous evening. That fight, again over Tenorio's curse on Ultima, is just a preview of the fight they will have later, leading to Tenorio killing Narciso. Samuel understands how this hatred will play out when he says, "it will only end when blood is spilled."

Revenge is the primary instigator of the fights Tenorio starts with Narciso. Tenorio is bent on revenge for his second daughter, who has fallen ill. Tenorio blames Ultima for this illness, just as he blamed her for his first daughter's sickness and death. Narciso insists the daughters' witchcraft "started the evil," but Tenorio furiously denies it. Earlier Samuel correctly summed up the situation when he said, "the blood of a man thickens with the desire for revenge." Samuel predicts Tenorio must bleed as he seeks the blood of his enemies.

Antonio continues to struggle with finding his true identity. In the schoolyard Samuel tells him that being a priest is "the greatest calling" because "a priest is a man who cares for his people." Antonio, however, seems unconvinced. A maturing Antonio realizes his identity as an innocent is beginning to fall away from him. Antonio feels his innocence is well and truly lost when he follows Narciso to Rosie's to fetch Andrew. When Antonio sees Andrew with a whore on his arm he feels as if he had "already lost my innocence."

Antonio's loss of innocence—his sin—weighs on his soul because he thinks it puts his soul beyond redemption. God will judge Antonio's sinful experience. Antonio expects punishment for his sin; he has no hope of forgiveness when he sees Andrew at the brothel. Antonio's experience with the golden carp is another sin he is sure God will punish him for. Antonio had "seen evil, and so [he] carried the evil within [him]." He sees himself as a sinner now.

Antonio's certainty he's lost his innocence and become sinful in the eyes of God/god was foretold. In a dream, Andrew said he would not enter the brothel where Antonio lost his innocence. Since clearly Andrew was already in the brothel, the dream must mean Antonio has already become a sinner.

When Narciso is dying in Antonio's arms, Antonio somehow manages to re-identify as a person of God. His love for Narciso allows Antonio to say holy prayers for Narciso's soul. Antonio even takes on the role of confessor to hear Narciso's last words and allow him to die in peace.

Although Antonio didn't question why God condemned him as a sinner, he does question divine justice: Why did God allow Narciso to die? Antonio thinks it's unfair he died for doing a good deed. Antonio is still wrestling with life's unfairness and trying to figure out why an omnipotent God allows it. Antonio sinks into an agony of self-loathing because of his perceived sinfulness. He promises God never to sin again.

Dreams are illogical and difficult to interpret. The dream Antonio has in his fevered delirium depicts many of his concerns, beginning with forgiveness and sin. In the dream Antonio sees Andrew with a whore from Rosie's. Antonio asks God to forgive Andrew for his sin, but the wrathful Christian God says, "I am not a God of forgiveness." Antonio tries to bargain with God, saying he'll become a priest if only God will forgive Andrew. God replies "I can have no priest who has golden idols before him" meaning Antonio's experience with the golden carp has alienated him from God forever.

Offering a rather troubling bargain, the Lord says, "I will [forgive Narciso] ... if you also ask me to forgive Tenorio." Antonio is in an agony of uncertainty. His entire belief system regarding divine justice is turned on its head. Why would God, who says he does not forgive, offer forgiveness only if evil is forgiven first? The unfairness is staggering, yet it is an example of God's divine (and incomprehensible) justice. Antonio cannot bring himself to ask God to forgive Tenorio, so the Virgin says she will forgive him. Antonio has created an impossible situation for himself. He has always sought a deity who embodies mercy and forgiveness. Now he's found one, but he must reject Her because his sense of fairness requires Tenorio be punished. God laughs, saying, "You foolish boy ... don't you see you are caught in your own trap?" God accuses Antonio of forcing the Virgin to "taint her hands with the blood of vengeance." Yet vengeance is not for her: "Vengeance is Mine" God says.

Antonio sees the dream-blood of Narciso and Lupito flowing together because both are innocents—victims of Tenorio's evil. Then he sees the people demanding Ultima's blood as "the key to heaven" for them. Later in the dream the mob will murder Ultima in a horrible way and then drink her blood. These scenes likely depict the absolute ignorance and sinfulness of humans. Why would the populace recognize the goodness of Ultima's blood and then kill her and burn her body in a demented rage?

Antonio's fixation on sin and salvation is also portrayed in the enslavement and torture of his brothers who are chained by women very like the Trementina sisters. Antonio wants to help his brothers but he too is a sinner and so cannot alleviate their suffering. When Antonio is surrounded by the three evil sisters they demand his life to avenge their suffering. As he dies, Antonio feels abandoned by God. Did his sinfulness cause his death? Or is it more straightforwardly the witches' vengeance? In his death Antonio seeks "the face of God" but cannot find Him.

The dream-witches' killing of Antonio's friends is paradoxical. It's not known if the evil sisters' victims are more innocent than they are sinful. The evil sisters enchain them and condemn them to death. Why must the young people die at the hand of the evil sisters? If the people are to die because they are sinners, why isn't it God ("Vengeance is Mine") who destroys them? It's possible the people the sisters destroy are innocents. If so, the vision may reference the biblical slaughter of the innocents who are destroyed by those who do evil. Yet if those who are killed are sinners, it's odd Antonio would dream the greatest supernatural sinners (the witches) punish the lesser, mortal sinners.

The remaining townspeople become wholly sinful. They burn the town, kill Ultima and her owl, murder Antonio's family, and—in a final sinful act—eat carp from the river. Antonio's dream represents a kind of boundless orgy of sinfulness. Intent on eating the carp, the people do not notice when an earthquake shatters the town and waters flood it. This is the fulfillment of the golden carp's prophecy. It's possible Antonio envisions the apocalypse in this way to help him understand the depths of depravity and sinfulness of which people are capable. In earlier chapters he turned away from the golden carp because of its prophecy of doom and destruction. Perhaps now Antonio more fully understands why such punishments may be necessary.

In the end, the dream-golden carp swallows the town and all its good and evil. Yet there is the promise of renewal and sinless reincarnation. The golden carp will return all the ruined lives but in a new form. The golden carp's transformation into a new sun may foretell a new and sinless earth to come. In any case the dream sequence ends with the golden carp's divine justice promising the hope of sinless rebirth.

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