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...
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