How was Tony influenced by Ultima and Maria in Bless Me, Ultima?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tony, or Antonio, in Bless Me, Ultima is a boy in his village outside Guadalupe, New Mexico. He has older brothers who have fought in World War II and return changed by the war and disinterested in small village life. Even though Tony's village is in the United States, it is still called a village, a word not commonly used in relation to U.S. locales, because, up until World War II, the isolated village was left alone to continue in its historic way of life. One of the cultural aspects that carried on in the village, though it had faded from most of the United States, was the tradition of powerful curanderas, healers, who could impart as well as remove curses as well as healings.

In Tony's village, a curandera called Ultima, has come to them from her own nearby village because she has no family of her own left. She is brought into Tony's family to live. There, Ultima heals people and removes curses, but she also puts a curse on Tenorio's three daughters who are believed to be brujas, which means witches. These are indirect influences on Tony as he observes all these things and hears what Ultima and others have to say about it all, but Ultima has more direct influences on Tony in addition to this. Ultima acts as a guide and counselor to Tony. She teaches him to interpret his dreams and guides him as he tries to think about his place in his family. His mother's people are farmers and his father's people are nomadic cattle herders. Ultima endeavors to help Tony find a bridge for himself across the chasm of these two ways of life.

Tony's mother Maria is sad that all her older sons have chosen wandering ways of life, especially after their experiences in World War II, which has left a scar as scorching on each soldier as the never-before-seen scars left on the lands of Europe, Africa, the Pacific Islands and, worst of all, Japan. Maria dreams that Tony will choose to be a farmer or even a Roman Catholic priest. Maria is devout and would be so happy to have Tony devote his life to the Church. Tony embraces Catholicism himself but after witnessing Ultima's powers, which combine Catholicism and Native American mysticism, he begins to have questions and other ideas about religiousness, plus he is introduced to a pagan god by another person in the village. Maria's influence on Tony makes him earnestly try to understand his place in the family and his role in relation to his mother's dreams and the two very different family traditions: farmer versus nomadic cowboy. Her influence also provides the foundation for his religious beliefs and ideas, even though these settle beliefs come into conflict with new spirituality and ideas that he must also find a bridge between or across.