Bless Me, Ultima Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bless Me, Ultima, the book that established Anaya as an important writer, is often considered his best work. The novel tells the story of three years in the life of Antonio Marez, a young Mexican American boy living in the small New Mexico farm village of Guadalupe around the time of World War II. During these years, Antonio experiences tragedies and struggles. He emerges as a more mature person because of his relationship with his grandmother and spiritual guide, Ultima.

In exploring this relationship, Anaya uses a large variety of interesting materials and techniques. He interweaves legendary and mythic details into realistic descriptions of the New Mexican landscape to create a rich picture of the lifestyle of the characters. He tells the story from the point of view of the narrator, the boy Antonio, but endows him with insights too mature for a young person, thus creating a multiple point of view for the events. Moreover, Anaya frequently incorporates dreams into the story. The plot consists of the struggles Anaya considers the important ones in life, those concerning loss of faith and family problems. It examines Anaya’s favorite theme: that harmony and reconciliation are necessary for self-knowledge and spiritual fulfillment.

Antonio’s parents welcome Ultima, a curandera (spiritual guide), into their family in the first chapter. This begins Antonio’s awareness of the passage of time. He comments that the time of childhood seemed to stand still. In the middle of the chapter, Anaya uses the boy’s dream to accentuate the element of time as well as to introduce the conflict between his mother’s desire for a stable life and his father’s desire to keep the old ways of the vaquero, the traditional Mexican life for a man.

It is Ultima who helps Antonio through the family struggle between these two philosophies, as well as through his problems with his three brothers and two sisters and through the other conflicts in the book. Antonio excels in school and socially; however, he has problems with his relationship to the Church, because he cannot reconcile its spiritual teachings with the bureaucracy and artifice connected to it. He also experiences four deaths, including the drowning of a close friend. Through all these struggles, Ultima provides stability by satisfying Antonio’s emotional and intellectual needs, thus enabling him to grow spiritually as well.

The story ends with Ultima’s death. The book describes only three years in Antonio’s life, but at the end, he is a different person.

To add dimension to Antonio’s character, Anaya frequently includes dreams made up of legendary and mythic materials. Dreams influence his outlook and conduct. For example, dreams in which battles of mythic proportion appear often lead into real arguments with his parents. A complex nightmare involving ancient rituals and symbols of horror enables him to understand the real events of a friend’s murder. At the end, when events affirm Antonio’s growth and development, the dreams become a quieting, healing experience, paralleling the influence of Ultima upon him.

Even though the boy is only eight years old at the novel’s end, the process and themes Anaya deals with are universal. The structure of the narration and the mingling of dream, legend, and reality make the work interesting. Anaya’s vision of balance and wholeness and his ability to synthesize details from many sources to create myths make Bless Me Ultima an important work.

Bless Me, Ultima Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Bless Me, Ultima is Rudolfo Anaya’s first novel of a trilogy that also includes Heart of Aztlán (1976) and Tortuga (1979). It is a psychological and magical portrait of a quest for identity by a child. In this classic work, Antonio, the protagonist, is subjected to contradicting influences that he must master in order to mature. These influences include symbolic characters and places, the most powerful of which are Ultima, a curandera who evokes the timeless past of a pre-Columbian world, and a golden carp, which swims the river waters of the supernatural and offers a redeeming future.

Antonio is born in Pasturas, a very small village on the Eastern New Mexican plain. Later, the family moves across the river to the small town of Guadalupe, where Antonio spends his childhood. His father belongs to the Márez family and is a cattleman; Antonio’s mother is of the Luna family, whose background is farming. They represent the initial manifestation of the divided world into which Antonio is born. Division is a challenge he must resolve in order to find himself. Antonio’s father wants him to become a horseman of the plain. Antonio’s mother wants him to become a priest to a farming community, which is in the highest tradition of the Luna family.

The parents’ wishes are symptoms of a deeper spiritual challenge facing Antonio involving his Catholic beliefs and those associated with the magical world of a pre-Columbian past. Ultima, the curandera and a creature of both worlds, helps guide Antonio through the ordeal of understanding and dealing with these challenges.

Ultima is a magical character who touches the core of Antonio’s being. She supervised his birth. Later she comes to stay with the family in Guadalupe when Antonio is seven. On several occasions, Antonio is a witness to her power.

Antonio’s adventure takes him beyond the divided world of the farmer and the horseman and beyond the Catholic ritual and its depictions of good and evil. With Ultima’s help, he is able to bridge these opposites and channel them into a new cosmic vision of nature, represented by the river, which stands in the middle of his two worlds, and by the golden carp, which points to a new spiritual covenant.

The novel ends with the killing of Ultima’s owl by one of her enemies. He discovered that the owl carried her spiritual presence. This killing also causes Ultima’s death, but her work is done. Antonio can choose his destiny.

Bless Me, Ultima Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Tony dreams of his own birth. In the dream, his mother’s brothers, the Lunas (luna means “moon”), bless him and offer him fruit, calling him a “man of the people.” Then his brothers arrive on horseback. Shouting, shooting, and laughing, they smash the fruit and break up the gathering. They claim Antonio for the Márezes (mar means “sea”). Antonio senses that Ultima (última means “the last one”), who is present at the birth, is connected to his future.

Ultima comes to stay with the narrator’s family the summer he is “almost seven.” Antonio is living with his parents and sisters, Deborah and Theresa; his three older brothers are away in the war. Ultima is a curandera, or healer. One evening, Tony witnesses horrible violence. Lupito, whom people claim World War II made crazy, kills Chavez, the sheriff of the town. Antonio secretly follows his father to town when his father goes to investigate the killing and, hiding on the river bank, sees the fugitive gunned down by a mob of pursuers. Narciso, the Márez family friend and peacemaker, pleads with the posse but cannot save Lupito. “’Bless me,’” Lupito says to Antonio as Lupito dies. Later, Antonio realizes that he was protected that night by Ultima’s owl, who was always close by and who seems to carry the powerful spirit of the curandera and to watch over Antonio.

Antonio starts school in Guadalupe that fall. From his first teacher Miss Maestas he learns the magic of letters and how to write. He also experiences disorientation and humiliation in the English-only classroom. From Ultima, however, he learns equally important lessons, for example, about the healing power of the herbs and roots they gather as they walk along the river banks and about the spirits of the natural world. “I knew she held the secret of my destiny,” he thinks. From his friends, Antonio learns about the golden carp that lives in the river surrounding the town and that will also form a part of this destiny. With his friend Cico he later sees the beautiful and sacred fish.

Antonio’s three brothers—Andrew, Leon, and Eugene—return home, but not for long. The war gives them a taste for the larger world, and soon Leon and Eugene leave the family to work in it. Only Andrew remains.

Tony accompanies Ultima when she goes to El Puerto to heal Uncle Lucas, his mother’s brother, who is sick from a curse laid on him by the witchlike daughters of Tenorio Trementina, a satanic saloonkeeper and barber. Ultima cures Lucas with her powerful folk medicines and puts a curse on the three witches; she thus earns the enmity of the evil Tenorio. When one of his daughters dies and the priest refuses her burial in holy ground, Tenorio begins his deadly campaign against the curandera.

Antonio enters third grade. Tenorio is still threatening Ultima, and Antonio witnesses a fight between him and Narciso, who is trying to protect her. When Narciso and Antonio try to save Ultima by enlisting the help of his brother Andrew, who is at that moment in the bordello, Antonio wonders whether through all his experiences so far—bad and good—he is already an adult. Andrew refuses to help, thus dishonoring the Márezes and leaving Narciso to fight a more powerful enemy.

Tenorio murders Narciso, and, for the second time, a dying man acts as if Antonio is a priest, for Narciso whispers, “Confess me,” to Antonio before dying. Antonio hears his confession. After that terrible death, Antonio develops a fever and has one of his many dreams, each one of these visions seeming to teach him something or to show him the way through his childhood. Antonio learns magical powers from Ultima; he also goes through his catechism, and, at Easter that year, he makes his first confession and takes his First Communion. He is learning about the religion and culture of the Catholic Church and about the older, folk traditions represented by Ultima, his father, and the belief in the golden carp.

After school that summer Antonio accompanies Ultima to the house of Tellez, where a curse by Tenorio causes stones to rain down on his house. Ultima saves Tellez. Antonio’s friend Cico warns him that he must choose between the church (the religion of his mother) and the lessons of Ultima and his father (which include belief in the power of the golden carp). After this conversation, Antonio’s friend Florence drowns, the third death Antonio personally witnesses.

When Tenorio’s second daughter dies, he comes looking for Ultima, and Antonio runs ten miles to Guadalupe to warn her. This is his test of initiation. He cannot save her, however: Tenorio kills the owl (which was Ultima’s spirit) and is shot and killed in turn by Antonio’s Uncle Pedro, who redeems the Márez family after Andrew’s refusal to help. Ultima dies, but Antonio becomes a man in the process of trying to save her. Ultima’s lessons will stay with the young boy. He learns that he should embrace life and know that the spirit of the curandera will always watch over him.

Bless Me, Ultima Overview

Bless Me, Ultima is a coming-of-age novel narrated by Tony Marez, a young boy living with his family in Guadalupe, New Mexico in the...

(The entire section is 365 words.)

Bless Me, Ultima Summary

Chapters Uno (One) through Cinco (Five): Before School Begins
Bless Me, Ultima opens with the curandera Ultima coming...

(The entire section is 1422 words.)