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Free Study Guide-Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya-Free Book Notes
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Anthony hears his name being called. He is fishing and has been wondering how Ultima's medicine succeeded where the Church and the medical doctors failed. Cico comes out of the brush. In answer to Cico's inquiry, Antonio affirms that he has never fished for carp in the river. To Cico's question as to whether Antonio believes the golden carp is a god, Antonio struggles with his knowledge of the commandment which forbids other gods. He tells Cico he is a Catholic and can only believe in one god. Cico praises him for being honest but tells him no unbeliever has ever been taken to see the golden carp. Antonio tells him he wants to believe. Cico tells him to swear by the cross on the church that he will never kill the carp. Antonio struggles with the commandment that tells him not to take the Lord's name in vain. Antonio knows how important this oath is and he makes it solemnly. Cico motions him to follow.

They come upon a house covered with thick vines. Cico tells Antonio Narciso lives there. Narciso's garden is more abundant than the Lunas' farms. Cico tells Antonio it is permitted that they take some fruit because he is Narciso's friend. Narciso is in jail for drunkenness. Antonio is fascinated by the garden. He hears the sound of a fountain. Cico tells him it is a spring. It and Narciso's magic make the garden so green. Antonio sees fruits and vegetables everywhere. As Cico pulls carrots, he intones, "Narciso is my friend."

Antonio asks Cico why Narciso drinks. Cico says it is to forget. When Antonio asks if Narciso knows about the golden carp, Cico replies, "The magic people all know about the coming day of the golden carp." He tells Antonio that Narciso plants by the light of the moon. In the spring, he gets drunk "until the bad blood of the spring is washed away." Then when the moon comes, he gathers seeds and plants. "He dances as he plants and he sings." He scatters the seeds under the moon. They fall and grow. "The garden is like Narciso, it is drunk." Antonio is fascinated by the story. He realizes that he keeps learning about the magic in people's hearts as he gets to know them.

Antonio asks Cico why he trusts him. Cico says it is because Antonio is a fisherman. He says the Indian told Samuel the story of the golden carp. Samuel told Narciso, who told Cico. Now they will tell Antonio. The gang comes upon them and calls to them. They ask Antonio if a bruja lives at his house. He answers with a simple "no." They repeat gossip they have heard about her. Cico urges Antonio to leave with him. Horse tells Antonio to do some magic. Red tells them to leave Antonio alone. Ernie shouts at him to stay out of it since he is a Protestant and does not know about brujas. They hold Antonio down and tell him to do magic or "voodoo." He finally yells, "Okay!" and they release him. He vomits a yellow froth from the juice of the carrots at their feet. He and Cico run.

When they stop to catch their breath, Antonio asks Cico why people are like that. Cico says people seem to want to hurt each other. They walk by a part of the river where Antonio has never visited. He has heard about the Hidden Lakes up in the hills. When they come to a trail, Cico examines it carefully, apparently to make sure no one has come this way. They crawl into the thicket on their hands and knees. When they emerge, they come upon a beaver dam. The spot is beautiful and lush. Cico points to the spot where the golden carp will come. Cico retrieves a spear which he uses to fish for black bass. The golden carp will scare the bass up to the surface. They whisper as if in church. They wait for a long time in the pleasant sunshine.

The golden carp comes. Antonio thinks he is dreaming at first because the carp is so large. Cico says, "Behold the golden carp, Lord of the waters--." The fish is bigger than Antonio and it is bright orange. Antonio feels as though he "could not have been more entranced if he had seen the Virgin, or God Himself." Cico tells him the carp knows he is a friend. The carp disappears. Antonio knows he has witnessed a miracle, "the appearance of a pagan god," a miracle on a par with the curing of Lucas. He thinks of how the power of God failed where Ultima's power worked, but then he has a flash of sudden illumination of beauty and understanding." He sees that it is this that he expects God to do at his first communion. Then he thinks that if God saw him witnessing the golden carp, then he has sinned. He is about to pray when the water explodes. Cico hurls his spear at a huge black bass with eyes "glazed with hate." He misses it.

Cico puts his spear away and calls Antonio to come and put his feet in the water. He says the golden carp will be returning. When Antonio asks him if he is disappointed that he missed the bass, Cico says he is not, that it is just a game. The golden carp appears at the edge of the pond. It swims close to their feet. Antonio worries about people fishing the golden carp. Cico says the other fishermen cannot see it. He thinks adults must not be able to see it. The Indian, Narciso, and Ultima are different as are Cico, Samuel, and Antonio. Cico tells Antonio that the golden carp swims upstream to the lakes of the mermaid, the Hidden Lakes.

Antonio has never heard of the mermaid. Cico tells him there are two hidden lakes in the hills which feed the creek. There is something strange about it as if some power watches those who visit. Antonio wants to know if it is like the presence of the river. Cico says what is at the lakes is stronger or that it "seems to want you more." Cico says that the time he visited, he had sat on some cliffs and considered only the good fishing. He began to hear strange music coming from far away sounding like something a sad girl would sing. The singing seemed to come from the water and seemed to be calling him. He tells Antonio the music was pulling him into the waters. He was saved by the appearance of the golden carp at whose approach the music stopped. He ran in great fear.

Antonio asks if Cico saw the mermaid. Cico says he did not. He tells Antonio that the mermaid is said to be a deserted woman or is perhaps just the wind singing around the cliffs. Last summer, the mermaid took a shepherd from Mexico. The man had made it back to town and told the story of hearing the singing. He said it was a woman resting on the water and singing, half woman and half fish. The man was not believed and he promised he would go back to the lake and bring her back. He never came back. Cico warns Antonio never to go to the Hidden Lakes alone.

Cico tells Antonio the whole land was once covered by sea. Antonio says his name--Maréz--means sea. Antonio Maréz means "arisen from the ocean." Cico says the land belonged to the fish before it belonged to people. Cico says the golden carp will come and rule again. Cico reminds Antonio about Samuel's story about the origin of the golden carp as a god. He adds that after the golden carp came, a new people came to the valley. They were worse than the first inhabitants. "They sinned against the legends they knew." The golden carp sent them a prophecy that the people's sins would be punished by a flood.

Cico tells Antonio that the town is sitting over an underground lake. He draws a map in the sand. The town is surrounded by water. Cico says the golden carp has warned the people that the land cannot take the weight of their sins. It will sink. Cico says he is not afraid because the golden carp is his god and so he will be happy. Antonio wants to know if the people of the town know. Cico says they know and yet they keep sinning. Antonio thinks it is unfair to those who do not sin. Cico tells him all people sin. Cico tells him the end could come at any time. Antonio asks "What can we do?" Cico replies, "Sin against no one."

Antonio leaves feeling sad. He has learned something that burdens him with responsibility. He wants to tell everyone in town to stop sinning, but he knows they will not believe him. He tells Ultima the story and she smiles. She says she did not tell him because it was better to hear the legend from someone his age. He wants to know if he should believe it. Ultima tells him she cannot tell him what to believe. She tells him that as he "grows into manhood, he will find his own truths."

That night he dreams of walking by the shore of a huge lake. He hears a melody, the song of the mer-woman. He sees the golden carp in the lake. People it has saved are all around it. On the shores the corpses of sinners rot. A moon comes out and settles on the water. He looks toward it expecting to see the Virgin of Guadalupe, but he sees his own mother. He calls out to her, "You are saved! We are all saved!" She tells him he was "baptized in the water of the moon which was made holy by our Holy Mother the Church" and was saved.

He suddenly hears his father yell that they are lying. He says Antonio was baptized in the salt water of the sea. He sees his father standing on the shore with all the corpses. Antonio feels a searing pain in his body. He calls out for someone to tell him which water runs in his veins. His mother answers that it is the water of the moon and the water that it is the holy water of the Church. His father says it is the water of the oceans, the "water that binds him to the pagan god of Cico, the golden carp." Antonio cries out in agony for an answer. "The excruciating pain broke and I sweated blood." He hears a wind blowing as the moon rises. Thunder and lightning burst from the sky. The hosts stand and walk on the shore. The lake "cracked with the laughter of madness as it inflicted death upon the people." Antonio thinks it is the end. He thinks "the cosmic struggle of the two forces would destroy everything."

He tries to pray and then he hears Ultima's voice above the storm. She says, "Cease!" and the power of the heavens and earth obey her; the storm stops. She tells Antonio to stand up. She tells María and Gabriel that "the sweet water of the moon which falls as rain is the same water that gathers into rivers and flows to fill the seas." She adds that if not for the water of the moon replenishing the oceans, there would be no oceans. She adds that the salt waters of oceans evaporate and rise up to turn again into the water of the moon. Without the sun, the water would not rise to rain on the earth. She tells Antonio that the waters are one. Antonio looks at her and understands the truth. She tells him he has only seen parts and not the whole cycle that binds everyone together. Antonio's dream ends and he feels peace. He rests.


The reader has probably noticed the continual opposition of good and bad in the novel. Here is revealed in the opposition between the golden carp and the black bass. What is interesting in this instance of the opposition is that Cico calls it a game to try to kill the black bass. He does not have anything of the urgency of the Christian desire to vanquish the devil, their opposite of God.

In chapter 11, Antonio learns of the pagan god, the golden carp. This legend has several striking parallels to the stories of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Anthropologists have found such parallels in most of the religions of the world. For instance, a great many of them have stories of a deluge brought down as a punishment for sinning people. Several significant parallels between the legend of the golden carp of the Judeo-Christian Bible are: the threatened return of the god to rule at the end of the world; the idea that only a few faithful will be saved; and the fact that people know the rules and sin anyway. Another striking parallel is in the question Antonio asks Cico when he realizes the importance of the threat to the town. He asks: "What do we do?" and Cico replies, "sin against no one." This exchange is highly reminiscent of the Christian New Testament in which the woman at the well asks the same question and is told to sin no more.

Antonio becomes a sort of Christ figure in his dreams. He is wracked with the pain of the separate forces of his mother and father. Like Christ, he sweats blood. However, Ultima is also a Christ figure here. Like Christ, she commands the storm to cease and it obeys her. She is a unifying figure. She understands that in the cycle of the earth's replenishment--rainfall flowing to rivers flowing to oceans, and evaporation from oceans producing more rainfall--lies the unity of all life. The forces that have been competing for Antonio's allegiance up to this point in the novel have actually been different stages in the same cycle of life.

Anaya seems to be connecting this idea of oneness to the confusion Antonio feels upon finding more than one deity. If Antonio can accept that all is one, he can accept that Ultima's power comes from the same source as the priest's and the medical doctors and he can also accept the more threatening concept that God's power is the same as the golden carp's power. Such is the basis for the syncretism (the combination of two or more seemingly contradictory traditions) of the novel.

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