What role does the physical environment-the New Mexcian landscape- play in Bless Me, Ultima?

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e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The landscape serves at least two functions in the work. First, it symbolizes the differences between Antonio's parents (and their families), offering a physical idea that represents their internal and historic affinities. Second, the landscape serves as a mystical place of communion, opening to Antonio with a beauty, spirit and persuasive truth. 

Antonio's parents differ in particular in where they come from. This is true both literally and figuratively. Gabriel comes from the llano, the planes, where his family has travelled freely and widely as herders. He says of his family:

 “These were the people of my father, the vaqueros of the llano. They were an exuberant, restless people, wandering across the ocean of the plain.”

Antonio's mother comes from el Puerto, from a farming family. She values the quiet stability of that way of life. 

The landscape is repeatedly invoked to symbolize and realize these differences in demeanor. 

Also, when Ultima arrives at Antonio's home, he feels the beauty and glory and the life of the landscape in a personal way for the first time. As the book goes on, Antonio becomes increasingly aware of voices in the wild (of the river, the owl, etc.) and he finds solace in nature. 

The landscape offers a means for Antonio to find his "spiritual home" as he searches for truth in the world. Ultima helps him in this effort, introducing him to mystical truths and helping him to open himself up to nature.

To Tony she says, “You have been seeing only parts . . . and not looking beyond into the great cycle that binds us all.”


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