The last half of Bless Me, Ultima was quite hard to get through as there were many violent and thought provoking scenes. For example, when the boys outside the church pretend that Antonio is a priest and they confess their worst sins to him; very difficult to get through as both Antonio and the confessors are participating against their will. Two other examples are when Antonio sees his brother come out of what is assumed to be a brothel and when he must bury the Ultima’s owl. These three scenes really resonated with me and I will examine them further.
Chapter 18 sees Antonio and his friends practice going to confession, as they name Tony as the priest that listens to the others’ sins. As Tony feels guilty and wonders “how [a] priest could shoulder the burden of all the sins he heard”, he bears witness to many evil things that the other kids have seen and done. Hearing stories of stalking girls in the school washroom to seeing a couple have sex in public, Tony’s innocence and desire for priesthood slowly withers away. But as Tony can barely take the strain of his role, Florence, a non-religious boy, says he has not sinned against God, but God has sinned against him. The mob of children demand a harsh penance for Florence’s word, but Tony remembers the tale of the golden carp and how people’s “sins will sink the town into the lake” and forgives Florence of all his wrongdoing. This is a pivotal moment in the book, not only because Antonio realizes the burden of being un sacerdote, but because Tony amalgamates his beliefs and creates one solution. He recognizes (and is discussed later) that the Catholic church punishes people frequently, but Tony values the importance of forgiving and not being so harsh on those who have made mistakes. This small detail reinforces the idea that Tony will not simply be a follower, blindly obeying the rules of a certain faith or belief, but will create his own path and own way of being that attempts to rid the world of its previous pitfalls.
Another scene in which Tony understands more about the realities of the world is when he sees his brother emerge from the doorway of a brothel. As Tony is following Narciso, who is trying to protect Ultima from Tenorio, he sees his brother Andrew walk out from Rosie’s, a place that was rumored to be evil. Tony sees scantily clad women surrounding Andrew, begging him to come back inside. His seemingly good and pure brother has been tainted by the sinfulness of provocative women. Tony feels as though he has “lost [his] innocence” and that the presence of God “was far away.” His connection to God has diminished for this period of time, but because of this, turns to his other faith of the golden carp. Remembering that, “sins of the town would be washed in the waters of the golden carp,” Antonio believes there is hope for his brother by turning to another belief system further strengthening this idea that Antonio’s identity will be something that he consciously creates himself.
Finally in chapter 22, the the final major event that happens is the burial of Ultima’s owl, or as we learn in later chapters, Ultima herself. As Tenorio kills Ultima’s owl, Ultima becomes frail and weak and asks that Tony bury her owl under a “forked juniper tree.” All goes well, but in the final couple lines of the book, we realize where Antonio’s faith lies. Throughout the book there was reference to the major importance of burial on sacred ground; blessed ground of the Catholic church. However, as Tony buries Ultima’s owl (and her spirit as well), Tony says that her church burial was only “the ceremony that was prescribed by custom” showing that he does not believe in the sacred powers of the church but rather trusts the word of Ultima more. This change of heart hints at Antonio not becoming the priest his mother wants him to, but a healer like Ultima was.
Throughout the entire book, Antonio never was a carbon copy of what those around him wanted him to be. Antonio’s identity, characteristics, and future were constructed by no one besides himself showing that he is wise beyond his years. While other characters throughout the book were static, clinging to their dogmas and old mannerisms, Antonio absorbed the knowledge and stories of those around him, truly meaning he has become “a man of learning.”
See everyone tomorrow online!