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Book Report: Bless Me, Ultima by Anaya, Rudolfo

Updated on July 1, 2017

The novel “Bless Me, Ultima” is authored by Anaya Rudolfo. This novel is an autobiography since the author utilizes his hometown, Highway 66, church, little villages, the school and ranges around the town to present the story. The autobiography describes the cultural aspects of the Chicano in the rural sides of New Mexico in 1940s. In this essay, Rudolf describes the cultural aspects and landscape of the New Mexico during that particular time with an emphasis on the influential ways of the indigenous cultural aspects. Antonio Luna Márez is this novel’s main protagonist who in this story describes the environment in which he was brought up and all those that were involved in his upbringing. The story is set in a specific town within the eastern side of New Mexico where the author’s real home is also placed, Santa Rosa, New Mexico. The novel’s main theme is the conflict of culture and the church and how the inherent differences are leveraged.

Bless Me, Ultima is largely concerned on doubt, faith and cultural assimilation between the Hispanic traditions and the new American life. The story centers on Antonio, a seven year old boy and his encounter with an old woman coming to live with his family. The coming of this old woman in Antonio’s family is depicted as a coincidence since this is the time when the boy is supposed to learn about culture and life in general. The novel presents typical life in the region as being full of legends, dreams, folkways and religious life. The magical woman purposely comes to help the boy understand what is good and have the capabilities of confronting evil that is so prevalent in his village.

Just before Antonio Luna is about to turn seven, an old woman going by the name Ultima comes to live with Antonio’s family in a small town identified as Guadalupe, New Mexico. Among the magical powers of the woman is healing since she has immense knowledge in traditional plants, a talent which is greatly adored in Ilano (open plains). The woman works by positively using the highly coveted and feared powers in assisting the community.

Ultima develops a special liking for Antonio considering that she had also worked as a midwife. This bond gradually deepens as she interacts with him. The exposure and encounter with Ultima makes Antonio to come face to face with various tragic events which significantly enlightens him on the region’s history as well as the future. When Lupito, a World War 2 soldier who managed to return from World War 11 safely is murdered, this makes Antonio to reflect on the aspects of death, sin and afterlife on a serious note.

This experience, alongside the knowledge gained from the magical woman encourages Antonio to seek ways of resolving challenges bedeviling his community and family. Antonio’s mother, María Luna Márez, grew in a family that embraced farming and who is also a staunch Catholic desires that his son becomes a priest. However, Antonio’s father Gabriel wants his son to become a farmer, thus the reason why he wants to relocate to Carlifornia, together with his family.

In most cases, the dreams of Antonio are focused on his future alongside the concern of his three brothers who were taking part in World War 11. Further, Antonio’s surreal dreams provide a reflection of his existential queries, why evil exists in our world? What happens after death? Why does it appear that the good are sometimes punished by God? What is the truth and how can we know it? In order to answer these queries, Antonio decides to follow the path of his mother by beginning to attend the church services, receiving communion and studying catechism of which he proves to be capable of. This spiritual reawakening of Antonio is stirred by his dreams, and experiences such as a mob justice by his schoolmates, the waywardness of his brothers and the death of his friend. On the other hand, Ultima provides an inspiration, protection and guidance. After learning Catechism, Antonio develops a belief that on the possibility of him receiving a revelation once he takes the Eucharist. He comes to understand and develops a liking for the Virgin of Guadalupe because of her representation of forgiveness.

The new insights cause conflict on Antono’s understanding on the sources of mystery including the healing powers of Ultima. For instance, he observes that as a curandera, Ultima had a good understanding of the village’s traditional remedies and herbs and had magical healing powers. He also acknowledges the misunderstanding by the locals that Ultima was witch contrary to his belief. This misunderstanding makes people especially the Catholic faithful to mock Ultima, though some of them still seek her assistance when matters get out hand. Further, Ultima does not decide for or coerce Antonio to believe what she knows; rather she wants him to make choices for himself. This makes Antonio to analyze nature and his conclusion is that God is not necessarily in Church alone, but also in nature as well.

"Bless me Ultima" is a wonderful narrative presenting insights regarding the culture, customs, and religion of the New Mexicans. In this explanation, the author employs the relationship of Antonio, a seven year boy and Ultima, a magical woman with healing powers and the various experiences which all along help the protagonist to learn important aspects of the community and designs means of overcoming the challenges with the help of Ultima. The author has done a good job in highlighting the origins and traditions of a culture which seems to be little understood or ignored by historians. The setting of the narrative, which is the author’s hometown and the use of the author’s life experiences does not only make the facts presented valuable but also exciting to read. The story also presents a number of conflicts such as paganism vs Catholicism, American Culture vs Hispanic Culture and the Expectation of parents towards their children.

In this book, the supernatural element is not only significant, but also compelling. Through this, Antonio’s life is significantly transformed as he is taught by Ultima, the spiritual guardian on how to attain knowledge and use it to understand the truth.

"I was contented with Ultima. We walked side by side in river banks and in llano and along the river where we used to gather medicinal herbs. Through her, I was able to learn the mysteries of the groaning earth, while growing spiritually through her guidance” "(Anaya, 1994, 112)

In essence, the experiences of both the church and the magical powers of Ultima help Antonio to understand the world better. The strongest impression which the author puts across in this novel is the aspect of harmony and unit with nature even in the midst of evil in the society. Antonio learns the importance of accepting life and the fact that challenges are part of life which should be dealt with and not avoided or ignored. Among the challenges that Antonio learns to deal with are his fears which are subsequently diminished as time goes by.

I really found the book enjoyable and easy to read since it did not have many cumbersome vocabularies. Sentence structure and grammar were well done and not complicated as such. It is interesting to note that the books end is stronger than its beginning. The book can be described as a poignant narrative centering on the conflict between good and evil, traditions vs modernity and the young and old. In fact, I did not want to put the book down until I finished reading it.

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