Bless Me, Ultima

by Rudolfo Anaya

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What is the symbolism of water in Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya?

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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...

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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.

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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.

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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.

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What does water symbolize in Bless Me, Ultima?

Water in this story is viewed with a reverence befitting its scarcity in the setting. Throughout the book, there is a conflation of water with purity, innocence, and cleansing. Water surrounds the town, and it is continually indicated that this makes the townspeople singularly lucky, because water is symbolic of life and must be protected as it protects the people. At the beginning of the novel, the river water is tainted by Lupito's blood, marring its purity, and consequently the river water becomes a barometer, its purity or foulness representative of the town's own sins and transgressions. The Golden Carp refuses to swim in the despoiled water, indicating that the town has banished its gods through the people's own fault and wickedness. Meanwhile, the pond, to which Tony and Cico come to meet with the Golden Carp, is a sacred and protected body of water, untouched by the evils of the townspeople. Water in the novel, then, represents not only life but the state of that life.

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What does water symbolize in Bless Me, Ultima?

Water comes to symbolize many concepts in the novel. One example is in Antonio's last name, and one of the contrasting aspects of his personality. "Marez" implies a connection to the sea, expressing the wild, untamed, almost destructive nature of water. Of course, this capacity for destruction is also captured in the myth of the golden carp. Yet the carp offers an alternative to the rather oppressive presentation of Catholicism in the novel. Thus, water also symbolizes a freedom or escape from that religious control.

As the previous poster mentioned, there is a clear division between the symbolism of the river and the pond. This division is connected to the contrast between the society of the town (and its influence on Tony) and the hidden secrets of the land surrounding it. These are also important influences on Tony's development, with the violence and debauchery of the town infecting the river, while the pond carries the sacred purity of the llano, untouched by human sin. There is also a suggestion of baptism in the novel, particularly when Tony witnesses Lupito's death in the river. It's his baptism into the dark side of human nature. Florence's death by drowning could be seen as a reverse of this, perhaps connecting to his own questioning of the tenements of Catholicism.

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