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...
(The entire section is 869 words.)
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 1940s. Tony begins his story at the age of six when Ultima, a female curandera, moves in with him and his family. A curandera is a healer, highly respected in the Chicano culture for her ability to heal both physical and emotional ailments. Ultima heals Tony's soul by opening his eyes to the "magic" around him. Tony is confused through much of the novel, unable to reconcile the conflicting philosophies he feels tugging at him from all directions. He feels he must find a way to reconcile the conflicting beliefs and ideologies of his mother and father, Chicano culture and American culture, and Catholicism and pagan mysticism.
Though Bless Me, Ultima is largely autobiographical, it reflects the more general experience of Chicanos living in the American Southwest. Like many of these people, Tony struggles to maintain ties to his cultural heritage while at the same time assimilate his ideologies into the American experience. Ultima is powerful, in tune with the pulses of the earth, and knowledgeable of earth spirit. She becomes the boy's spiritual guide, helping him make sense of the world by teaching him about the folklore and folk remedies that have been known to his ancestors for centuries. The bond Tony shares with Ultima strengthens as the novel progresses. It is this wise curandera who helps him put life in...
(The entire section is 365 words.)
Chapters Uno (One) through Cinco (Five): Before School Begins
Bless Me, Ultima opens with the curandera Ultima coming to live with Tony’s family outside the village of Guadalupe. At this point, Tony is six years old: he has not yet begun school, and is innocent of the world. This innocence is shattered early on, however, when Tony’s family learns that Lupito, a veteran returned from the war, has killed the town sheriff. Tony follows his father to the river, where the men of the village are gathering to confront Lupito, and watches as Lupito is shot and killed. This is the first of several deaths that Tony will witness.
The summer before Tony begins school, he spends a good deal of time with Ultima, who helps him to interpret his dreams and sort out his family’s conflicting messages. At the end of summer, the Marez family, except for Tony’s father, go to El Puerto to help his mother’s family with the harvest.
Chapters Seis (Six) through Nueve (Nine): Tony’s First Year of School
Tony goes to school in the fall, carrying the high hopes of his mother that he will become an educated man and ultimately a priest. Despite the fact that he is a quick learner and earns the respect of his teacher, Tony is an outcast because he is different— he is not a native English speaker, and rather than eating sandwiches for lunch like the other children, he eats tortillas, chiles, and beans. At school, he comes to...
(The entire section is 1422 words.)