The deep thoughts that dwell within one’s psyche are often the expectations, fears and aspirations that cause too much agitation to fully express. In Rudolfo Anaya’s, Bless Me, Ultima, the protagonist, Antonio Luna-Marez, endures frequent dreams and nightmares that convey what he truly believes. Antonio’s eclectic subconscious thoughts are very often the catalyst for his future reactions and commonly predicts events sure to come. His dreams demonstrate who he truly is, rather than the hollow version of his self that was displayed to his family and friends; apart from his makeshift mentor, Ultima.
In slumber, Antonio was truly awake. The extreme pressures placed on adolescent family heirs can cause great stress that is only released through the subconscious thought. The paternal and maternal disagreements regarding the path Antonio will take in life, an extreme disconnection with his siblings and numerous friends that constantly introduce foreign and sometimes blasphemous ideas have caused a great inconsistency in Antonio’s life. From the very beginning of the novel, Antonio’s mother makes it very clear what her wishes are for him; he is to be a farmer-priest in the name of his Luna family ties.
These high expectations have caused a burden on Antonio; though never conveyed to his mother, it is clearly expressed in his dreams. Stated by Antonio that “Once I had told my mother about my dreams, and she said they were visions from God and she was happy, because her own dream was that I should grow up and become a priest. After that I did not tell her about my dreams, and they remained in me forever and ever. ” (Page 4) This gives evidence of the displeasure felt by Antonio whenever his mother attempted to force her dreams upon him rather than simply asked what he desired to be.
This lack of empathy in Maria has caused a chasm in their relationship and allows an easy replacement of a mother figure by Ultima for Antonio. The first dream given in Bless Me, Ultima is of a very broad nature, but gives merit to the concept of this maternal disconnection. Antonio is flying over the llano, or plains, and witnesses his own birth; Ultima is the midwife. The distant relationship is portrayed very well in Antonio’s first dream; he is unable to recognize his own mother, but has the ability to do so with his uncles.
Antonio doesn’t truly know who his mother is and this carries throughout the novel. A constant plea from Maria for Antonio to be a priest becomes a motif, thought she never asked what Antonio wanted to do. A specific dream of Antonio had his mother praying to the Virgin of Guadalupe for him to be a priest yet again. Seeing the Virgin Mary causes panic in Antonio, but he is soothed by Ultima, not is mother, who watches over him. This specific nightmare conveys to the audience that Antonio knows and acknowledges his mother’s wishes, but feels the pressure to reach her standards, whether he wants to, or not.
This one-way relationship permits Ultima to replace Maria in the nurturing role of a mother. The pressure of reaching the goals set for Antonio by his mother cause a lot of stress in the novel, however, her goals clash with that of his father. Gabriel, Antonio’s father, wants him to be much more secular than Maria does. Gabriel comes from a more down to Earth, worldly family that tries to push Antonio in the very opposite path that Maria wishes for him. These two clashing philosophies are very present within the dreams and nightmares of Antonio.
In Antonio’s dream, he sees his parents, the Catholic Church and the pagan god of the golden carp all feuding and causing a great storm. “Oh please tell me which is the water that runs through my veins I moaned; oh please tell me which is the water that washes my burning eyes! “(Page 118) Antonio is conflicted as to which family tradition to follow; the conservative nature of a farmer priest, or a rough and wild vaquero. He is unable to find the balance that will satisfy his parents as well has his self.
When traveling through the journey of life, one usually is in search for a purpose, or duty; spirituality is often the facilitator that allows for this sense of duty and fulfilment. From birth, Antonio was taught of the Catholic tradition by his mother, but with the introduction of Ultima, he was mentored in a more profane way of life. Already more inquisitive than the average child, Antonio began to question the intentions of God after witnessing several cruel deaths. He wondered why God would allow for such atrocities to occur. “I am not a God of forgiveness! he Voice roared … Your brother has sinned with the whores, and so I condemn him to hell for eternity! “(Page 173) Antonio’s dream expresses to the audience a sense of resentment for God; he views what is supposed to be the essence of good as evil and vindictive. The irony of him attempting to be a priest for a God he doesn’t truthfully love resonates through the novel as he does his best to please his pious mother and God itself. The religious ambivalence of Antonio is intensified as his friend, Cico, introduces a new, non-Christian god, the golden carp.
Cico describes the golden carp as a benevolent and forgiving, which is the opposite of how he viewed the more familiar Christian god. This caused an internal conflict for Antonio that became alive in his dreams. He is scolded by God, accused of worshipping a golden idol, God creates destruction and despair all around Antonio, but in the end of this nightmare, the golden carp becomes the savior that helps everyone survive the violence created by God. Though never verbally said to anyone, his subconscious thought demonstrates to the audience that the golden carp was a more god-like figure than God itself in Antonio’s eyes.
Nonetheless, a deep Catholic rooted upbringing of Antonio is what stopped him from bowing to the pagan god with Cico in replacement of their Christian deity. Even with choosing the Catholic faith over the golden carp, Antonio struggles with the concept of blind faith in his traditional religion. The one who nurtures and cares for another is the true paternal figure regardless of kinship and genetics; the true parental figure is the director that makes overcoming obstacles easier in the voyage through life. Ultima became the ultimate parental for Antonio in the few years they interacted.
The strong relationship between the two was foreshowed from the very beginning of the novel through Antonio’s clairvoyant first dream. “… but I could see the old woman in black who tended the justarrived, steaming baby. She nimbly tied a knot on the cord that has connected the baby to its mother’s blood, then quickly she bent and with her teeth she bit off the loose end. “(Page 5) In Antonio’s first dream, he saw an accurate depiction of his birth and with Ultima as the midwife, she severed the physical connection he had with his mother.
This dream is a metaphor for Ultima becoming Antonio’s mentor and interrupting the already distant mother-son relationship. Just as Ultima cut the physical connection Antonio had with his mother at birth, she replaced her as the dominant mother figure. Antonio is taught the ways of a curandero and consciously acknowledges that he is more comfortable with Ultima than with Maria, his mother. The motif of Ultima creating peace conveys to the audience how strong and developed their relationship really is.
While Antonio is having a nightmare and is clearly in distress, it is Ultima who with a simple touch to the forehead soothes Antonio back into a peaceful rest. These occurrences translate into the dreams of Antonio in such a way that Ultima becomes the figure the ends his nightmares on a more positive note. In Antonio’s dream where the Luna and Marez feud over the path that Antonio will take in life, it is Ultima who ends the fighting with few words. Ultima’s mentoring gives Antonio some degree of internal peace is this is conveyed in dream.
One vision of Antonio is of the violent confrontation of all the different world views he has come in contact with, they coalesce and cause a violent storm. It is Ultima who brings an end to the fighting between the different world views with one word; cease. A balance is found within Antonio for the very different realms of a priest, vaquero, God and the golden carp; this balance may never have been achieved if it was not for Ultima. Even in death, Ultima is the guiding figure for Antonio.
Antonio has another clairvoyant dream in which he is able to see the death of Ultima, however, even after death the spirit and guidance that was laid upon Antonio through Ultima will help him for the rest of his life. Even if a belief lies deep within our subconscious, does that though hold any more merit than the beliefs we express every day? Antonio often held contrasting views between his conscious and subconscious mind, but the two distinct beliefs, though very different in nature, had the ability to be peacefully joined with proper guidance and wisdom from the right people.
Anyone can follow the faith of their choosing, but this doesn’t guarantee a successful life as demonstrated by the pious characters in Bless Me, Ultima. Saying one has a faith and truly following and believing in the faith will have two very different effects on a life. It is completely up to the individual to balance their life with the secular, spiritual, conscious and subconscious thought to overcome life with the satisfaction of fulfillment; just as Antonio was able to give to Ultima.