Please explain the symbolism of water in Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima, water serves as a symbol for several themes and emotions that occur throughout the novel. It is a symbol of life, as the town is surrounded by water. Different bodies of water serve as different thematic symbols. The river, for instance, is...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima, water serves as a symbol for several themes and emotions that occur throughout the novel. It is a symbol of life, as the town is surrounded by water. Different bodies of water serve as different thematic symbols. The river, for instance, is tainted by the blood that Lupito has spilled and his own, and it is a symbol for impurity, as the Golden Carp will not swim in it. The pond, on the other hand, in its seclusion, represents purity.

Water as a symbol makes other appearances in the book. The Golden Carp as a pagan god creates an association with freedom in regard to the water, as it is an alternative to the comparatively heavy-handed oppressive nature of Catholicism. When Florence drowns, it could be symbolic of his questioning of the tenants of the church. Tony's last name, "Marez," implies a connection to the sea, and his parents have an argument over whether he was baptized in the river or the ocean, representing two conflicting forces in his life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Water has had great symbolic significance since time immemorial. In numerous cultures throughout the world, in many different historical epochs, it has symbolized both life and death, creation and destruction. In Bless Me, Ultima water is used in a similar fashion. In the early part of the novel, water is a symbol of spiritual rejuvenation. Antonio has dreams about the cleansing qualities of the river, expressing a desire to put the tragedies of the past behind him, for his tortured mind to be washed clean of the haunting memories of Lupito's death.

In another of his symbol-laden dreams Antonio witnesses his parents arguing over which body of water he was baptized in: the holy water of the river or the salt water of the ocean. This symbolizes his parents' pulling him in two different directions at once. Here, water is presented as a source of conflict. Later on, Ultima explains to Antonio's parents that there is really no difference between the river and the ocean; they are equal sources of rejuvenation for their son.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Water is an important symbol in the novel, in many ways. First, there is an abundance of natural water elements surrounding Antonio's home. The river, the pond, and the lake all represent different sides of Antonio and different events in his life. The river represents the violence and sin in the town. This is where Tony witnesses Lupito's death, and is first awakened to the evil men can do. He also has to cross the river to go to school, so that first crossing symbolizes the first step into maturity. In contrast, the pond is pure, the home of the golden carp. It symbolizes the grace of God and of man- the goodness of which we're capable. The lake or reservoir holds a kind of hidden danger. There is the threat of flood, which ties into the golden carp story. But there's also the threat of drowning, which we see in Florence's death. Water is also important in Antonio's last name. "Marez" means "sea", expressing the wild, untamed, almost destructive nature of water.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team