Date of publication: 2017-09-06 09:14
No one in Bless Me, Ultima doubts the existence of mystery and magic. Miracles, signs, and symbols form a rich part of the New Mexican Catholic culture of Anaya's world, a unique setting where, for four-hundred years, Catholicism has thrived alongside Indian Pueblo religions. Much of Antonio's struggle stems from his desire to understand the "correct" source of these miracles: the Catholic church, or the curandera.
Bless Me, Ultima delves deep into the family life, religious beliefs, and conflicting pasts of Chicano culture. In the novel, we see the struggle between Spanish heritage and Native American heritage the desire for the generation to be a part of America, while the older generation struggles to hold onto traditions of the past and a universal story of a boy taking his first steps towards manhood. Add to that the fact that it stars characters you can relate to, incredibly funny moments mixed with heartbreaking tragedy, and all the magic you could hope for, and you'll see why many consider it to be one of the most important works of Chicano literature ever written. Ever.
As the months pass, Antonio grows closer to Ultima, even to the point that he feels more connected to her than he does to his mother. She continues to impart her wisdom about the world to him, and Antonio begins to realize the importance of moral independence. Antonio and his father help Antonio to dispel a curse on a local house, and Antonio is again fascinated by the failure of the Catholic priest where Ultima succeeds. One day, Antonio visits the golden carp and decides to teach the story to Florence he hopes that he will be able to give Florence some hope in his life. Before he can tell Florence about the golden carp, however, Florence drowns in the river.
Ultima never contradicts María, but her ways as a traditional healer are different. As Antonio says, "Ultima was a curandera, a woman who knew the herbs and remedies of the ancients, a miracle-worker who could heal the sick.. And because a curandera had this power she was misunderstood and often suspected of practicing witchcraft herself."
Jo Reed: It's interesting because you see that in many other cultures as well. And I'm thinking of Cuban culture, or Brazilian culture. It's Catholicism but it really is overlaid on top of deep indigenous beliefs, folktales, traditions.
The Legend of the Golden Carp
Anaya created this story, which draws from Christian, Aztec, and Pueblo mythology. The Antonio first hears about the carp from his friends Samuel and Cico. Similar to the Old Testament's Noah and the flood, the tale warns that unless the people stop sinning, the carp will cause a flood to purge their evil. Antonio believes the story, but he cannot reconcile it with his Catholicism. After first hearing it, he says that "the roots of everything I had ever believed in seemed shaken." Later, when he sees the carp, he is dazzled by its beauty and wonders if a new religion can blend both the Golden Carp and Catholicism.
Lists and films aside, though, it's just plain old good reading that touches on the struggles of a boy, an entire culture, and anybody who has ever tried to find their own way in the world. Pick it up, and Shmoop guarantees you won't be disappointed.
Jo Reed: You grew up in a town like Antonio's. Did your family have the same kind of cultural conflicts that Antonio's parents did? His mother's family is so rooted to the earth, they're farmers. Where his father's family, they're more like the wind.
Extremely traumatized by his witnessing of this third death, Antonio is sent to work on the Luna farm for the summer. Ultima hopes that the distance from Guadalupe will help Antonio cope with his grief in a better way. During the journey to the farm, Antonio’s father tells him that the way of the vaquero is ended and that Antonio should choose his own destiny by selecting the best qualities of the Lunas and the Marez to uses as his own. Antonio spends several happy weeks at the Luna farm. As he works with his uncles and grandfather, Antonio begins to understand his mother’s people and appreciate their silence and connection to the earth. Although he still does not know if he will follow the path of a Luna and become a priest, he feels that he could be happy in the lifestyle.
Sometimes regarded as a good-luck charm, this herb grows best in the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado. Along with its healing power, it can keep poisonous snakes away.