Bless Me Ultima Essays Religion

Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima is one of the best novels of initiation in the Chicano tradition. The novel presents a powerful story of a young boy moving toward adulthood; Antonio’s choices on that journey reveal the rich and diverse traditions of the Mexican Americans of the American Southwest. Ultima helps Antonio heal the split into which he is born, pulled as he is between the heritage of his father, who was a cowboy, and that of his mother, whose family members are farmers. This spiritual split between the Márez and Luna families, between the plains and the town, and between Ultima’s magical folk religion and Catholicism is the central conflict of Antonio’s childhood.

In the end, Antonio is not forced to choose between the two traditions of the horsemen and the farmers, but rather he blends them into a workable identity for himself. It also becomes clear, as a result of his association with Ultima and his use of words to influence the events of the novel, that he will use his gift for words, imagination, and learning to become not a priest but rather a writer. He achieves this fusion only through the aid of Ultima.

Ultima is a spiritual guide who teaches the young boy and directs him toward his future. Antonio will have to reach it himself, but Ultima points him in the right direction and protects him even after her death. Ultima not only helps Antonio reach adulthood but also teaches him a number of important lessons along the way—the healing arts of nature, for example, and the power of love. As Antonio says toward the end of his journey: “And that is what Ultima tried to teach me, that the tragic consequences of life can be overcome by the magical strength that resides in the human heart.”

When Antonio looks back on his youth toward the end of the novel, he realizes what he gained from the adults in his life. From his mother he learned how close people are to the earth. From his father and Ultima he learned that “the greater immortality is in the freedom of man, and that freedom is best nourished by the noble expanse of land and air and pure, white sky.” From these important lessons Antonio’s adult self emerges.

Ultima helps Antonio to achieve his own identity; at the end of the novel, he directs his mother to take his sisters to their room. “It was the first time I had ever spoken to my mother as a man; she nodded and obeyed.” Ultima also helps Antonio to heal the split in his own heritage; he can be a Catholic (as his mother wants) and a believer in the golden carp as well. Anaya’s novel is important in the way it uses the literary and folk traditions of the American Southwest. The religious symbolism of the novel can be understood only in the context of that cultural geography, and Anaya taps a rich vein of southwestern folklore and history.

Characterization is rather two-dimensional, although the major characters (particularly Ultima) have shadings: For example, is she a bruja(witch), or just a healer? This question receives a somewhat noncommittal answer when she demonstrates that she is not a witch by walking through a door marked with a cross; however, the cross, made of needles, falls apart as she does so. The characterization works in terms of the point of view of the novel, which is that of a naïve young boy growing up in rural New Mexico.

Much more complex are the symbolic aspects of the novel. Antonio’s dreams have a rich significance; they reflect and predict actions in the novel. They are, in the truest sense, revelations. Likewise, the literary symbolism of the novel—the importance of water, for example (the golden carp, the drowning) and of religious rituals (both Christian and native spiritual)—is complex and effective. A reading of the oppositions of the novel (Luna/Márez or moon/sea, female/male, agrarian/pastoral) points out its complexity and its final reconciliations. Anaya produced a novel of deep and subtle meaning, and one that reveals some of the rich literary traditions of the American Southwest.

NVI HOME
Bless Me, Ultima by James Brunelle
Instructor:  Jackie Kogan
Prompt
Write a 3-4 page essay in response to the novel, Bless Me, Ultima, by Rodolfo Anaya.  Discuss the novel in terms of one of its characters.
Rhetorical Elements
 Dialogue
 Flashback
 Setting
 Characters
 Tone/Voice
 Description
 Explanation/Example
 Process Analysis
 Comparison/Contrast
 Cause/Effect
 Definition
 Persuasion
 Irony
 Audience
 Point of View
 Opposing View

Structural Elements
 Thesis statement
 Thesis development
 Introduction
 Conclusion
 Evidence/
    Supporting Details
 Topic Sentence
 Organization
 Transitions/Unity
 Paraphrase
 Summary
 Analysis
 Mechanics
 In-text citations
 
MLA Works Cited

Stylistic Elements
 Word Choice
 Sentence Variety
 Active/Passive Voice
 Parallelism
 Coordination
 Subordination
 Effective Repetition
 Figures of Speech
 
    
     Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya, is a coming-of-age story that revolves around a young boy named Antonio. In this story, Antonio is torn between three destinies. His mother wants him to become a priest while his father wants him to explore and be free; then along comes Ultima. Ultima, an old woman who works with herbs and magical powers, comes to visit Antonio and hisfamily on the Ilano. With her, she brings her magic, her views, and her perspectives on life--and she has chosen to pass these things down to Antonio before she dies.
  
     It is clear throughout the story that both Ultima and Antonio have magical powers. It is unclear, however, if Antonio's powers have been given to him or lent to him from Ultima, or if he has had the magic inside of him from the very beginning. Antonio's dreams seem to foretell the future. From the very beginning, Antonio sees Ultima by his mother's side while he was being bom in a dream. Antonio's dreams seem to foreshadow several events in this novel.
   
     Up to the point where Ultima visits, Antonio has it in his mind that it is his destiny to become a priest. He is to follow his mother's belief system, which consists of strict, traditional rules; Antonio's mother is Catholic, and she practices her religion very strictly. This belief system is shaken when Antonio not only witnesses, but becomes a part of, Ultima's cure for Uncle Lucas. Uncle Lucas is dying, and the Priest's past attempts to save him had failed. So, the family turns to Ultima as a last resort. Ultima agrees to treat him, but requests Antonio come with her. During the cure, Antonio experiences weird feelings, most of these feelings painful and unpleasant. It is like he has taken some of the burden of the pain off of Uncle Lucas, helping him overcome his illness. Ultima's cure ends up saving Lucas' life, and Antonio isn't only there to witness it, but actually becomes a part of it. Because the Priest failed where Ultima did not, this really shakes Antonio's whole belief system: "The power of the doctors and the power of the church had failed to cure my uncle. Now everyone depended on Ultima's magic. Was it possible that there was more power in Ultima's magic than in the priest? "(103). At this point, Antonio begins to doubt his destiny of becoming a priest.
   
     Later on, Antonio learns the story about the golden carp from another boy his own age. Antonio sees the golden carp, which means he is one of the magical people in the town. Not everyone can see the golden carp; the golden carp is considered a pagan god:  "The golden carp is my god, Tony. He will rule the new waters. I will be happy to be with my god. It was unbelievable, and yet it made a wild kind of sense!  All the pieces fitted! "(124).
   
     At this point in time, Antonio is searching for answers to his many questions about life and what happens afterwards. So far, the church is not providing answers to his questions, but Antonio thinks his First Communion will cause him to know the answers to all of his questions. The carp seems to make more sense to Antonio, but he is not ready to believe in that yet; he will wait for his First Communion. Antonio knows that he is special since he can see the golden carp, and that is it going against his church and his entire destiny if he chooses this path. He cannot both become a priest and believe in the golden carp.
    
     When Antonio receives his First Holy Communion, and his questions are not answered, he is extremely disappointed: "After Easter I went to confession every Saturday and on Sunday morning I took communion, but I was not satisfied.  The God I so eagerly sought was not there, and the understanding I thought to gain was not there " (235). This is the last nail in the coffin for his future priesthood. At this point, Antonio is looking to the belief system involved with the golden carp.
   
     So, what does all of this have to do with Ultima passing her powers down to Antonio before she dies? In every instance mentioned here, Ultima moves Antonio one step closer to her belief system, and it is necessary for Antonio to accept Ultima's belief system in order for him to receive her powers. When Antonio becomes part of Uncle Lucas' cure, his absolute certainty that he will become a priest goes away since the Priest failed where Ultima had not. When Antonio learns about the golden carp, this presents a new idea about religion into his life.
   
     The fact that his First Holy Communion failed to bring about answers to his questions further weakens his ties to the church and further strengthens his belief in the golden carp. Ultima then has Antonio exactly where she wants him. Ultima sees the big picture; she recognizes that all the belief systems have the same thing in common and that you need to approach problems in life with an open mind. You cannot work with Ultima's magic with a closed mind or a fixed belief system. She has to break Antonio's strong ties with the church and introduce something new in his life in order for her to achieve this.
   
     Antonio will carry on Ultima's work. Antonio will see the entire picture, instead of just the blinded, closed-minded views of a particular religion, which will allow him to use Ultima's magic. Antonio will always have more questions than answers. Antonio will become Ultima's successor.


Anaya, Rudolfo. Bless Me Ultima. New York: Warner Books, 1972.




Writing Task

Essay 1 "Bless Me Ultima" by James Brunelle


1.    In the opening paragraph, Brunelle states: “Antonio is torn between three destinies.”  In your own words, describe these “three destinies.”

2.    How many times is the “golden carp” mentioned in the essay?  What is a “golden carp”?

3.    What does Brunelle mean when he says: “He [Antonio] cannot become a priest and believe in the golden carp” (paragraph 2)?

4.    In what way could Ultima’s magic be considered similar to Christianity?  In what way is it different?

5.    What do you think the name “Ultima” implies?











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