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The main theme of the novel concerns Antonio's struggle to come into his own, to fuse the two parts of his heritage. This heritage is embodied in his mother and father. His mother is a Luna, descended from a priest who founded a colony in what is now New Mexico by getting a land grant from Mexico. The Lunas are farmers. They use the ancient methods of farming of the Aztecs and are also devout Catholics. Antonio’s father is Gabriel. He is a vaquero or llanero (a cowboy). His descendants were the Spanish conquistadores who brought cattle to the land. He is not a believer in Christianity. He owes his spiritual allegiance to the land and believes that hurting the land is a sin. Antonio must find a way to make these two parts of his heritage co-exist.
The minor theme of Anaya's novel concerns the combat between Ultima's vision of the interconnections between the land and the people, an interconnection that enables healing and health and the negative forces represented by the Tenorio sisters, who represent death and separation.
The mood of the novel is nostalgic / nostalgia. It is written by a narrator relating the events of his early youth. He is writing about his mentor whom he greatly reveres and who has since died.