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Free Study Guide-Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER 10

Summary (continued)

Uncle Lucas sits up in bed and screams in pain. Ultima holds him onto the bed as he convulses. She yells into his ear, "Let the evil come out." He cries out, "Dios mío" (My God) and "the evil was wrenched from his interior. Green bile poured from his mouth, and finally he vomited a huge ball of hair. It fell to the floor, hot and steaming and wiggling like live snakes." Antonio recognizes that it is the hair with which the Trementina sisters had worked their spell. Ultima picks up the ball with clean linen and sings that it will be burned by the same tree where the witches dance.

Lucas is weak, but well again. Ultima washes him and feeds him. He eats eagerly. When he goes to sleep, Ultima prepares to depart. She calls Prudencio and tells him Lucas lives. Prudencio calls in the family to greet Lucas. Lucas thanks Ultima for his life. All Antonio's uncles thank her and Prudencio gives her the purse containing silver required by custom. As she leaves Ultima says perhaps the men of El Puerto will save her life one day. As she and Antonio press through the crowd to leave, Antonio hears them saying "La curandera! Es una mujer que no ha pecado. (Here is a woman who has no sin). He also hears "Hechicera" (sorceress) and "Bruja" (witch). One of Antonio's aunts protests the last words, kneels in Ultima's path, and touches the hem of her dress as she passes.

Uncle Pedro takes them in the truck. On the way, Ultima tells him to stop at the grove of trees. When she gets out of the truck, Pedro exclaims over her bravery. The trees around the spot are dead and white. Antonio asks Pedro how long they were in the room with Lucas. It was three days. Where Ultima is, they see a fire burst out where she is burning the "evil load" Antonio smells sulfur in the air. Finally, Ultima returns and tells Pedro to take them home.


Notes

The belief in the diagnosis that Uncle Lucas has been cursed by a brujas is supported by evidence. The evidence is that doctors have not been able to cure him and the priest has not been able to exorcise him. The proof that the rancher did not kill a woman, but killed a witch in the disguise of a coyote is in the fact that he shot it/her with a bullet on which he had carved the sign of the cross. As with any system of thought, the folk belief in witches colluding with the devil and casting curses on innocent victims is also supported by a tradition of evidence. In Lucas' case, the folk belief system operates out of a very complex syncretism of a belief in the power of Christianity, a belief in the power of European-based medicine, and a belief in the power of curandismo. These three systems of power often compete with one another when a particularly tough case like Lucas' presents itself. With the exception of the curandera, none of them accept the authority of the others. They each try to forbid the people from using the other authorities. It is a fearful decision to make which power to choose. Hence, the people wait a long time before calling on Ultima. In a sense, they are defying the church in doing so.

This healing represents a very important part of Antonio's education in curandismo. He participates in almost all the steps. He even emulates Ultima when he sees her standing fearlessly in Tenorio's bar.

The cure is conducted with several forms of magic, but the most important is sympathetic magic. Antonio is used as a sympathetic agent to cure Lucas. The clay dolls are used as sympathetic agents to turn the curse back to the Trementina sisters. Antonio experiences the cure along with Lucas. Like Lucas, he cannot speak or move. Like Lucas he feels the taste of the oily medicine. Antonio vomits green bile, then Lucas vomits green bile before he vomits up the mass of living hair. Antonio has been used as a sort to surrogate for Lucas. Since he is young and strong, he can withstand the cure more easily than Lucas can. Since he is innocent as a child, he can expel the evil curse more easily than Lucas can. Antonio has complete trust in Ultima. She takes him to the room without explaining what she will use him for. Although it would seem a very dangerous remedy, Antonio never fears for his life.

The other dangerous part of the remedy, that which Ultima tried to prevent by asking Tenorio to call his daughters off, is the practice of turning back to curse onto the sisters. The dolls are made from earth. Wax is applied to imitate the color of skin. They are dressed in clothing Ultima might have somehow gotten from the sisters. When Lucas breathes on them, they actually squirm. It is one of the most clearly magical elements in the novel because inanimate objects move. They are pricked with a pin that is dipped in the same medicine that Lucas is given. The result of this turning back of the curse will be revealed in subsequent chapters. For now, we only see one part of that result: Lucas vomiting up the hair they stole from him to begin the curse with in the first place. Like the dolls, the hair also moves as if alive. Ultima has proved that her power is stronger than the power of the church and the medical doctors.

Once again, Ultima is treated as a revered saint, while at the same time she is suspected as a witch. To claim that an earthly woman has not sinned clearly goes against the doctrine of Christianity in which only Christ could walk the earth in fleshly form and still have no sin. Also, the woman touching Ultima's hem as she passes is highly reminiscent of the New Testament accounts of the response of the faithful to Christ. As He made His journey through the streets of villages where people have heard of His miracles of healing, people touched his garments as a means of cure.

It is useful to note at this point in the novel an element which runs throughout the novel which the reader should begin to notice. This chapter reveals the conservative gender ideology which animates the entire novel. Women are assigned only a traditional role: they are wives and mothers. If they are ugly, they cannot make men happy and they become witches as a last resort. Ultima makes it seem as though they do so out of the bitterness of the rejected. Pretty women who step outside traditional roles become prostitutes at Rosie's. Although Anaya creates a very strong feminine character in Ultima, he portrays as an exception to the rule of women's proper roles and she herself affirms those roles as proper. An alarming byproduct of the belief that women are brujas or curanderas is the idea that they can be shot with a bullet marked with a cross without penalty.

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