Bless Me, Ultima

by Rudolfo Anaya
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What do Antonio's dreams reveal about him? How do they change as he matures in Bless Me, Ultima?

Antonio’s dreams are a framework for his journey towards finding his identity in Bless Me, Ultima. Antonio is pulled between the beliefs and expectations of his parents. His mother wants him to be a priest, while his father wants him to be a cowboy. Antonio struggles with this conflict through most of the novel until Ultima restores balance in the world and helps him find his own identity.

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In Bless Me, Ultima, Antonio’s dreams provide a framework for his growth in the story. Antonio’s dreams center on religion and identity, two of the critical issues he navigates in the story. Bless Me, Ultima takes place in New Mexico in the late 1940s, and the story revolves around the Hispanic culture present in New Mexico at the time.

Antonio struggles with his self-conception in the novel. He is torn between the worlds and desires of his parents. His mother is a Luna, and his father is a Marez. Each has expectations for how their son will turn out. Antonio’s father and brothers follow the lonely life of a cowboy of the llano, while his mother expects him to follow her family and become a priest in the Roman Catholic Church. His idea of personal identity is deeply tied to his conception of religion. His father is represented by the wild llano and, in turn, the pagan Golden Carp deity. His mother is represented by the structure and safety of the Catholic Church and, in turn, the Christian God.

In one of Antonio’s dreams, we see the relationship that these different factors have with one another. After learning about the Golden Carp, Antonio has a dream where the difference between his mother and father is apparent:

Mother, I cried, you are saved! We are all saved! Yes, my Antonio, she smiled, we who were baptized in the water of the moon which was made holy by our Holy Mother the Church are saved. Lies! my father shouted, Antonio was not baptized in the holy water of the moon, but in the salt water of the sea! I turned and saw him standing on the corpse-strewn shore. I felt a searing pain spread through my body. Oh please tell me which is the water that runs through my veins, I moaned; oh please tell me which is the water that washes my burning eyes!

The conflict is laid out in this dream. Antonio is pulled between the beliefs and expectations of his parents, unable to find his own identity in the struggle. However, during that dream, Ultima appears and calls “cease," calming the fighting. She tells Antonio that the moon needs the sea and the sea needs the moon; they work in harmony together. Ultima provides a way for Antonio to navigate his confusion, helping him to find the balance between his parents and their beliefs.

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Bless Me, Ultima traces a young boy's journey from childhood to adulthood in the midst of a culturally divided world. Rudolfo Anaya uses dreams as a medium to explore Antonio's transformation.

The first dream introduces the conflict between Antonio's parents. His mother is a devout Catholic, who wants to see Antonio as a priest. His father, a free-spirited cowboy, is a nomad at heart. In his first dream, Antonio witnesses a fight between both sides of the family. Each side wants a different future for him. This symbolizes Antonio's desire to live up to family expectations.

In his next dream, Antonio encounters his brothers, who are back home after the war. They discuss the future and what it holds for them. In this dream, Antonio begins to take control of his destiny.

In the third dream, Antonio's brothers try to get him to enter the local brothel. Antonio fears the loss of his innocence. His mother and the priest reveal the truth that one is innocent only as long as one does not know. Understanding brings loss of innocence.

The next dream represents Antonio’s world divided between Catholicism and the religion of the Golden Carp. The two sides converge, and an enormous storm is about to descend, when Ultima calls, “cease." Antonio understands that in the cycle of life, everything holds together as a single entity.

In his last dream, Antonio witnesses bloodshed, destruction, and the death of everything dear to him. Finally, the Golden Carp gives birth to a new order. Antonio attains maturity and realizes that his dreams no longer rule him.

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Antonio's dreams early in the novel reflect many of his fears as a young boy.  He remembers his birth, he dreams about the Marez and Lunas and the pull of each way of life on him, he dreams about his brothers dragging him into a brothel.  While these are remarkable dreams for a young boy, they also reveal his youth, innocence and his fears.

Later in the story, after his experiences with Ultima become more complicated and the path of his life changes, he begins to dream almost mystically, of the Golden Carp and the differences between the Catholic and the curandera way of life.  His dreams begin to question his Catholic religion.  This loss of innocence is key to understanding the book.  Antonio's dreams change from being about fears to about the bigger questions in life that he has.

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