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BLESS ME, ULTIMA BY RUDOLFO ANAYA: LITERARY ELEMENTS
He asks his father about the first priest at El Puerto being the father of the Lunas. The priest had come with the colonizers and had raised a family. Antonio thinks “if the old religion could no longer answer the questions of the children then perhaps it was time to change it.” He asks Gabriel why there is evil in the world. Gabriel says most of what is called evil isn’t really evil, just things people don’t understand. Antonio says when he took communion he had not understood. Gabriel agrees that understanding doesn’t come easily. He adds that understanding comes with life. He says a person gains understanding through living life and that “in the end understanding simply means having a sympathy for people.” Ultima has such a sympathy and because it is so complete, she can cure people. That is her magic.
Antonio has a very good summer. He makes strength from all that happens to him. Ultima had been trying to teach him, he realizes, “that the tragic consequences of life can be overcome by the magical strength that resides in the human heart.” All that August he worked in the fields and orchards. He watches his uncles work the earth with great respect for the life of the plant. He never saw any disharmony between his uncles and the earth. They are very silent men. At night, they sat around and listened to stories. Antonio learns about the phases of the moon and how it rules his uncles’ planting cycles and other aspects of their lives. Antonio doesn’t have any bad dreams while he’s at his uncles’ farms. He thinks back on it as the last summer in which he was a child.
At the end of his stay, his uncle Pedro comes to him with a letter from Maria. She plans to come in a few days. His uncle tells him they are proud of Antonio for his learning so well in school. When he says it has been a long time since they had a man of learning among the Lunas, Antonio says he is a Marez. he’s surprised at himself for saying this. Pedro tells him all his uncles are pleased with his work this summer and that he will always have a place there. As they talk, his uncle Juan hurries toward them. Tenorio’s daughter has died. Tenorio has taken the body into town and has stretched it out onto the bar. He has been drinking and threatening Ultima.
Pedro says they must act on Ultima’s behalf. He will drive Antonio to Guadalupe that night. He sends Antonio to his grandfather’s to pack. As Antonio is walking home, he sees Tenorio riding his horse. Tenorio calls him son of the witch and kicks him. Antonio grabs the horse’s reins and makes it run away. When Tenorio comes for him again, Antonio rolls down an embankment into some brush. Tenorio shouts threats to him. He tells Antonio he will avenge his two daughters this night. He plans to kill Ultima’s owl. Antonio realizes upon hearing this that the owl is the protective spirit of Ultima. “The owl was her soul!” Antonio becomes afraid for Ultima. He begins to run through the brush. He has decided to run the ten miles to Guadalupe. He runs until he collapses and then he paces himself when he gets back up to run again. He hears the owl call out. He remembers how the owl has always been there through all that he has gone through. He arrives at the house and hears his uncle Pedro arrive in his truck and ask if he has come. Antonio is about to tell them he is safely there when he sees Tenorio. He calls out to them that Tenorio is there in the bushes. Tenorio turns on him with his rifle. He hears Ultima call out “Espiritu de mi alma!” (Spirit of my soul) and the owl suddenly flies to Tenorio and startles him. Tenorio curses and fires his rifle. Antonio feels as though the shot shattered the peace of the hill and shattered his childhood as well. He calls out for Ultima.
The next thing Antonio knows, he sees Tenorio by the light of his uncle Pedro’s headlights holding up Ultima’s owl. It is dead. Tenorio says he has killed the owl with a bullet molded by the Prince of Death. Then Tenorio aims his shotgun at Antonio’s head and Antonio hears a shot. His ears ring with the close range shot, but instead of him being shot, it’s Tenorio who has been shot. Uncle Pedro holds a pistol in his hand. Antonio picks up Ultima’s owl and finds that it is dead. He wraps the owl in a blanket. When he gets to the house, he sees that Ultima is missing. Deborah and Theresa are frantic with worry. Antonio orders his mother to take them to their rooms. He notes that it is the first time he spoke to his mother as a man and she obeyed him.
Antonio enters Ultima’s room. She is lying on the bed. He places the owl beside her and kneels. He tells her the owl is dead. She says the owl isn’t dead, but just flying to a new place and time just as she is about to. She tells him that when she was a child, she was taught her life’s work by a wise and good old man. He gave her the owl which he said was her spirit, her “bond to the time and harmony of the universe.” She adds that her work was to do good, heal the sick, and show them the path to goodness. She was not supposed to interfere with anyone’s destiny. The brujas can’t understand this rule. They create disharmony. She assures Antonio that with the passing of her and Tenorio, the “meddling will be done with, harmony will be reconstituted.”
She gives him instructions. She tells him to clean out her room, take her herbs and medicines to the river and burn them. She then tells him to take the owl and go west to the hills until he finds a forked juniper tree where he should bury the owl. He asks Ultima for a blessing. She says, “I bless you in the name of al that is good and strong and beautiful, Antonio.” She urges him to have the strength to live life. She promises him that if he feels despairing, he should look for her in the evenings when the wind is gentle and the owls sing and she will be with him.
Antonio runs out of the room with the owl. When he finds the forked
juniper tree, he digs a hole and then places the owl in the grave and
puts a large stone over it. He stands up and sees the moonlight on the
llano. He can see the lights of the town and is reminded that he will
be returning to school in a week. He can hear the sound of the siren.
He knows Tenorio and Ultima will be taken away. He thinks of the funeral
preparations that will happen the next day. He knows that all that would
happen to Ultima’s body was only ceremony prescribed by custom but in
reality Ultima was bury there that night.
Anaya has so carefully built up to this ending that the end of the novel is probably not a surprise to most readers, however sad it may be. The end of the novel brings the circle of the novel and of Antonio’s life to completion. Ultima was there at his birth and at the end of his childhood she died. Antonio has learned all his lessons well. He has gained insight into how to deal with his mixed heritage. The trouble between Ultima and Tenorio is solved by both of their deaths.
The gender positioning which Anaya has been working out during the course of the novel comes out most prominently in the end. Antonio becomes a man when he orders his mother to do something and she obeys him. It’s hard to remember that Antonio is still a boy at the time of the novel’s close.
Ultima imagines that instead of dying, she is simply moving to a different
sphere. This comforting image of death is neither in line with nor in
direct contraction to Antonio’s other belief systems. She will be absorbed
into the spirit of the land and will be present there when she is needed.
Antonio faces his future when he stands on the hill overlooking the llano
and the town. He seems assured in his ability to face it with sureness.
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. 09 May 2017