In his book, “Bless Me, Ultima”, author Rudolfo Anaya documents through a fictional novel, the life experiences of a child, Antonio, who is deeply conflicted by his cultural and religious identity, he describes the struggles, the tragedies, and the dilemmas that this young boy has to endure and witness throughout his life. The book takes place in different cities throughout New Mexico. Divided into 22 different chapters the author records the predicaments that Antonio experiments as he struggles to find his moral independence.
Rudolfo Anaya supports his text with very detailed stories that bring the haracters to life for the reader. For the purpose of this book review, the reader will discuss how a conflicted boy in search for his true identity encounters many conflicting and different identities that make it difficult for him to find who he truly is and who he should be, as described by Rudolfo Anaya in his novel, ” Bless Me, Ultima. ” The book begins with a view into Antonio’s life as a young child, and him having a very vivid dream of him witnessing his own birth.
Throughout his dream he witnesses the conflict between his mother and fathers family about his destiny. At that moment is when Antonio begins to question his future and begins his conflicting venture between his cultural and religious identity. Antonio is conflicted by making both of his parents happy and becoming either a vaquero like his father would like him to be or a priest, which is what his mother hopes he will become. Within the beginning of the book we are also introduced to Ultima, Ultima was Antonio’s mother’s midwife.
Ultima plays a major role in the life of Antonio and his conflicting ventures between religion and cultural acceptance, because she is the nly one that knows his destiny. Ultima and Antonio have a special bond with each other. Ultima is known for being a healer, and many believe she could be a witch. Anaya highlights the tragic moments that make Antonio question many different aspects of life. The death of one of the townsmen in front of Antonio is a drastic moment for Antonio and his hopes. It was a very dramatizing moment for Antonio, ” My body began to hurt from the beating it had taken from the brush of the river.
But what hurt more was that I had witnessed the first time the death of a man” (24). As the book continues we roceed to see how different events keep on affecting Antonio. Throughout the book we see how as Antonio drifts into sleep he begins to dream very meaningful dreams about his destiny. Antonio’s dreams form a big part of the book and his life. Although some of his dreams aren’t what he necessary hopes for, they are vivid and he always awakens questioning them and wondering. As Antonio continues to figure out who he is and who he wants to be, he begins to attend school.
He receives the discrimination that many children continue to endure in this time of age, because he did not speak English. The other children laugh at him for not knowing the language and for the type of food he is eating for lunch. This affects Antonio very much and hurts him profoundly. “The pain and sadness seemed to spread to my soul, and I felt for the first time what the grown-ups call, la tristesa de la vida, I wanted to run away, to hide, to run and never come back, never see anyone again”(59).
Anaya moves on to portray different characters, families and situations that continue to affect who Antonio will become. We see a drastic event take place in Antonio’s life when his uncle, Lucas, falls sick and no doctors or priests can find a cure. Ultima, her indigenous medicine, and the help of Antonio bring Lucas back to health. Lucas had been cursed and was destined to die if the curse wouldn’t have been lifted by Ultima. With this event, Antonio was able to witness something supernatural occur, because as sick as Lucas was, he was back to normal in no time as if nothing happened to him.
However, this event unfolds some truths for Antonio as one of the girls who cursed Lucas dies and Antonio feels that there might be a connection etween Ultima and the death of the girl when he finds dolls in her room with lifelike appearance. ” The dolls were made of clay and shellacked with candle wax. They were clothed, and lifelike in appearance” (123). Although he defends her when others try to blame her by calling her a witch and wanting to kill her, he never confronts her or questions her about the event. Antonio’s battle with his moral identity follows him until the end of the book as he begins to question if there is even a God.
His faith is challenged when Ultima was able to lift curse that a riest was not able to. Antonio truly wants to believe that there is a way to do some moral awakening for those who seem to have no hope. Antonio even asks his father, “why is there evil in the world”(248)? His father explains to him, “I think most of the things we call evil are not evil at all; it is just that we don’t understand those things and so we call them evil. And we fear evil only because we do not understand it. I did not understand what was happening, but Ultima was not afraid because she understood-“(248).
This response froths father is something hat Antonio really takes in and is meaningful to him. A very important argument and message from this book is, that change is important and crucial in a person’s life. Change forms us; Just as it formed Antonio at the end of the book. Ultima’s death and every drastic change that occurred around him was part of his destiny. Without all the events that impacted him, he wouldn’t have been able to accept his religious, cultural and family beliefs. Rudolfo Anaya has made an important contribution to the field of Chicana and Chicano studies with his book, “Bless Me, Ultima.
Although it is fiction it is very realistic, the story being told is one that many can relate to, and with this type of literature we can appreciate Chicano Literature because we can learn the experiences that have shaped and motivated others to find their moral independence. This book is capable of influencing individuals to become who they wish to be and not what others expect of them. We all have a collective struggle, when we are reading literature. The author should be commended for his ability to write such a beautiful piece of literature during such hard times.
Rudolf Anaya was able to apture the full essence of a moral identity crisis and help the readers better understand their own meaning in life. A weakness in the book is that there is not a glossary to translate the slang Spanish words, and overall Spanish words for the non- Spanish speakers. I believe it is important that readers could refer to the same book to be able to find out what a specific word means. Instead readers are left with the task of going to look for an external source to define specific words. We have “Jesus, Maria y Jose” for example, that is a slang expression for a moment of surprise.