Rudolfo Anaya

Start Free Trial

Introduction

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 136

Rudolfo A(lfonso) Anaya 1937–

Chicano novelist, short story writer, playwright, and scriptwriter.

Anaya entered the literary scene in 1972 with his first novel, Bless Me, Ultima, and critics acclaimed his skillful use of metaphor and narrative technique. Ultima and his succeeding novels, Heart of Aztlán and Tortuga, comprise a trilogy about growing up in New Mexico.

Anaya finds a fantastic, rich storehouse in the cuentos (stories) of the Mexican-Indian people of the Southwest. He enriches his work with religion (specifically the conflict between modern European-Catholic culture and ancient paganism), dreams, and Spanish-American legends and folklore. However, critics praise Anaya for transcending the limited attitudes and scope of some ethnic art. They have recognized him as an author with wide appeal to American readers.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 45-48 and Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 1.)

Scott Wood

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 504

The mainstream American novel has consistently revealed at least one common truth about life in this country: it is filled with contradictions and extreme ranges of experience which cannot be reconciled. (p. 72)

Bless Me, Ultima is a unique American novel. Living apart from the mainstream, a young New Mexican Chicano has offered in this, his first novel, a rich and powerful synthesis for some of life's sharpest oppositions. Perhaps Rudolfo Anaya would object to my calling his novel "American," even though it is the story of a young boy growing up in New Mexico during and immediately after World War II, a war in which his three older brothers fight. Despite Anaya's reflections on the effect of the war on American communities, the alienation of sons and their flight to the city, deeper themes are at the book's heart. (pp. 72-3)

In the course of the novel, throughout three years of spiritual genesis, the boy [Antonio] is torn between maternal forces: the earth, Catholic ritual, family ties; and the opposing powers: the flowing river, the golden carp (its god), the dream of nomadic liberation. His mother would have him be a priest. She is a Luna, a descendant of the Spanish priest who settled the farming valley. But Antonio has the blood of the Marez, of the changing and inconstant sea. His father's primitive roots are Antonio's connection to older myths; he cannot embrace the Catholic faith without struggle and ambivalence. Anaya builds this opposition with admirable skill; he develops a complexity of natural symbols and mythic anecdotes in a simple lyric style which becomes, finally, an inexorable power beneath his plot.

The plot begins with the coming of Ultima to the household of Antonio Marez. She is a curandera (one who cures with herbs and magic). This old woman, so strange and wonderful, was midwife at Antonio's birth; she becomes so again as he struggles to give birth to his soul. The events of Antonio's young life are violent and incomprehensible; three violent deaths, diabolic possessions, his brothers' moral collapse, cruelty and bigotry in his childhood friends. Through each shattering event Antonio is accompanied by the wise and tender force of Ultima; she blesses him with a vision of life neither Christian nor pagan, but a melding of both and, somehow, deeper than either.

This is a remarkable book, worthy not only of the Premio Quinto Sol literary award for which it was selected, but worthy in other respects, as well. To wit: for its communication of tender emotion and powerful spirituality without being mawkish or haughty; for its eloquent presentation of Chicano consciousness in all its intriguing complexity; finally, for being an Amerian novel which accomplishes a harmonious resolution, transcendent and hopeful. Anaya offers a valuable gift to the American scene, a scene which often seems as spiritually barren as some parched plateau in New Mexico. (pp. 73-4)

Scott Wood, "Book Reviews: 'Bless Me, Ultima'," in America (reprinted with permission of America Press, Inc., © 1973; all rights reserved), Vol. 128, No. 3, January 27, 1973, pp. 72-4.

Daniel Testa

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2465

Bless me, Ultima can be taken first of all as a good action novel, a work in which intense and dramatic happenings make up a considerable part. There are violent fights and deaths. The technique and calculated effects of certain scenes seem deliberately to have been drawn from popular literature and movies that reflect a legendary "wild" west, replete with stock situations and characters. One difference we note is that all, or almost all, the heroes, victims, and villains are members of the Hispanic, Indian, or mestizo communities. Some of the stereotyped elements used in the work are a Longhorn saloon, a poolroom, a bawdy house, a wise old Indian who lives in a cave, settlers and sheepherders, farmers and cowboys. But Anaya also moves beyond that borrowed type of scenario by giving symbolic value to places and objects. Thus, we have the house on the hill that is a place of refuge, the bridge that connects to the larger world, the river that becomes such a dominant presence in the lives of several of the characters, the open prairies, the closed valleys, the unproductive terrain that must be worked inch-by-inch, among others.

Anaya adds to the texture of his narrative by tapping other sources of folklore, legends, mythologies, and cosmologies. He shows great skill in narrative acceleration at certain intervals in the work. These dramatic episodes give the novel a dimension of intensity that is worthy of the dramatist or the short story writer. Such set-pieces vary in content, tone, and dramatic impact…. Perhaps the most dramatic episode of the whole work is the carefully prepared and executed ceremony of the lifting of the curse that had been placed on one of Antonio's uncles. The boy himself is drawn into a secret, shadowy world because of his innocence and blood connection to the victim and it is this unspecified, mysterious participation of the boy that contributes naturally in intensifying the action that slowly unfolds before his eyes and ours. What also adds to the suspenseful procedure that has the primary function of saving a man's life is the spiritual conflict sharply felt by Antonio over the efficacy of Ultima's curative power…. (p. 71)

There are many other examples of narrative intensification, and many of these are normal in the typical novel of any length. What seems to be quite extraordinary, however, is the variety of materials in Anaya's work. He intersperses the legendary, folkloric, stylized, or allegorized material with the detailed descriptions that help to create a density of realistic portrayal. Several violent encounters that end in death work up to a crescendo and create an excitement that contrasts with the beauty and idyllic quality of the surrounding countryside. As with the exorcisms, what dramatizes the action is the gradual and careful preparation of details and the tension generated in the young boy's mind, through which the story is narrated. In this same category of realistic description we should include those set-scenes in which Antonio mixes with a group of boys who become his friends. Human vignettes in dialogue form, the language reflects the youngsters' spontaneity, restlessness, frankness, and sometimes coarse and vulgar behavior. (p. 72)

[The dreams or visions are] as different from the realistic scenes as the latter are from the episodes in which the occult plays a part. The ten dreams are indicated in the text in italics and are placed at intervals throughout the novel. The basic function of the sometimes hallucinatory visions is to create and sustain a non-realistic view of reality, and in that sense they contribute to one of the larger themes of the work. In the dreams, there is often a direct relationship to the events that have happened in Antonio's recent life. An event will enter the dream and will lose the context it had in life and become fused, distorted, and transformed…. The elements of reality and the elements of his fantasy world, legends, stories, etc., appear obsessively and dynamically charged and join to make new combinations that surprise, frighten, and shock. (pp. 72-3)

The visionary mode, with its confusions, chaos, and conflicts, leaves us with a sense of fear and mystery about life and the cosmos. From one point of view, the dreams may be seen as dramatic representations of the conflict between levels of the self, each vying for dominance. Equally important, however, is the wealth of cosmological material that Anaya has brought into the dreams. By using mythic or archetypal constructs, it is evident that Anaya has tapped the deep structures of the collective mind. At any rate, we should note the contrast between the unrestrained flow of the dreams and the other parts of the book, between the condensation and obsessiveness of certain horrorific patterns and the stability and relative security of Antonio's "real" world. The dramatic intensity of the dream experiences is so great that they sometimes seem to have their own esthetic thrust and autonomy. Perhaps their value is precisely that they refuse to be subsumed or incorporated into the outer frame, although they have obvious connections to it.

Bless me, Ultima may also be seen as a Chicano bildungsroman, and in spite of the fact that Antonio, the boy-hero of the story, is only eight years old at the end of the novel, we are convinced that his character has been formed in a radically profound way. The novel is structured ostensibly by the chronological span of about two years, something which might be called the plot time. The action of the work begins when Ultima comes into Antonio's life and ends when she dies, so that it is the intimate relationship between teacher and pupil that gives internal coherence to the boy's life. As important as that cycle of time may be, what is much more significant is the extensive dimensionality of time given through the intrusion of the past into the present. Through Antonio's parents and the conflict of the two blood lines, the Lunas and the Márez, the beginnings of the Hispanic settlement in New Mexico are kept actively alive…. (pp. 73-4)

Bless me, Ultima gives us the kind of extensive dimensionality that the genre of the novel, after the epic poem, is best equipped to give us. One of the functions of the novel, as a genre, is to exploit the relationship between plot time and historical, fable, or remembered time. As fable time increases in importance and extension, there is undoubtedly more diffuseness or a lessening of tension in the work, but what is lost in compactness and immediacy, is gained in lyricism, subjective tonality, atmosphere, mood, and what might be called a heightened sense of spatialized reality.

In addition to the extensive dimensionality of time, there is, in Anaya's novel, a thematic dimension that runs throughout the whole work. What slowly emerges from the work is a view of the world in which evil plays a strong and constantly threatening role in the lives of people. This view of the world holds that life is a cosmic drama played out through individuals, and although some of the characters including Ultima suggest that it is essentially humans acting against humans, there persists the overpowering belief that supernatural or superhuman forces are everywhere at work. The actions of people are often interpreted from that perspective. The Christian explanation of things does not seem to predominate, and at times the people need to go beyond that body of beliefs to give a satisfactory answer to events and situations. As the boy grows under the tutelage of the curandera, there is a direction in his life that will move him farther and farther away from his Christian teachings. Ultima's influence, which is natural and unimposed, slowly wins out because her way of life blends with the feelings of concreteness and of the closeness of the forces of nature, which Antonio comes to realize is so much a part of him and his world. (pp. 75-6)

[Character] also contributes to the work's extensive dimensionality. Here we find two overall or unified complexities: the first is the boy-hero Antonio, who is the focal point of important relationships; the other is Ultima, around whom gravitates much of the significant action in the work. At one level of characterization, there is clearly visible a separate or individual trajectory in each of the two protagonists. Their separate trajectories owe much of their importance to the factor of age: Ultima, when she comes into the boy's life, is a fully-formed individual; Antonio, on the other hand, is unformed and therefore open to development. It is his receptiveness to Ultima's being and "strange" way of life which is the basis for the unfolding of his character. Thus, we learn about Ultima through the technique of gradual revelation and about Antonio through his participation in the action and through self-analysis. In the latter's case, there is a double perspective since Antonio is both a developing character and a narrating consciousness. But what is of significance is not their individuation so much as their special relationship with each other and the process through which Antonio acquires an unfamiliar way of life…. From the point of view of the two principal characters, the novel is the story of the transference of Ultima's half-revealed truths and beliefs to Antonio. The story ends when Ultima dies and the boy has grasped her way of life sufficiently to promise a future of existential substance and meaning.

As in most novels that are integrated wholes, Bless me, Ultima's overall structure, or what I have called its extensive dimensionality, is based on the primary elements of time, theme, and character. There is, moreover, an inordinate tension in the work which is the result of an uneasy relationship between the overall unifying elements and several of the individual parts. The sub-structures of ritual, legend, myths, dreams, and dramatic vignettes serve not only to enrich and reflect the whole but they often express an intensity that is not absorbed or integrated by the unifying elements of the work.

It is perhaps characteristic of all long works of art that periodic richness of texture and particularity are unavoidable. The pace and rhythm of narrative must vary…. But we sense in Anaya's work that the set pieces contribute to the work in an unusual and purposeful way. We can see how they function if we correlate them to the novel's implicit meaning.

There is, Anaya seems to be saying, a totality of life. But this totality of life is so constituted that it is only knowable through the specially endowed person. In our novel, this person is Ultima, and her name tells us what she symbolizes. But the primitive mind, which is what Ultima possesses, does not know in the same way that the rationally developed or scientific mind knows. Her "knowledge" is more a complicated series of maneuvers or movements to contain and capture the "real," the power in reality. She does not seek to analyze it nor to change it, because that would represent an attitude of rejection of the natural. The curandera has learned skillfully to participate in the cosmic drama, and such participation does not lead to superiority or control of natural forces but is based rather on self-imposed limitations that are partly learned through cultural heritage and partly through personal intuition and experience. Ultima's healing practices and devices are intimately related to her natural "philosophy," in which body, mind, and spirit are fused and in which a differentiation between the human and non-human worlds is not clearly established. Thus, there will always be something unexplained, an excess of emotion or intensity, in what she is called upon to do.

Like the curandera, Anaya, as novelist, would like to come to terms with the complex reality around him and, with respect to much of his material, has found it useful to adopt similar techniques. The use of legends and myths helps to structure the remote and seemingly unknowable past. But it is with the dreams that we find a profusion of excessively charged "fantasies," in which the personal and the cosmic are interrelated. One pattern which appears throughout the work and particularly in the dream sequences, for example, is the groupings of three. Why has Anaya projected the action of his novel around the three brothers, the three violent deaths, the three evil spirits, etc.? We seem to be in the presence of a form or device that has come into existence solely to structure or "capture" reality. The specific meaning of the pattern "three" is perhaps elusive from a rational or literal point of view, but we cannot help speculate about its symbolic possibilities. We recall that the novel is basically an account of Antonio's psychological, vocational, religious or philosophical, and cultural struggle. It would not be fanciful to suggest that in the various aspects of that struggle we can see the growing patterns of psychic content (deep structures of feeling and thought): 1) the Freudian tripartite division of the self, in which there is conflict within the boy's intimate being as he gropes toward maturity; 2) an epistemological conflict among the three primary modes of knowing, that is, the experiential or empirical, the subconscious, and the legendary or mythic; 3) the three cultural traditions (the Indian-mestizo, the Hispanic-Catholic, and the Anglo) which are experienced internally at certain times in Antonio as conflicting systems.

We have speculated with possible meanings of the recurring pattern of three only to suggest the kind of narrative complexity that Anaya has been able to achieve. The author has not only brought into his work a dramatic sense of rhythm and a fascinating variety of narrative sub-structures but, perhaps more significantly, he has created a symbolic discourse which underlies and gives substance to much of the narrative action itself. There is no doubt that Anaya, like his child-protagonist Antonio, has fallen under the spell of the half-real, half-fantasy world which Ultima represents. By venturing into that seemingly distant world of the past, Anaya discovered that a considerable part of that world was buried in his own being. His renewal of a lost heritage brings him closer to his own inner anxieties and enlarges his imaginative powers. By integrating the mytho-poetic content of popular tradition into a modern setting, Anaya has not only begun, with his Bless me, Ultima, to create a sense of existential wholeness for himself but he has also succeeded in projecting into the collective Mexican-American experience an harmonious and coherent cultural base…. Anaya gives every indication of invigorating the cultural growth of his people and of verifying the existence of an inner force and power in their daily lives. (pp. 76-8)

Daniel Testa, "Extensive/Intensive Dimensionality In Anaya's 'Bless Me, Ultima'," in Latin American Literary Review (reprinted by permission), Vol. V, No. 10, Spring-Summer, 1978, pp. 70-8.

Carter Wilson

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 784

Bless Me, Ultima deserves to be described outside of the implicit claims that it is The Chicano Novel, a category as fishy and as detrimental to any clear thinking about our expectations for fiction as The American Novel category has become. Among other things, the millions of chicanos in the U.S. may feel a unity of ancestry and a community in their oppression, but their experience of life is in no other way unified…. The people of the book themselves, small-scale farmers and cowboys, some possessing more than three centuries of history with their removed corner of the world, would not recognize themselves as "chicanos" at all. "Hispano" is what they were first called; "Mexican" is the name most of them call themselves to this day. (pp. 190-91)

The place of Bless Me, Ultima is a vast place, and spectacular (which my dictionary coolly defines as "exciting wonder and admiration by unusual display"). At the present moment, most of us probably know it best through the good offices of Georgia O'Keeffe. What we sense in her New Mexico landscapes is that we have arrived at the painting at the very moment of climax in an epic struggle by an after-all puny human force with something we could call Bigness Itself. (pp. 191-92)

A novelist has no recourse, as the painter does, to abstraction…. In Bless Me, Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya frames his huge landscape and the diverse possibilities for belief through the perceiving of a small boy. (p. 192)

From quite near the beginning of the book it is clear that, though the action will involve other characters, the primary conflict will be the struggle for possession of the boy narrator's soul and his destiny. It is a battle for control of his imagination. The "blessing" asked for in the title of the novel is really that singular benediction we all seek—the one which will give us surcease from endless attachment and disillusion with successive visions of how things are—or, more succinctly, the blessing called faith.

How well Anaya lets us participate in Antonio's conflict is a question we will have to deal with. But there is no doubting as the novelist lays them out one by one the great richness of the choices available to him…. Immensity of space seems to permit immense diversity in ways of viewing the world. Through history different peoples have come to live there, but their death, or loss of hegemony, has not caused their ideas of how things are to die. The place where Antonio grows up is like a flea market or back lot of beliefs.

His mother wants him to become a priest. Knowing the vocation planned for him, his school pals anoint him and say their confessions to him. (pp. 192-93)

His maternal uncles hope he will follow them into farming. But if he goes along, ties himself to the land, Antonio almost inevitably will also have to yoke himself to the whole ancient Spanish/Mexican tradition of endless clan feuding and murder, and of the intervention in human affairs through witchcraft….

And then there is Ultima, the solitary old woman of the llano, no relation of blood, who is taken into Antonio's family out of respect for her past helpfulness to them and more simply for her generosity of spirit. Others think her a witch. The Marez people understand that all of Ultima's considerable knowledge is devoted only to good causes, to rectification. And of course, as the title of the book predicts, it is Ultima's blessing which takes hold of the boy's imagination. "And that," he says in the end, "was what Ultima tried to teach me, that the tragic consequences of life can be overcome by the magical strength that resides in the human heart." (p. 194)

Bless Me, Ultima is a novel of antecedents. Its fault is a certain impatience. Rudolfo Anaya seems not to have the time to render many things—scenes, feelings—which in patches he shows himself fully capable of doing. The narrator possesses the thinking vocabulary of an adult with its abstractions, but we are given no sense of who this rememberer has become, nothing of the interplay between the man and the boy occupying the same imagination at different levels of understanding. Anaya's second novel, Heart of Aztlan is more patiently wrought and, in that sense at least, a better piece of fiction. It is as though in the first book it was necessary for Anaya to establish lineage, lay specific claim to the heritage which would enable him to do what he was bound to do. (p. 197)

Carter Wilson, "Magical Strength in the Human Heart," in Ploughshares (© 1978 by Ploughshares, Inc.), Vol. 4, No. 3, 1978, pp. 190-97.

Charles R. Larson

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 238

[Land is the unifying image in Heart of Aztlan], as it was in [Anaya's] first novel, Bless Me, Ultima (1972)…. One of the strengths of Bless Me, Ultima was its mythological layerings paralleling the story's surface narrative, an aspect also true of Heart of Aztlan, though not as successfully employed here. Still there is much to admire in Anaya's recent work.

The story begins with the sale of Clemente Chavez's three-acre farm in the small agrarian community of Guadalupe, New Mexico. The land is depleted—no longer capable of sustaining the lives of the people who have worked it for generations…. [Urban] life in Albuquerque (after the Korean war) offers few compensations for Chavez, his wife and their four teen-age children…. [Anaya's] novel depicts the systematic destruction of the family unit once the rootedness to the land has been severed….

As in his earlier novel, Anaya draws upon the spiritual heritage of Chicano people in conflict with the Catholic church, often presenting this clash satirically. Though the resolution of Heart of Aztlan is a little forced, I admire Anaya's use of cultural materials—often innovatively mixed with more typical Western literary allusions (such as Wallace Stevens's poetry). Anaya's novels provide us with a vivid sense of Chicano life since World War II. (p. 246)

Charles R. Larson, "Books in English from the Third World," in World Literature Today (copyright 1979 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 53, No. 2, Spring, 1979, pp. 245-47.∗

Ron Arias

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 371

In Bless Me, Ultima, Anaya tells a good story, one concerning a boy's passage from childlike innocence to a deeper, brooding awareness of the death and life around him. Aside from the boy, the other central figure of the novel is Ultima—an aging, compassionate, ultimately mysterious, folkhealer who works her magic among a scattered group of New Mexico rural dwellers. As a sensitively drawn character, she can be compared favorably to Castañeda's Don Juan, the current favorite wiseman whose blessings are ancient, indigenous skills and knowledge. In fact, in some ways we are pulled closer to Ultima—or the solitary Indian visionary in Leslie Silko's novel, Ceremony. This is probably because our sympathies with the young central character, through whom we see such old practitioners of the ancient touch, are deeper, more natural than the sympathy we may hold for Don Juan's eager student.

The same can be said for Anaya's portrayal of many other characters in the novel: the boy's devout mother, a disillusioned father, two older brothers facing World War II, and a score of delightfully, often hilariously, depicted kids of the llano, New Mexico's eastern plains country. The book has some funny scenes and one oddly funny character named the "Vitamin Kid," a compulsive runner who appears throughout as some sort of harbinger of forebodings unmentioned. And just as Anaya skillfully uses a naive narrative focus to heighten humor, especially among kids, he also convincingly depicts mystery, violence and terror through innocent eyes. Dreams, folk myths, exorcism, murder and human disfigurement—actually quite a storytelling feast, and it all blends, builds toward the graphically brutal, cathartic final scenes.

As entertainment, the novel moves; as a work written for reflection, it provokes…. Moreover, despite a penchant for overly done descriptive and explanatory passages, I believe part of the novel's attraction is its "feeling" of authenticity, of trueness: it sounds right. And I'm not referring only to language, even though Anaya uses some Spanish and regional expressions. I mean that the fictional world of Las Pasturas and El Puerto de los Lunas, New Mexico, is convincingly alive, changing, complex.

Ron Arias, "'Bless Me, Ultima'," in The American Book Review (© 1979 by The American Book Review), Vol. 1, No. 6, March-April, 1979, p. 8.

Angelo Restivo

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 364

The title of Rudolfo Anaya's new novel [Tortuga] refers, first, to the "magic mountain" (with a nod here to Thomas Mann) that towers over the hospital for paralytic children, the setting for this Bildungsroman; and second, to the nickname of the hero, whose upper torso through half the novel is encased in the hard cast of the "turtle." It also provides the novel with its central metaphor: the movement from dependence to autonomy, and all that entails.

Anaya builds his story with recurring patterns of imagery: water, sun, fire; desert, mountain, sky; the cycle of seasons. The imagery is developed in complex and unexpected ways. For example, early on the water is associated with a maternal healing power; but gradually the metaphor deepens, presents the more ominous possibility of a suffocating reliance. The resolution of this conflict is certainly one of the novel's high points, as the character Tortuga, dumped into the water by accomplices in his suicide attempt, "sheds his shell" and achieves a spiritual rebirth.

Like the Latin American "magic realists," Anaya works at the level of myth, dreams, and fantasy. Indeed, the principal strategy of the novel is to infuse every incident with myth; to expand and combine and deepen the elements of the myths until they become palpable and living.

The strategy is admirable and many times it works. It seems, however, that Anaya tries to include too much, and some of his motifs aren't developed. Also, he sometimes loses control of his narrative voice. Chapter three opens: "The daughter of the sun awoke to weave her blanket with pastel threads. Her soft, coral fingers worked swiftly…." The Homeric rumblings here are confusing; but what is more troubling is the voice of the author entering so obtrusively in the narration.

At bottom, Anaya seems reluctant to let his remarkable images guide the reader, and so he tries to explain precisely what can't be explained, what doesn't need explaining. Stylistically, there are a few rough spots in the novel, but the reader who stays with it will find there are many rewards. (pp. 283-84)

Angelo Restivo, "Rudolfo A. Anaya, 'Tortuga'," in fiction international (copyright © 1980 by Joe David Bellamy), No. 12, 1980, pp. 283-84.

Marvin A. Lewis

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 692

As a follow up to Bless Me, Ultima, Heart of Aztlán lacks the depth of the earlier work. Anaya is not able to reconcile literarily all of his thematic concerns. On the surface, the outcome is a shallow, romantic, adolescent novel which nearly overshadows the treatment of adult problems. The novel does have redeeming qualities, however, in its treatment of the urban experience and the problems inherent therein, as well as in its attempt to define the mythic dimension of the Chicano experience.

Externally, Heart of Aztlán's plot structure develops in three ways: the adolescent trials of Jason and Benjie, the urban experience and its impact upon the Chávez family, and Aztlán and its interpretation by Clemente and Crispín…. The novel attempts to accumulate and to assess the myths, legends, and social realities reflecting the totality of Chicanismo. Unfortunately, the author falls short of the mark due to a conceptual disparity between form, content and overall meaning. Occasionally, themes and concepts are too readily available to the reader. (p. 74)

Heart of Aztlán is thematically concerned with a people's struggle to reconcile their myths and legends with present day realities. The concept of Aztlán is looked upon as a sustaining force in the face of oppression and represents an internal rather than an external reality. It is within the people themselves…. The dreams, myths, and legends of the past converge upon the figure of Clemente Chávez whose duty is to give meaningful expression in the present to past experiences. Unfortunately, Clemente never really succeeds in his role as leader of his people due to his own inhibitions and the social situation. This is unfortunate since after his symbolic return to the source, Clemente is supposedly equipped with the vision and the courage to confront his personal and social shortcomings. He is reenacting a time tested pattern of spiritual rebirth known across cultures as a "regressus ad uterum." (pp. 74-5)

Heart of Aztlán ends with Clemente Chávez leading the people in a nonviolent confrontation with the evil forces that have had such a profound effect upon their lives. This final act is not convincing since the only things that can change the social order are money and power. The people of Barelas have neither and are not likely to achieve these means in the future. But there is a certain amount of strength involved in togetherness.

A close reading of Heart of Aztlán leaves the reader unsatisfied. One of the novel's problem areas is the handling of time. Chronologically the action transpires over a temporal span of approximately six months. The reader does not receive a clear indication of what is taking place with the characters in terms of progression or causality. How long does it take, for example, for Ana to quit school, get a job, and rebel against her family? Or how much contact does Benjamin have with Pachucos before he becomes heavily involved with drugs and gangs? The reader is surprised, not that events are taking place, but that their results are so sudden.

Secondly there is a question of verisimilitude in the handling of characterization. Jason is portrayed as an adolescent hero who undergoes the rites of passage, but is he, at fifteen, so much more morally and physically superior to his cohorts? Even Clemente Chávez is unbelievable at times as he moves through the novel with no true sense of direction until his revelation. Are we to assume that his "vision" accounts for all of his subsequent behavior, both rational and irrational?

In Heart of Aztlán one encounters several of the major themes of the Chicano literary experience. They are: dislocation and migration; barrio life; the Pachuco, and the myth of Aztlán. In Barelas, cultural experiences such as the velorio, the practice of folk medicine, and the oral tradition are prevalent. The principal ingredients for an outstanding work of Chicano fiction are there. Unfortunately they seem to have been thrown together in haste. (p. 76)

Marvin A. Lewis, "'Heart of Aztlán'," in Revista Chicano-Riqueña (copyright © 1981 Revista Chicano-Riqueña), Vol. IX, No. 3, Summer, 1981, pp. 74-6.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Previous

Anaya, Rudolfo