Bless Me, Ultima | Study Guide

Rudolfo A. Anaya

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Bless Me, Ultima | Chapters 6–8 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 6 (Seis)

It is the first day of school, and Antonio is nervous about being away from his mother's protection. He is both excited and sad. At the breakfast table, Antonio's father talks about his dream of going to California. He complains about his current job repairing highways. Again, his parents argue about whose tradition is best. Gabriel longs for freedom. Maria once more voices her hope Antonio will becomes a priest and live like her brothers. Maria is glad ordinary people, and not just the ricos (rich), can afford to send their children to school. Antonio gets dressed for school; wearing shoes feels strange after spending the summer barefoot. Maria is proud of her son, saying, "He shall be a scholar." Beleaguered by his mother insisting he bring honor on the family, Antonio looks to Ultima for relief from this burden. But even Ultima's magic "could not save [him] now."

As Antonio and his sisters prepare to leave, Gabriel recalls his days of freedom on the plains, which lasted until the tejano (Texans) came and ruined the llano with fences, railroads, and highways. Still, he wishes Antonio suerte (luck) in school.

Before the children go, Maria asks Ultima to bless them. Antonio feels a whirlwind when Ultima touches his head. Antonio thinks about the whirlwind's evil spirits and wonders why he felt them when Ultima touched his head. Maria begs Ultima to tell her what Antonio will be when he grows up. Ultima says he'll be "a man of learning." Then the children depart.

On the way to school, the Vitamin Kid challenges Antonio to a race across the bridge. Antonio accepts the challenge; as usual, the Vitamin Kid wins easily.

At school Antonio must look for his teacher, Miss Maestas. Yet he's lost and bewildered by the crush of students at the school. A red-haired boy Antonio does not know touches his shoulder, and Antonio asks for the first-grade teacher. The boy guides him through the strange hallways to Miss Maestas's room. When Antonio enters she asks, "Como te llamas?" (What is your name?), and he tells her. Antonio is eager to learn the magic contained in letters. Miss Maestas writes his name on a piece of paper and has Antonio practice writing it. In a few hours he can write his name easily.

The first graders eat their lunch at their desks. The other children laugh at what Maria has packed for Antonio's lunch, but he doesn't know why. Then he sees they have sandwiches and he doesn't. Antonio feels sad and gets up to eat his lunch outside the school. He misses his mother so much he cannot eat. He wants to run away and never come back, but he knows he can't because it would shame his family. Then Antonio notices two other boys, George and Willy. Like him, they come from farm families. The three boys band together and find strength in their friendship. Eventually they find others like themselves. In time Antonio is no longer lonely at school.

Chapter 7 (Siete)

World War II has ended, and Antonio's brothers will be coming home. The eldest brother, Andrew, writes to say they'll soon be arriving in San Diego. Maria is ecstatic at her sons' return. She "thanked every saint she knew" for keeping them safe. In her ardor Maria has the family pray "until our faith passed into an exhaustion that numbed us to sleep." In his sleep Antonio has a dream. He is at the river when he hears a voice calling his name. The voice sounds like his brothers. He calls out to them, but they can't find him in the mist. The voices continue to call to him, saying they "are coming home to you." The voices tell Antonio they've seen the golden carp. Suddenly Antonio hears a loud crashing behind him. He turns and sees the huge figures of his brothers looming over him. Antonio screams and wakes up.

Then Antonio hears movement near the house. He runs outside and sees his brothers returned from the war. Each brother hugs Antonio with true feeling and remarks how much he's grown. Their mother embraces them with joy. Gabriel shakes each boy's hand and then gives each a manly abrazo (hug). Antonio "had never experienced such happiness as the homecoming" of his brothers.

While cooking a meal Maria breaks down in tears, crying out her former worries and now her relief and joy. She leads the family in yet another (thankfully short) prayer. At dinner Gabriel asks his sons to describe California; they seem indifferent to it. When Gabriel asks about the war, Léon says, "It was all right." Gabriel persists with his questions about California and its vineyards, but his elder sons are unresponsive. So Gabriel tells them of his dream of moving with them to California, but the "brothers glanced nervously at each other." After answering many questions from their parents, the brothers are ready to go to sleep.

As the days pass Maria cares for her returned sons "like a mother hen." Gabriel is "happy and full of life." Both parents seem to feel the boys' return is an answer to their individual prayers, or their ambitions. Meanwhile, Antonio's schooling helps him "unravel the mystery of the letters."

Chapter 8 (Ocho)

Spring has finally arrived, and the world is greening and blossoming. Maria is worried about how her three oldest sons have been spending their time: they sleep all day and carouse in town most of the night. She does not chastise them because she's so happy they're home. But the war has changed and damaged the brothers, especially Léon, who wakes up howling from nightmares.

One day when Antonio is feeding the rabbits he hears his brothers talking about "gett[ing] the hell out'a here ... this hick town is killing" them. Eugene says, "I can't breathe." They characterize Gabriel's plans for moving with them to California as "a bunch of bullshit." The brothers don't want to be tied down to his plans for them. They want to pursue their own lives away from home. They talk about other cities they might like to live in. They imagine having "money, booze, women." They wonder how their parents will react to their plans. They laughingly say Maria will still have Antonio to be her priest and farmer. They roll on the ground with laughter at what they see as Antonio's fate. Antonio responds seriously, saying he will bless them. Then his brothers pull down his pants, spank him, and toss him onto the roof of the chicken coop. Antonio is a bit shocked when Eugene says they'll have to say good-bye to Rosie, the madam at the brothel. Antonio is confused, with "an empty feeling inside," when the older boys race away. "They would be gone again," he thinks. He wants to call a blessing after them.

Analysis

The conflicting expectations of Antonio's parents continue as Antonio starts school and his older brothers return from the war. As usual Maria insists Antonio will be priest or "He shall be a scholar." Even Ultima seems sadly to agree, saying Antonio will be "a man of learning." Gabriel makes his own case, but he seems to be no match for Maria's enthusiasm and determination. Antonio himself feels burdened by having to carry the expectations of the family on his shoulders.

Antonio's traditional, rural upbringing is mocked in school where the other children make fun of him. They laugh at his lack of sandwiches for lunch because they are likely more affluent and modern (less traditional) than he is. Only when he finds other boys from families in the same tradition does Antonio begin to feel strong and less sad in school, reinforcing the importance of community.

The supernatural makes a brief appearance when Ultima touches the top of Antonio's head, and he feels "a great force, like a whirlwind, swirl about [him]." The feeling makes Antonio think of the llano's dust devils, which are omens of evil, and he wonders why Ultima's touch was associated with them. It is possible the evil he feels that can knock you off your feet may refer to school—to his exposure to book-learning instead of Ultima's greater spiritual wisdom. Ultima's owl hoots out a confidence-boosting song as Antonio passes it on his way to school. Perhaps Ultima realizes her bad feeling about Antonio's schooling should be contrasted by her owl's more positive message. If so, it works: Antonio does take confidence from the owl's song. Antonio's dream about his brothers' knowledge of the golden carp is another brief reference to magic and the supernatural, and it foreshadows things to come.

Antonio's view of magic is not limited to the supernatural things he learns from Ultima. At school Antonio ascribes magical powers to letters that can be arranged to form meaningful words. After he quickly learns to write his name Antonio feels as if he's mastered a wonderful form of magic.

War has a huge impact on Antonio's family, especially as it relates to the parents' expectations for their eldest sons. The three older brothers are changed by their war experience. They no longer want to remain in the boring backwater of their hometown. They reject their mother's desire for them to remain close to her; they also reject their father's dream to start a new life with them in California. Antonio expects his happiness at his brothers' return will continue. He is rather shocked and upset when he hears how dissatisfied they are with their life at home. He also seems confused and hurt by the way they make fun of him and his supposed future as the priest his mother wants him to be.

Antonio's brothers have been forever changed by the war. They can no longer see themselves as traditional, small-town men living a dull, limited life. They now reject the culture and traditions they grew up with. Instead they identify themselves as men of the world, men who live a more affluent and perhaps dissipated life in a big city. It is not stated, but it is likely the brothers never treated Antonio as badly and with the derision they treat him with now. It's almost as if he is no longer their dearly loved brother but is instead a priest, as Maria wants him to be. And Antonio himself seems to accept this identity as he repeatedly tries to bless his brothers. Perhaps the brothers' attitude arises not only from their age and war experience but also from Antonio's seeming attraction to the priesthood.

The upheaval brought by the brothers' new outlook on life extends beyond their new identities as grown, independent men. It also affects the identity of others in the family and even the traditions of the family itself. Antonio wonders "they would be gone again ... Would they always be lost to me?" Antonio understands his life will be upended by the permanent loss of his older brothers. Losing three sons will undermine Maria and Gabriel's identities as powerful parents who can control the lives of their children. The parents will suffer the pain of shattered expectations in addition to the loss of beloved children.

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