Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 574 words.)
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Summary (Identities & Issues 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...
(The entire section is 420 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
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.
(The entire section is 869 words.)