Free Study Guide: Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya - Free BookNotes|
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BLESS ME, ULTIMA BY RUDOLFO ANAYA: FREE STUDY GUIDE / ANALYSIS
Antonio seems to be especially influenced by women. However, what at
first seems like a proto-feminist stance on Anaya’s part turns out to
be a nostalgized version of a particular kind of woman, one who does not
threaten the status quo of gender relations. Ultima is a independent woman,
but she also works in the kitchen and does not interfere in men’s business.
Maria is fully a kitchen woman. She prays obsessively and seems remotely
in touch with reality around her. By the end of the novel, the ascendance
of women in Antonio’s life is cut off. He is sent to learn farming from
his Luna uncles. His father heartily approves of his getting away from
the influence of his mother. Then, Ultima dies and he is left to take
her place as a future curandero.
Ultima is truly the bridge figure in the novel. She is both a practicing Roman Catholic and a practitioner of sympathetic magic. Wit organic metaphors, she helps Antonio to see the unity of all life. His parents have been blind to this unity. His father, the Marez of the sea and his mother, the Luna of the moon, are really part of one cycle of life. Ultima helps Antonio to see that the warring sides of his heritage are really all one. She never encourages him to give up his Catholicism. She always counsels patience in the inevitable growth of Antonio’s fate.
She is also a figure of mystery. For instance, when the men come to lynch her, she passes their test of walking under the image of a cross. However, when they leave, Antonio realizes the cross had fallen. He doesn’t know if it fell before or after she walked under the eve of the door. Her past is also somewhat mysterious. She was trained by a curandero, a flying man. This reference is never explained.
Yet Ultima is also quite down to earth. She believes that the earth is alive and has spirit. She teaches Antonio the ancient practice of asking the plant for its medicine in a chanted prayer before taking it. She is enlivened by the land and becomes young when she is out among it.
Ultima is a loner, but she is also very much a part of her society.
She is quite sure that in saving Lucas’s life, she is putting herself
in the path of danger since curing him means tampering the with fate of
another person. Yet she doesn’t hesitate to help him; her first allegiance
is to her community when it needs her. The same happens with Tellez. When
she sees his need, she acts immediately, though it is clear that she can
see her death is rapidly approaching with every action she takes.
Maria is really more of a stock figure than anything else. She is not
given much of a voice. She functions as the warm memory of mother in the
kitchen. She clearly favors her son over her daughters, calling him a
man of learning when he is only seven years old. She has all her hopes
in Antonio and it doesn’t’ seem to occur to her to hope anything for her
daughters. She is an obsessive prayer and takes great comfort in her sala,
a sort of altar to the Virgen de Guadalupe. She is given the credit of
knowing good people. She knows Ultima is good, even though she doesn’t
understand all that Ultima does or represents and despite his drunkenness,
she knows Narciso is good.
Gabriel is a little more developed than Maria. This development only happens,
though, at the end of the novel when he speaks to his son. Before that,
he is a morose man who has lost his dreams and who blames others for that
loss. He nostalgizes his past on the llano and cannot find comfort in
his present life. He has compromised what gives him spiritual sustenance--the
llano--when he moved to the edge of town. Unlike his wife, however, he
changes over the course of the novel. When his three eldest sons make
it clear that they will not be part of fulfilling his dream of moving
to California and working together, he grieves that loss and then realizes
that with the loss of that dream, he can give up the old antagonism he
has so long cherished with his wife and her family, the Lunas. He shows
himself as a gentle man who believes in the living earth and the duty
of people to take care of it. He is a good model for his son when he stands
up for those he feels allegiance to despite the danger to himself.
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. 09 May 2017