Bless Me, Ultima | Study Guide

Rudolfo A. Anaya

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Bless Me, Ultima | Chapters 12–13 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 12 (Doce)

Antonio's father, Gabriel, is taking his older sons' departure hard. He's drinking more to dull his conviction that his sons "had betrayed him" and had "forsaken their father." Yet he knows their Márez blood makes them restless. Gabriel wonders if Antonio's Luna blood may be a benefit, since it might make him stay close to home. Maria, too, misses her two sons but comforts herself that at least Andrew remains at home.

Antonio spends more time with Ultima learning about plants. He loves her stories and legends about his ancestors. One night he notices the three familiar clay figures on her shelf and asks about them, but Ultima tells him not to touch them. Ultima tells Antonio to stay away from Tenorio who "is a wicked man." Ultima takes off her scapula with a tiny pouch of herbs and puts it around Antonio's neck. She tells him to wear it for protection but to tell no one about it.

Antonio always enjoyed visits from his father's people from Las Pasturas. When they came to town to buy supplies they always visited his house. Then his father was happy. Antonio loved listening to the men's stories about their work and their travels. The best stories were about "the old days in Las Pasturas." They spoke of the traditional way of life of their vaquero ancestors. Some stories told how development destroyed their traditional way of life. The only people Maria liked from the llano were Ultima and Narciso.

Antonio's parents are discussing Narciso when the man himself bursts into the house. Muttering the name "Tenorio," Narciso falls to his knees before Ultima and tells her she must hide. Antonio hears the owl hoot a warning call, and then Narciso warns Ultima about Tenorio, who wants to kill her. One of Tenorio's daughters has died, and Tenorio blames Ultima and wants revenge. Narciso begs Ultima to hide, but she mutters, "It is too late." Narciso says Tenorio and a group of men who support him are on their way to "burn a witch"—Ultima. Maria agrees they should hide, but Ultima says no. Narciso says Tenorio claims he found Ultima's curandera bag under his dead daughter's bed. Without thinking, Antonio, who had been hiding and listening, jumps up and cries, "It cannot be ... because I have it." He shows the adults the scapula he's wearing.

Just then they all hear shots being fired outside and see the drunken men's burning torches. Tenorio calls Gabriel's name. The vigilantes have pins on their clothes in the shape of a cross. Tenorio says he has no quarrel with Gabriel, he "only want[s] the witch." Gabriel says the men are trespassing on his land. When Tenorio says Ultima "stands accused of witchcraft," Gabriel asks "who accuses her?" Tenorio then identifies himself. Gabriel goes outside and grabs Tenorio, calling him cabrón (bastard). Gabriel pushes Tenorio away. One of the vigilantes insists there is proof Ultima's curse killed Tenorio's daughter. The men make crosses out of branches and walk toward the house, but Gabriel refuses to give up Ultima, saying, "There is no witch here." The men start to chant "Give us the witch" over and over as they walk toward Gabriel's house.

Narciso emerges from the house holding a rifle. He asks what's happening and wonders why "are farmers out playing vigilantes." He tells the men they shame their good names by following the jodido Tenorio (fucking Tenorio). Narciso says Tenorio's daughter was an evil witch so the town is better off without her. Narciso agrees it is the custom for people to punish witchcraft, but he says the men are fools for getting drunk and following the evil Tenorio. Narciso tells the men to attach their pin crosses to Gabriel's front door. If Ultima is truly a witch, she'll be unable to cross the threshold. The men put their crosses on the door and promise to abide by the results of this test.

Ultima appears in the doorway and says, "Who ... accuses me?" Tenorio steps forward to repeat his accusation. Then Ultima's owl attacks Tenorio, flying at him and gouging out one of his eyes. Tenorio screams he is blinded. Then Ultima walks through the door, completely unaffected by the crosses on it. This proves she is not a witch. Her "power of la curandera was good," not evil. But Tenorio, crazed with drink and pain, puts a curse on Ultima and her owl. Then Tenorio and his men depart.

Chapter 13 (Trece)

The next day the family, with Gabriel, gets ready to go and help with the Lunas' harvest. The family learns Tenorio is in the hospital having his wound treated. They also discover the priest will not allow Tenorio's daughter inside the church for a funeral mass, nor will he allow her to be buried in holy ground. The whole family drives to the Luna brothers' farm.

Antonio is traveling in his uncle's truck. He asks his uncle why no one from the Luna family came to warn Antonio's family the night before. Uncle Pedro says, "We have not passed judgment on anyone," to which Antonio replies, "But you allowed Tenorio to pass judgment on Ultima" and notes Tenorio would have carried out this judgment if not for Narciso. After thinking a while, Uncle Pedro admits maybe he was afraid. He feels terrible because he'd not come to help Ultima even though she'd saved the life of his brother Lucas.

Everyone pitches in to bring in the harvest. It is a time for work, not for mitote (dancing). The hard work helps everybody forget the terrible incident with Tenorio. After the first day's work, the whole family sits around after dinner listening to Uncle Mateo. He says Tenorio's two living daughters are weaving a casket for their dead sister. Mateo describes the rituals of evil and black magic—the Devil worship—to be performed at the dead girl's funeral and burial. That night Antonio dreams of the Black Mass.

The next morning everyone in town is standing outside watching a cart carry the dead girl's body toward the church. Her two sisters are driving the cart, and Tenorio leads the procession on a horse. He has a dark patch over one eye. When the procession reaches the church the priest emerges but refuses the Trementinas entry. The atmosphere is tense because no one knows how Tenorio will react to being rebuffed. But Tenorio knows he's beaten. He and the cart turn around and leave the town. His daughter will be buried elsewhere. The townspeople know Tenorio "would no longer be able to hold them through fear." This rejection has weakened him.

By afternoon everyone is back at work bringing in the harvest. Uncle Juan takes Gabriel and Maria aside to make tentative plans for Antonio to spend the next summer working on the Luna brothers' farm. The Márez family returns to Guadalupe. Antonio remembers school will start soon.

Analysis

The incident with Tenorio and Ultima evokes the supernatural, particularly the difference between white and black magic. Tenorio lies to try to achieve his goal of killing Ultima. Antonio reveals the scapula—acting against his oath—to show Tenorio's so-called proof of Ultima's witchcraft is a lie. Yet a burning revenge spurs Tenorio's desire to destroy Ultima, and revenge seems to be the driving force behind most of the evil he does. Tenorio will not give up until he gets his revenge on Ultima, whom he blames "for his daughter's death." Notably, Tenorio's daughter's death may have been presaged by the decomposing clay doll Antonio noticed in Ultima's room (in the previous chapter). This might hint Ultima is fighting the Trementina sisters' black magic with some kind of black magic of her own.

There is no question the Trementina daughters practice black magic, but these chapters raise the question of exactly how white and benevolent all of Ultima's magic really is. She does beneficial things to help others, as exemplified by her curing Lucas. Yet she created and stuck pins in clay figures likely representing each of the three Trementina sisters, which seems more like black magic—which harms or kills others—than white magic. The reader might conclude Ultima most often practices white magic but is an adept in the darker arts. Perhaps the black magic she performs to harm and kill the Trementina witches might be excused because the girls are so evil.

The question of Ultima's magic is reinforced when, after Tenorio and the vigilantes leave Gabriel's house, Antonio sees the two needles that were stuck to the top of the door frame are now lying on the ground. Did someone break the cross they made, or did the needles simply fall? The implication here is Ultima broke the cross before stepping out of the house to make it easier for her to pass through the door. If so it's likely Ultima recognized she'd been practicing black magic against Tenorio's daughters. Thus Tenorio's accusations of witchcraft might have been true, at least in this case.

Narciso saves the day when he appeals to the people's traditional means of testing if someone is a witch. The "law by custom" is to have the accused walk through a door on which a cross (the pin cross) has been placed. Appealing to the traditional test for witchcraft appeases the vigilantes, even Tenorio, though his murderous hatred and thirst for revenge does not abate when Ultima seems to pass the test. In an earlier chapter, however, Ultima faced a crucifix without flinching. So perhaps only in this case, when she knows she's been practicing black magic, is Ultima susceptible to a crucifix's harm.

Ultima's owl protects her and those she cares for. It is possible the owl claws out Tenorio's eye as a distraction to allow Ultima to knock down the pin cross on the door so she can walk through it without feeling pain. Everyone present is looking at Tenorio and his wound when suddenly the men see Ultima had passed through the door. So it is certainly possible that she dislodged the cross from the door during the mayhem and was then able to walk through the door. Perhaps the owl, a symbol of the supernatural, does this terrible harm to Tenorio to protect Ultima and her supernatural powers—both white and black. Gouging out the eye may also indicate the owl partially blinds Tenorio to the full range of the magic powers Ultima possesses.

Tenorio places a curse on Ultima, but it's as yet unclear if he is also a witch or if he'll have his witch daughters cast the curse for him. Yet when Tenorio tells Ultima, "I curse you [and] I will see you dead," he clearly means to harm her—and mentioning a curse acknowledges he or his daughters are witches.

The black magic defining and ruling the Trementina family is clarified when the priest refuses to allow the dead Trementina girl into his church and denies her burial in the church graveyard. Tenorio's defeat in the face of the Church weakens him in the eyes of the populace, and he seems diminished as he leaves. Yet there is no indication this rejection and shame will dampen his revenge or the evil that he and his progeny do. It can be assumed his vengeful nature will only be fueled to greater ferocity by this shame.

Antonio is still obsessed by trying to understand divine justice and fairness. When he asks his Uncle Pedro why none of the Luna brothers came to warn Ultima the night before, the man admits he's a shameful coward. Yet he tries to justify his inaction by saying, "We live in harmony with the good and the bad. We have not passed judgment on anyone." When Antonio retorts, "But you allowed Tenorio to pass judgment on Ultima ... Is that fair?" he has cut right to the heart of the quandary passing judgment often involves. Antonio continually questions God for passing judgment on people, but here Antonio passes judgment on his uncle. So far in the novel Antonio seemed to equate fairness with forgiveness. Here he understands fairness also implies reciprocity. It is not fair for the Luna brothers to accept life-saving help from Ultima and then spout excuses about being nonjudgmental to avoid having to return the favor.

Antonio also wonders why the judgment of God/god seems always to lead to punishment. The Christian God punishes people who are sinners. "But why had the new god, the golden carp, chosen also to punish people? The old God did it already. Drowning or burning, the punishment was all the same. The soul was lost, unsafe, unsure, suffering—why couldn't there be a god who would never punish his people, a god who would be forgiving all of the time?" Antonio seems to be giving up on gods altogether because they all seem to be vengeful and unforgiving, demanding suffering (or damnation) for any sin. Antonio thinks "Perhaps the Virgin Mary was such a god?" because she was full of forgiveness, even forgiving those who killed her son. Antonio begins to think a female god might be the kind of deity he's looking for—one ruled by compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. It's clear Antonio is becoming disillusioned even with the golden carp—the deity who had filled him with such rapture and knowledge. Perhaps as he is maturing Antonio is beginning to create his own belief system with a deity who thinks as he does. Clearly, though, this is the thought process of an immature mind. The world is not fair, and both good and evil seem to be punished, or made to suffer. God/god is beyond understanding, and his/her judgment cannot be comprehended by humans. This may be the wisdom Antonio is moving toward.

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