Bless Me, Ultima Analysis
by Rudolfo Anaya

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Guadalupe. Small town in eastern New Mexico where Antonio lives. Tony’s family has moved from Las Pasturas (a smaller town where he was born) to Guadalupe, where he will spend these crucial years growing up. The town is dominated by three symbolic structures: the Roman Catholic church where Tony receives his catechism, the school he attends, and the water tower. Many of Tony’s adventures will be on water: It is at the river at night where he watches the death of Lupito, in a pond where he sees the golden carp, in a snowstorm where he witnesses the death of Narciso, and in Blue Lake where he finds his friend Florence drowned.

Tony and his family live on a hillside outside of town, where Tony does traditional chores, feeding the livestock and tending his mother’s garden, and it is from his mother’s family that he learns some of his most lasting lessons: “From my mother I had learned that man is of the earth, that his clay feet are part of the ground that nourishes him, and that it is this inexplicable mixture that gives man his measure of safety and security. Because man plants in the earth he believes in the miracle of birth, and he provides a home for his family, and he builds a church to preserve his faith and the soul that is bound to his flesh, his clay.”

Ultima, a curandera (or healer) and grandmother-figure who was present at Tony’s birth, introduces him to the beauty that surrounds Guadalupe: “the wild beauty of our hills and the magic of the green river” that surround the town. Thus, Tony’s location just outside of town, and his adventures in the hills and on the river there, show a merging of the two familial traditions through the help of Ultima.


Llano (YAH-noh). Plains on which Tony’s father works all of his life as a cowboy. The vaquero tradition is a dying one, being eliminated by fences and highways and the modern farming equipment which changes the face of the Southwest in the twentieth century. The llano also symbolizes not only an older way of life, but a sense of freedom that Tony’s father and others still cherish in the modern world: From “my father and Ultima I had learned that the greater immortality is in the freedom of man, and that freedom is best nourished by the noble expanse of land and air and pure, white sky.”

Agua Negra ranch

Agua Negra ranch. Between Guadalupe and Las Pasturas. Tony accompanies Ultima when she goes to the simple adobe home of Tellez to lift a curse that has caused stones to rain down upon it. It is the last act before her death.

El Puerto (de los Lunas)

El Puerto (de los Lunas). Small town that is Tony’s mother’s birthplace. Every fall, Tony and his family make a pilgrimage to “the adobe houses of the peaceful village. . . . We always enjoyed our stay at El Puerto. It was a world where people were happy, working, helping each other.” By the end of the novel, Tony says, “Take the llano and the river valley, the moon and the sea, God and the golden carp—and make something new.” He will weave together, in short, the various strands of his family traditions: not only the “moon” and the “sea” (the Luna and Marez families), but also his orthodox Catholic heritage with the native spiritual traditions of the Southwest, including the magical folk religion and history represented by Ultima.

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

New Mexico
New Mexico was a Spanish colony from 1595 to 1821. When the Spanish explored the region, they found permanent communities (as opposed to nomadic tribes) along the Rio Grande; they called these pueblos after the small villages in southern Spain. They discovered that many of the plants and animals from their homeland could survive in the region—cattle, horses, sheep, goats, chickens, and pigs were among the animals they brought. They also introduced grains such as wheat and barley, fruit including apples, pears, peaches, and melons, as well as vegetables like lettuce, cucumbers, and chiles.

The Spanish found that there was little gold or other...

(The entire section is 4,560 words.)