Bless Me, Ultima

by Rudolfo Anaya

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What is the significance of Florence's death in "Bless Me, Ultima"?

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Florence in Bless Me, Ultima is an essential character because he is one of the few in the book who has no faith. Antonio is introduced to the idea of doubt through the experiences he encounters in the novel, but Florence is the one who puts into words the questions he often has about both the Roman Catholic Church and his quasi-pagan experience with the Golden Carp. Florence is often ridiculed and made to be an outcast because of his atheism, but he takes much of it in stride—even becoming like a martyr during the catechism classes, suffering for his lack of faith.

Florence in chapter 17 brings up to Antonio the doubts he has in the religion of the Church. Florence’s mother died, and his father drank heavily. His sisters are whores at Rosie’s brothel. Florence has faced many hardships in his life, and as a result, he had more doubt that Faith. Florence brings up the fact that all the suffering of the world seems unfair if there is a God because the first sin was simply desiring knowledge, “There seemed to be so many pitfalls in the questions we asked. I wanted answers to the questions, but would the knowledge of the answers make me share in the original sin of Adam and Eve?” (Diecisiete). This question is what beings Antonio’s questioning of his faith; he wants answers to all the same questions that Florence asks, and it shakes his faith to think about it.

Florence represents the idea of doubt and a part of Antonio that he doesn’t quite understand or like about himself. Florence is central to one of the critical questions that bother Antonio during his first communion, “God! Why did Lupito die? Why do you allow the evil of the Trementinas? Why did you allow Narciso to be murdered when he was doing good? Why do you punish Florence? Why doesn't he believe?” (Diecinueve). Antonio, before the death of Florence, is concerned not only for the immortal soul of his friend but by the question of why God continues to punish him for his lack of faith. It is Florence’s presence and death that ultimately leads Antonio into the most significant doubt he feels in the entire novel.

After Florence drowns, Antonio is haunted by his death in a dream. In the dream, all three of Antonio's central faith systems are questioned. The Priest desecrates the alter, the Golden Carp is killed, and Ultima dies. It is Florences death that moves Antonio to this level of doubt, a doubt that existed previously but wasn’t fleshed out until Florence began to ask questions about faith and God. Ultimately, Florence’s death is one of the motivating factors in Antonio’s being able to reconcile the death and violence of the world with life.

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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.

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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).

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