Bless Me, Ultima - Wikipedia
Bless Me, Ultima is a coming-of-age novel by Rudolfo Anaya centering on Antonio Márez y . The relationship between Anaya's protagonist, Antonio and his spiritual guide, Ultima, unfolds in an enchanted .. The Revolution's goals included returning to Mexico's indigenous peoples their dignity as full-fledged citizens by. Bless Me, Ultima describes the evolution of Antonio Juan Márez y Luna from the age of six .. The father's goal for Tony is not so clear, but he does not want him to .. In his account of the relationship between a curandera (folk healer) and her . In Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me Ultima, Antonio is constantly searching for At first, while reading this book, I thought it was just about relationships and the.
One of the decisions is his choice to either follow the Roman Catholicism way and to become a priest or become a man of the llano as his father did. Ultima offers a different motherly figure to Antonio compared to his actual mother. Adhering to the female role in the Chicano culture, Maria rarely leaves their home, however, Ultima is never confined to any structure.
She is continually travelling to those who seek her spiritual assistance. Another example of Ultima defying the inferior alcove of women, she assumes the role of he family protector, also. The vital relationship between Antonio and Ultima provides insight to the empowerment of Ultima and in turn, the empowerment of women of the Chicano culture.
Anaya effectively translates the Chicano culture to those unaware or unknowledgeable to the existing conditions for the genders f the society. As the novel progresses, however, Anaya also voices his opinions and tests the boundaries of the gender roles placed upon the Chicano people.
She defies the assumed roles and jobs and goes on to assume the actions of men. Although we see the bruja and the curandera both performing magic, Ultima uses her magic only for what she and the reader perceive as good. Her killing of three people is considered justifiable since they are brujas. Twice Ultima is accused of being a bruja, but in one incident the mob is satisfied that she is not, for it thinks she walks under a cross, and in the other she does not flinch when a cross is held up in front of her.
Throughout the novel, good magic is shown to conquer evil magic, but magic must be fought with magic, and the Catholic religious rituals cannot take the place of the ancient magic.
One must remember, however, that using magic to tamper with fate as it affects the natural order of things may bring undesired and unexpected consequences. Anaya shows considerable love for and understanding of the traditional rural Spanish-American society of the Southwest United States. However, his love of these people does not lead him to romanticize their traditional way of life, for he describes the harsh along with the pleasant realities of that life. Bless Me, Ultima helps to give contemporary urban Americans, both Hispanos and Anglos, a better understanding of and respect for traditional peoples and their beliefs in the spiritual nature of the world we live in.
Lippincott,p. Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima Berkeley: Quinto Sol Publications,p. Subsequent references are to this edition. The Dialectics of Knowledge.
And if so, how did the work fit into the overall social and creative context of chicanismo? As the first best seller novel of Chicano literature, it was impossible to dismiss Ultima 's introduction of compelling mythic themes into the disjunctive context of the combative and polemical ethnic literatures of the late sixties.
Ultima was serene in the face of this turmoil, full of conflict, yet noncombative, a portrait of the developing consciousness of the young protagonist, Antonio. The metaphysics of this emerging consciousness were so convincingly drawn that no reader doubted that the seeds of social conscience were deeply sown if yet untested in the chief character. Rudolfo Anaya strikes a deep chord in portraying two primordial ways of relating to the earth, the pastoral and the agricultural.
Bless Me, Ultima, BMUis not a quaint, historical sketch of rural folkways, but rather a dialectical exploration of the contradictions between lifestyles and cultures. At the novel's heart is the process which generates social and historical consciousness. A Marxist-Structuralist perspective defines this process as myth, the collective interpretation and mediation of the contradictions in the historical and ecological experience of a people.
In his account of the relationship between a curandera folk healer and her young apprentice, Anaya penetrates deeply the mythical conscience of the reader. Despite their enthusiasm for his novel, critics have thus far been unable to define the parameters of this response nor prove the reason for its depth.
Contributing elements in the narrative include: From the first reviews to later articles, an increasing body of vague but glowing commentary points to a rich "mythic" or "magical" dimension that underlies the novel. Despite these claims, there appears to be something exceptional about the emerging consciousness of the boy. It is mystically harmonious with nature, yet also incorporates a dynamic, even dialectical awareness of historical forces, from the colonization by Hispanic farmers and ranchers to the coming of the Anglos and World War II.
These seeming contradictions invite a reexamination of the relation of myth and social consciousness, often defined as antithetical, incompatible categories which erode and undermine each other.
Since the novel apparently transcends this impasse, we are obliged to consider a critical model comprehensive enough to explain this achievement.
A review of commentary on the novel is the first step in this direction. Bless Me, Ultima has undergone extensive dream and thematic analyses which include attempts to link its "mythic" elements to precolumbian roots. The suggestion of analogical patterns achieves credibility for the Golden Carp without having to invoke Huitzilopochtli or Quetzalcoatl as other Chicano writers have done.
The political analysis which deems the novel reactionary seems to be based on the assumption that Chicano novels should document only the most relevant social and political struggles. These diverse and fragmentary approaches have fallen short of estimating the overall impact and unity of the work and the structural integrity it has achieved on a number of levels. Since the "mythic" dimension of Bless Me, Ultima is a point of confluence in the above commentaries, a definition of terms is necessary at this point.
Thus far, the study of myth in Chicano literature has been scholastic. The neoclassic allusions to Aztec and other precolumbian mythological and religious systems are fairly common in Chicano Literature, especially in poetry and theater. Critics have been quick to point this out, elaborating only superficially by tracing the origins of the myths and speculating on how they pertain to the socio-cultural identity of the present day Chicano.
Inspired by the work of Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes on the Mexican national psyche, an analogous process has been initiated in Chicano literature and criticism, although it is doubtful that an institutionalized Chicano psychotherapy will be the result. The underlying assumption that would prevent this is that these mythic or collective psychological patterns supposedly lie outside time, eternally remanifesting themselves in different epochs.
Myth is here considered to be an ongoing process of interpreting and mediating the contradictions in the everyday historical experience of the people.
Such a structuralist approach to myth offers some analytical tools which can be applied in a way that avoids ideological analysis and is potentially much more penetrating and historically relevant than traditional thematic or culturalist approaches. The reader of Bless Me, Ultima recognizes the elderly curandera as a kind of repository for the wisdom and knowledge invested in Indo-Hispanic culture.
The novel functions well at this level, for Ultima is indeed in touch with the spirit that moves the land and is intent on conveying this knowledge to Antonio in her indirect and mysterious ways. Yet, the knowledge she commands and the role she plays go far beyond the herbs she utilizes, the stories she saves for the children and her dabbling in "white" witchcraft. The crossed pins, the demon hairballs, the rocks falling from the sky and the fireballs are "colorful" touches which are authentic enough in terms of folk legend.
Anaya inserts the "witchery" only after having won the readers' trust in a clever conquest of their disbelief. However, the enumeration of the standard paraphernalia and the usual supernatural feats of a curandera are neither the reason for nor a barrier to the novel's success. There is an ancient system of knowledge that Ultima exercises that in this novel does not happen to be in the herbs she uses. Any anthropologist is aware that taxonomies such as those of ethnobotany actually contain the philosophical roots and perceptual conventions of the culture.
It is her role as a cultural mediator and Antonio's natural inclination towards a similar calling that link them to their real power, which is the ability to recognize and resolve the internal contradictions of their culture. These oppositions are clearly defined in both social and symbolic terms. If they were, they would then be merely pretexts for a combination mystery story, morality play and Hatfield-McCoy saga with a New Mexican flavor. Something more profound is at work in Bless Me, Ultima, for the oppositions are dialectical, and they are mediated in a way that has counterparts in many different cultures around the earth.
In his comparative studies of origin myths, Claude Levi-Strauss extracts the two most basic and primordial ones which occurred either exclusively or in combination in every culture studied.
The rival origin myth is more empirically based: Then comes the task of finding the first woman. Each lifestyle and the world view it is based on is as compelling, soul satisfying, and original as the other. The opposition as it occurs in the novel may be schematized as follows: The settling down of humankind into the sedentary ways of the neolithic brought with it the emergence of social classes and institutionalized religion and all the economic and social contradictions that accompany the birth of civilization.
Likewise, the agricultural developments of horticulture and animal husbandry are distinct enough to carry with them their own ideologies as evident above. Relating more specifically to the novel in question is the history of the colonization of New Mexico and the tremendous impact of the advent of large scale pastoralism.
As grazing became more important, the communal egalitarianism of agrarian society began giving way to an emerging class system based on the partidario grazing system and the rise of patrones bosses. However, such developments are not evident in the novel, perhaps because its locale, eastern New Mexico, was the last area to be settled before American annexation. The coming of the Texas ranchers, the railroad and the barbed wire destroyed the freedom of the plains.
As the popular saying goes, "Cuando vino el alambre, vino el hambre" when the barbed wire came, so did hunger. When an economic system is threatened, so is its ideology, which becomes nostalgic as its dreams are shattered. Each felt the importance of having their values dominate in the boy and both vied to establish their influence at the dream scene of Antonio's birth: This one will be a Luna, the old man said, he will be a farmer and keep our customs and traditions.
Perhaps God will bless our family and make the baby a priest. And to show their hope they rubbed the dark earth of the river valley on the baby's forehead, and they surrounded the bed with the fruits of their harvest so the small room smelled of fresh green chile and corn, ripe apples and peaches, pumpkins and green beans.
Then the silence was shattered with the thunder of hoof-beats; vaqueros surrounded the small house with shouts and gunshots, and when they entered the room they were laughing and singing and drinking.
Gabriel, they shouted, you have a fine son. He will make a fine vaquero. And they smashed the fruits and vegetables that surrounded the bed and replaced them with a saddle, horse blankets, bottles of whiskey, a new rope, bridles, chapas, and an old guitar. And they rubbed the stain of earth from the baby's forehead because man was not to be tied to the earth but free upon it.
The intervention of Ultima to settle the feud illustrates her role of mediator and demonstrates the basic mechanism of myth. As in all cultures the thrust of mythical thought progresses from the awareness of oppositions towards their resolution. In Bless Me, Ultima, both the curandera and the boy serve as mediators between the oppositions within their culture. Their intermediary functions can be traced throughout the text.
The middle ground that Ultima and Antonio occupy is evident even in special and geographic terms. Ultima has lived on the plain and in the valley, in Las Pasturas as well as in El Puerto de la Luna, gaining the respect of the people in both places. Antonio's family lives in Guadalupe, in a compromise location at mid-point between Las Pasturas and El Puerto. Through the father's insistence, the house is built at the end of the valley where the plain begins.
Antonio mediates between father and mother, trying to please the latter by scraping a garden out of the rocky hillside: Everyday I reclaimed from the rocky soil of the hill a few more feet of earth to cultivate.
The land of the llano was not good for farming, the good land was along the river. But my mother wanted a garden and I worked to make her happy. This positioning makes it impossible to take sides in the territorial groupings of his peers. Anaya explains the power of the curandera as that of the human heart, but in fact demonstrates that it is derived from the knowledge of mythic thought processes, the awareness and resolution of contradictions within the culture.
People turn to Ultima and Antonio at crucial moments in their lives because they are instinctively aware that mediators curanderos and tricksters possess an overview or power of synthesis that can help them resolve their problems. The multiple episodes of Antonio playing the role of priest are especially significant in this light.
It is his mother's and her family's dream for Antonio to become a Luna priest and man of knowledge. In fact he performs the role seriously, administering last rights to Lupito, a war-crazed murderer and Narciso, an ally of Ultima and Antonio's family. The blessings he bestows on his brothers and his friends are real and invested with a power they never fully realize as they taunt him. In his spiritual searching, Antonio discovers the contradictions in Christianity and realizes that the scope of his mediations would include the "pagan," animistic forces implicit in the very synthesis that he will be a part of: That is what Ultima meant by building strength from life" BMU, p.
The dynamism of mythic thought and its power of synthesis is poignantly expressed in Antonio's description of the feelings and emotions that are aroused by contact with Ultima: She took my hand and I felt the power of a whirlwind sweep around me. Her eyes swept the surrounding hills and through them I saw for the first time the wild beauty of our hills and the magic of the green river. My nostrils quivered as I felt the song of the mockingbirds and the drone of the grasshoppers mingle with the pulse of the earth.
The four directions of the llano met in me, and the white sun shone on my soul. The granules of sand at my feet and the sun and sky above me seemed to dissolve into one strange, complete being. There are other characters in the novel who demonstrate differing degrees of awareness of this totality, proving that it is indeed a mechanism of popular culture rather than a mystery reserved for a privileged visionary few.
A good example is Narciso, a powerful man of the llano who nevertheless lives in the valley, having discovered its secrets. Ample evidence of this is his exuberant, drunken garden, the likes of which not many llaneros plainsmen could foster. Stand, Antonio, she commanded, and I stood.
Bless Me, Ultima
You both know, she spoke to my father and my mother, 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. Without the waters of the moon to replenish the oceans there would be no oceans.
And the same salt waters of the oceans are drawn by the sun to the heavens, and in turn become again the waters of the moon. Without the sun there would be no waters formed to slake the dark earth's thirst.
The waters are one, Antonio. I looked into her bright, clear eyes and understood her truth. You have been seeing only parts, she finished, and not looking beyond into the great cycle that binds us all.
The awareness of the characters of the apocalyptic threat of the atomic bombfirst tested just to the southwest of their fertile valley, demonstrates a real and historical dimension of apocalypse.
They sense that the previous balance has been disturbed. The bomb seems to have changed the weather just as surely as World War II has twisted the souls of the men from the area who had fought in it. The need for a synthesis is as urgent as ever in this new time of crisis. Ultima involves herself in the healing of men who were suffering war-sickness and it is Antonio's role to continue the tradition of mediating old and new contradictions.
In one sense Ultima's knowledge may seem mystical because of the way it incorporates nature as well as culture, but when applied to society and history it is penetratingly comprehensive and valid. After Ultima's death, her knowledge continues in Antonio and the reader feels sure that whatever his fate may be, he possesses the conceptual tools to continue to help his people and culture with their internal conflicts as well as with the oncoming struggle between a whole new set of oppositions stemming from the fast approaching aggressive proximity of the Anglo culture and way of life.
In portraying power as the ability to think and understand in a dialectical way, Anaya demonstrates in Bless Me, Ultima the ancient collective cognitive process of mythical thought in Chicano culture and the importance of those individuals who take on the role of mediators curanderos, tricksters or activists in pointing out and moving towards the resolution of the contradictions generated by human history and new technology.
All quotations are from this edition.
Page numbers are noted in text. Anaya," in The Magic of Words: Rudolfo Anaya and His Writings, ed. University of New Mexico Press,pp. University of California, pp. University of Chicago Press,pp. Basic Books,pp. Marc Simmons, New Mexico: Before her death, she instructs Antonio to collect her medicines and herbs before destroying them by the river.
In addition, he reflects on the pull between Catholicism and the continuation of Ultima's spiritual legacy and concludes that he does not need to choose one over the other, but can bring both together to form a new identity and a new religion that is made up of both. Antonio says to his father: Take the llano and the river valley, the moon and the sea, God and the golden carp—and make something new Papa, can a new religion be made? He turns to both pagan and Christian ideologies for guidance, but he doubts both traditions.
With Ultima's help, Antonio makes the transition from childhood to adolescence and begins to make his own choices and to accept responsibility for their consequences.
Both hold conflicting views about Tony's destiny and battle over his future path. While Gabriel represents the roaming life of a vaquero and hopes for Tony to follow this path of life, Maria represents the settled life of hard-working farmers and aspires for her son to become a priest.
Her role in the community is as mediator. Ultima knows the ways of the Catholic Church and also the ways of the indigenous spiritual practices over which she is master. Ultima understands the philosophy and the morality of the ancient peoples of New Mexico and teaches Tony through example, experience and critical reflection, the universal principles that explain and sustain life. Although she is generally respected in the community, people sometimes misunderstand her power.
At times she is referred to as a brujaor witch, but no one—not even Antonio—knows whether or not she is truly a witch. Finally Antonio puts pieces of the puzzle together and the revelation of who she is comes to him. She holds Antonio's destiny in her hands, and at the end of the story sacrifices her own life so that Antonio might live. Tenorio Trementina and his three daughters — Tenorio is a malicious saloon -keeper and barber in El Puerto.
His three daughters perform a black mass and place a curse on Antonio's uncle Lucas Luna. Tenorio detests Ultima because she lifts the curse on Lucas and soon after she does so, one of Tenorio's daughters dies. Hot-tempered and vengeful, Tenorio spends the rest of the novel plotting Ultima's death, which he finally achieves by killing her owl familiarher spiritual guardian. Afterwards, he tries to kill Antonio but is shot by Uncle Pedro. Ultima's Owl — Embodies Ultima's soul, the power of her mysticism, and her life force.
The song the owl sings softly outside Antonio's window at night indicates Ultima's presence and magical protection in Antonio's life. Ultima's owl scratches Tenorio's eye out as he stands in Gabriel's doorway and demands the right to take Ultima away from Gabriel's house.
By the end of the novel Tenorio has figured out the connection between Ultima and her owl. By killing Ultima's owl, Tenorio destroys Ultima's soul and life force, which leads quickly to her death. Antonio takes on the responsibility of burying the owl and realizes that he is really burying Ultima.
Lupito — A war veteran who has post-traumatic stress disorder. After Lupito murders the local sheriff in one of his deranged moments, he is killed by the sheriff and his posse as young Antonio looks on from his hiding place on the banks of the river.
Lupito's violent death provides the catalyst for Antonio's serious moral and religious questioning. As a result, he gets so sick that Ultima is summoned to cure him. She concocts a potient of herbs, water, and kerosene as a purgative and uses Antonio's innocence as a mediator to effect the cure. Narciso — Although known as the town drunk, Narciso cuts a large, strong figure of a man. Narciso and Gabriel are good friends because they share a deep and passionate love for the llano.
Narciso has a deep abiding loyalty and love for Ultima because of her extraordinary efforts to save his young wife who had succumbed to an epidemic that struck the town. Narciso demonstrates a strong appreciation for the richness of the earth —his garden is a lush masterpiece full of sweet vegetables and fruits. Tenorio kills him as he is on his way to warn Ultima that Tenorio is after her.
As he lies dying in Antonio's arms, he asks Antonio to give him a blessing. He challenges Tenorio when Tenorio speaks badly of Ultima. Not long afterward, a curse is laid on his home.
Horse loves to wrestle, but everyone fears Bones more because he is reckless and perhaps even crazy. Ernie is a braggart who frequently teases Antonio. The Vitamin Kid is the fastest runner in Guadalupe.
Red is a Protestant, so he is often teased by the other boys. Lloyd enjoys reminding everyone that they can be sued for even the most minor offenses. Abel, the smallest boy in the group, frequently urinates in inappropriate places. Samuel — One of Antonio's friends. He is also the Vitamin Kid's brother. Unlike most of Antonio's friends, Samuel is gentle and quiet. He tells Antonio about the golden carp.
Gender Roles in Bless Me, Ultima - words | Study Guides and Book Summaries
It is here that Antonio starts questioning his faith. Florence — One of Antonio's friends who does not believe in God, but goes to catechism to be with his friends. Florence shows Antonio that the Catholic Church is not perfect. He dies in a very bad drowning accident. He disobeys his father when he continues to visit an Indian who lives near the town. He is described by Antonio as being moody. Cico tells Antonio that the story of the golden carp originally comes from the Indian.
When they return home, they suffer post-traumatic stress as a result of the war.