What is the significance of Florence's death in "Bless Me, Ultima"?
When Florence died, "everything (Tony) believed in was destroyed" (Veintidos).
Florence did not believe in God, and according to the Catholic faith would have been condemned to burn in hell for all eternity. He was sincere in his unbelief, however; an orphan whose "sisters (were) whores", Florence could not understand how a God who was "supposed to know everything" could allow there to be so much evil in the world (Diecisiete). Tony, despite his own faith, had no answers for Florence, and had in fact been struggling with the same doubts himself; when the other children wanted Tony, acting as the priest, to punish Florence for his unbelief and audacity in declaring that he had no sin, Tony refused and granted forgiveness instead (Dieciocho). Despite his uncertainties, Tony was not ready to give up on the Church as had his friend, but when Florence died, Tony was overwhelmed with the emptiness of a seemingly senseless universe of violence and death. Florence's death made Tony consider the possiblity that the God of religion as represented by the Church, of myth as represented by the Golden Carp, and of magic as personified by Ultima, did not exist, and that all that remained was nothingness (Veintidos).
Florence's death is an important part of Antonio's journey in Bless Me, Ultima. Florence was an atheist, and Antonio, born and raised Catholic and toying with the idea that he might be called to the priesthood, had trouble reconciling Florence's lack of belief in God with Florence's innocence and inherent goodness. In school, the brothers often had Florence suffer additional punishments because he wouldn't conform. Antonio often defended him, even acting as a priest and hearing Florence's confession about his atheism. Despite the peer pressure to give Florence a punishment for his admission, Antonio absolved him. Despite his own conservative, Catholic upbringing, Antonio's own spiritual questions led him to feel empathy for Florence.
His death becomes significant because Antonio's pseudo-confession is the only one Florence actually had before drowning. This leads Antonio to question his faith even further. Would Florence go to heaven or to hell? Florence's death leads Antonio to a deeper understanding of the forces of good and evil in the world. It also helps him reconcile his traditional Catholic upbringing with the new spiritual forces he experiences as he matures.
In "Bless Me, Ultima" Florence is a metaphor for Jesus. His death was symbolic of Jesus' being crucified.
Everything Florence did in the book was synonymous with Jesus' preachings and teachings. Jesus went against everyone's faith, as Florence did.
There is one passage in which Florence and Tony have arrived late at the church, and the priest punishes Florence by making him stand in the center aisle of the church. Florence is described as calm and angelic.