One of the main sources of conflict in the novel is that between Antonio's parents and their respective value-systems. Antonio's mother is a devout Catholic and wants her son to work hard, study, and to become a priest. Antonio's father, on the other hand, isn't at all religious and doesn't appreciate the value of a good education. He's too preoccupied with making his fortune in California to spend much time attending to his family's needs.
This conflict is important to the story, as it forms the basis of Antonio's own inner conflicts, which he is forever trying to resolve. Torn in two completely different directions, Antonio is confused about which path he must take in life. Thankfully, Ultima, with her deep spiritual wisdom, is on hand to help Antonio find his way amidst the often bitter struggle for his soul conducted by his parents.