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Free Study Guide-Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

CHAPTER 9

Summary

In his dream, Antonio sees his brothers gesturing for him to follow them. They lead him to Rosie's house. One young woman's breasts hang loose and Antonio is reminded of his mother when she washes her hair and her blouse gets wet revealing her breasts. He shouts that he cannot enter if he is going to be a priest. He tries to persuade his brothers not to enter telling them "it is written in the waters of the river that you shall lose your souls to hell if you enter!" Eugene tells him he will eventually come to Rosie's because he is a Márez. León tells him even priests are men. Antonio begs Andrew not to enter, but Andrew laughs and tells him he will not enter until Antonio loses his innocence. Antonio objects that innocence is forever.

He remembers his mother telling him that he is innocent as long as he does not know. Already Antonio knows too much about death having seen Lupito killed. He remembers the priest telling him he is innocent until he understands. He will understand good and evil when he takes his first communion. Antonio calls out to the landscape "where is the innocence I must never lose," and he sees a flash of lightning and out of the darkness comes Ultima who points west to Las Pasturas. She tells him "there in the land of the dancing plains and rolling hills, there in the land which is the eagle's by day and the owl's by night is innocence." He objects saying that time was long ago. He wants more answers, but Ultima has gone.

When he wakes up he hears an argument downstairs. His brothers are insisting that they have to go. They do not go too far because they know that if a father lays a curse on his sons or daughters, it was irrevocable. María blames it on the Márez blood. In the morning, León and Eugene are gone.

Andrew will stay and work at a food market. Andrew walks Antonio to school that morning and tells him he wants to go back to school. Antonio asks if Andrew has a girlfriend. Andrew tells him girls are trouble when a man wants to get ahead. Andrew tells him he will never do as their parents wish. He thinks it might be because the war made a man out of him too soon. Antonio wants knowledge and understanding, but he also does not want to lose his dreams. Antonio hopes that his first communion will give him understanding. Andrew and Antonio race across the bridge. Halfway across, they notice Vitamin Kid, who wins the race. Vitamin Kid yells out "Toni, the giant killer" as he passes. He does not know what is meant by this. He had always thought of his brothers as giants. Andrew tells him someday he will win the race. Antonio notices Samuel is starting across the bridge. He asks him where the Kid lives and Samuel says he is his brother.

That year we waited for the world to end." Some predict fire and some predict water. Only the kids know the world is coming to an end. They discuss the signs. Then the day comes and goes and they feel disappointed that the word does not end. That year Bones beats Willie with a jar of paste. In the same year, they hold a pissing contest, but the principal punishes all of them with a spanking. George begins burping in class. Antonio learns to read and write. When Miss Maestas hands out the report cards on the last day of school, she takes Antonio to the principal's office where he learns that he will be skipping the second grade.


The rest of the school day the children are restless for it to be over. When the bell rings, Antonio runs home toward the freedom of the summer. He starts across the bridge and begins to talk to it for the first time. He sings a song in his mind about the beautiful bridge. He sees Vitamin Kid and finds out he passed the first grade. He sees Samuel and finds the same news. Samuel says the teachers keep passing them. Samuel invites him to go fishing. Antonio thinks of his mother, but thinks he is now becoming a man who can make decisions, so he agrees to go.

Samuel takes him in a direction he has never gone. He tells Antonio there is evil under the railroad bridge. He points out a used condom on the trail, but Antonio does not know what it is. He hears frightening wild laughter and fears that it is la Llorona, but Samuel says it is only the Kid on the bridge. Samuel tells Antonio he has always been a fisherman.

They catch plenty of fish. The river is full of big, brown carp. It is called the River of the Carp. It is bad luck to fish for the big carp that get pushed downstream by the flood and that fight to return upstream. The waters would subside quickly after the floods and the carp would be visible as they struggled to get back upstream. The people often came to watch them. Some of the town kids would be unaware of the bad luck of catching these fish. They would scoop them out and throw them onto the sand bars where they would die. Some townspeople even ate the fish. Antonio knows that is very bad, but he does not know why. It is beautiful to see the carp make this struggle to return upstream. Every year the drama is repeated.

Samuel tells him a story that was told to his father by Jasón's Indian. Long ago when the earth was young, only wandering tribes lived in the region. A strange people arrived in the land; they were sent to the valley by their gods. They had wandered lost for many years but they had retained their faith in their gods all the while. Finally they were rewarded with this fertile valley as a home. When Antonio asks if they were Indians, Samuel just replies that they were "the people." He says only one thing was withheld from the people: the carp. The fish lived in the river and was sacred to the gods. The people were happy for years and then there were forty years of the "sun-without-rain" and the crops died, the game was killed, and the people were hungry, so they caught the carp and ate them.

The gods became enraged and wanted to kill the people when one kind god argued against it. The other gods relented. They did not kill the people, but instead, turned them into carp and made them live forever in the river. Samuel says it is a sin to catch the carp and it is worse to eat them. "They are a part of the people." Antonio says if anyone eats a carp, that person might be punished as the people were punished.

Samuel tells Antonio about the golden carp. He says that when the gods turned the people into carp, the kind god became sad. He asked the other gods if he could become a carp and swim in the river so he could take care of his people. They agreed, but made him very big and colored him gold. He became the lord of the waters of the valley. Antonio is surprised to hear about a new god. He can neither believe the story nor disbelieve Samuel. He asks if the golden carp is still here. Samuel says it is.

Antonio feels the roots of his belief shaken. "If the golden carp was a god, who was the man on the cross? The Virgin? Was my mother praying to the wrong God?" He asks where the carp is and Samuel says it is too late in the day and he has already learned enough for one day. He promises that Cico will take him to the golden carp later in the summer. Antonio knows Cico is a town boy who does not hang out with the others. He spends all his time along the river fishing.

He starts home. He hears someone calling him and he runs until he reaches home. His mother is very angry that he is so late. He shows her his promotion from the school and she becomes happy. She gathers everyone around the Virgin to pray. When Gabriel returns home he is angry that dinner is not ready.

Notes

Antonio tackles some of the toughest theological questions of all time. He wonders about the meaning of innocence and understanding and their relationship to one another. If he understands, he loses innocence, but he cannot receive his first communion without understanding. For María, who represents the most devoted Catholic in the novel, even though she is devoted with a particular, local folk belief, Antonio will inevitably lose his innocence as he becomes a man. However, in María's mind, Antonio can be saved from that loss of innocence by becoming a priest. Andrew tells him that when he was exposed to the horrors of war, he became a man and lost his dreams. Antonio does not want to gain understanding if it means losing his dreams. Ultima tells him that in the land he is innocent. There, gaining understanding does not equate with losing his innocence. This question will stay with Antonio throughout the novel.

Along with the powers of Ultima and the presence of the river, the Golden Carp is the third magical element in Bless Me, Ultima. It is a myth related to the Aztec cosmogony which features five suns. The Aztec calendar reveals Atonatiuh, the sun of water. Atonatiuh is the forth epoch at the end of which everything on earth was killed by a great flood. The gods changed people into fishes to save them from the flood. Anaya provides a variation on this belief in the history of the golden carp. Here, people are turned into carp because of disobedience. The legend is part of the collective memory of the community: some know it, some only know it is bad luck to catch or eat carp, and some do not know anything. The story upsets Antonio who has been raised under Roman Catholicism, a monotheistic religion. He cannot reject the golden carp because he feels drawn to believe it, but in accepting it, he has to reject Catholicism.

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