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...

(The entire section is 633 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The novel is set in the plains of New Mexico in the 1940s, during World War II. The first part of the book takes place around Tony's home, a...

(The entire section is 329 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Point of View An integral aspect of the construction of Bless Me, Ultima is the point of view from which the story is told. The novel...

(The entire section is 687 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Much of what Tony learns about his past and his future is revealed to him in dream sequences in which Anaya uses stream of consciousness and...

(The entire section is 550 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Anaya covers themes in his novels that have had significance in his own life. But while Tony's experiences mirror Anaya's own experiences,...

(The entire section is 515 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1940s: During World War II, the U.S. population, including the people living in New Mexico, is mostly located in small towns and rural...

(The entire section is 420 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Why was Maria particularly bothered by her sons' exhibiting what she considered inappropriate behavior around Ultima?

2. Why...

(The entire section is 140 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Using Ultima as an example, define the role of the shaman in Mexican American societies. (Daghistany's book in For Further Reference...

(The entire section is 193 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Research the practice of curandismo (native healing) in the Southwestern United States, and evaluate Anaya’s portrayal of the...

(The entire section is 183 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Anaya's books attempt to answer some of life's most perplexing questions: how we can understand the nature of God and how we can we find...

(The entire section is 164 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

In 1982, Rudolfo Anaya read sections of Bless Me, Ultima as well as his novel La Tortuga on a sound recording for American...

(The entire section is 25 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Victor Martinez’s Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida won the 1996 National Book Award for Young People’s Fiction. In powerful prose, it...

(The entire section is 333 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Anaya, Rudolfo. Keep Blessing Us, Ultima: A Teaching Guide for Bless Me, Ultima. Edited by Abelerdo Baeza. Austin: Eakin Press, 1997....

(The entire section is 212 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Gonzalez, Ray, “Desert Songs,” in Nation, Vol. 259, Issue 3, July 18, 1994, p. 98.


(The entire section is 185 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Suggested Readings

Bruce-Novoa. Portraits of the Chicano Artist as a Young Man: The Making of the “Author” in Three Chicano Novels. Albuquerque, N.Mex.: Pajarito Press, 1977. This important early analysis of Bless Me, Ultima reveals the novel to be “the apprenticeship of a writer who fulfills his training with Ultima by becoming a novelist, the author of his own text.”

Calderón, Héctor. “Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima: A Chicano Romance of the Southwest.” Critica 1, no. 3 (Fall, 1986): 21-47. Argues that the novel is actually a highly crafted romance.

González-T., César A., ed. Rudolfo A. Anaya: Focus on Criticism. La Jolla, Calif.: Lalo Press, 1990.

Gonzalez-T., Cesar A., ed. Rudolfo A. Anaya: Focus on Criticism. La Jolla, Calif.: Lalo Press, 1990. Includes useful essays on Bless Me, Ultima by Roberto Cantu, Jean Cazemajou, and others.

Lamadrid, Enrique R. “The Dynamics of Myth in the Creative Vision of Rudolfo Anaya.” In Paso por aquí: Critical Essays on the New Mexican Literary Tradition, 1542-1988, edited by Erlinda Gonzales-Berry. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989. Shows the ways in which Anaya uses Southwestern myth in his novel.

Saldivar, Ramon. “Romance, the Fantastic, and the Representation of History in Rudolfo Anaya and Ron Arias.” Chapter 5 in Chicano Narrative: The Dialectics of Difference. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990. Argues that Anaya’s book “creates a uniquely palatable amalgamation of old and new world symbolic structures.”

Trejo, Arnulfo D. “Bless Me, Ultima: A Novel.” Arizona Quarterly 29 (1973): 95-96.