Free Study Guide: Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya - Free BookNotes

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Main Theme


Antonio’s Internal Struggle of Who He Is
The main theme of the novel concerns Antonio's struggle to come into his own, to fuse the two parts of his heritage. This heritage is embodied in his mother and father. His mother is a Luna, descended from a priest who founded a colony in what is now New Mexico by getting a land grant from Mexico. The Lunas are farmers. They use the ancient methods of farming of the Aztecs and are also devout Catholics. Antonio’s father is Gabriel. He is a vaquero or llanero (a cowboy). His descendants were the Spanish conquistadors who brought cattle to the land. He is not a believer in Christianity. He owes his spiritual allegiance to the land and believes that hurting the land is a sin. Antonio must find a way to make these two parts of his heritage co-exist.

Minor Theme

The minor theme of Anaya's novel concerns the combat between Ultima's vision of the interconnections between the land and the people, an interconnection that enables healing and health and the negative forces represented by the Tenorio sisters, who represent death and separation.


The mood of the novel is nostalgic / nostalgia. It is written by a narrator relating the events of his early youth. He is writing about his mentor whom he greatly reveres and who has since died.

Rudolfo Anaya - BIOGRAPHY

Rudolfo Anaya was born on October 30, 1937 in the town of Pastura, New Mexico. He went to school in the nearby town of Santa Rosa and then moved to Albuquerque where he attended high school. He graduated from the University of New Mexico, where he studied English and psychology. He received a B.A. in English in 1963, a M.A. in English in 1968, and a M.A. in guidance and counseling in 1972. He married his wife, Patricia Lawless, in 1966.

He taught for seven years (1963-1970) in Albuquerque public school and then he worked as the director of counseling at the University of Albuquerque (1971-73). He served as an associate professor and later professor of English (1974-1993) at the University of New Mexico. He has now retired as and has professor emeritus status at the university.

He began writing while he was in college, and later his wife encouraged him to pursue it further. When his novel, "Bless Me, Ultima", was published, he entered the English faculty at the University of New Mexico as a professor.

Selected Works:

Bless Me, Ultima, 1972.
Heart of Aztlan,
, 1979.
The Legend of La Llorona, 1984.
A Chicano in China,
Lord of the Dawn: The Legend of Quetzalcoatl, 1987.
Zia Summer, 1995.
Rio Grande Fall,
Jalamanta: A Message from the Desert,
Shaman Winter, 1999.


Bless Me, Ultima was published at an important time in Latino/a history in the United States. A powerful movement was happening in political, economic and cultural spheres which affirmed the value of Latino/a experience and protested the discrimination Latino/as suffered. "Bless Me, Ultima" was one of the first Chicano novels to celebrate this movement. It affirms the varied parts of the heritage of Mexican Americans in New Mexico, the Spanish conquistadors, the Aztecs (the Indians of Mexico), and the Comanche (the Indians who inhabited the land that is now New Mexico). It is set in the schools where the hero undergoes the process of assimilation that always begins by taking the ethnic name and turning it into an English name--Antonio becomes Anthony. It is set in the llano, rich in the history of the vaqueros, descendants of the Spanish conquistadors. It also affirms to heritage of the farming culture, which draws much of its lore from Aztec and other earth-based religious systems. It depicts the life of a Roman Catholic, but of a special sort. Here, a Roman Catholic who must learn how to reconcile the doctrines of Catholicism with the religion of the people who inhabited the land before the Christians came. In covering all the diversity of the heritage of his hero, Anaya gave voice to the diversity and richness of Latino/a heritage in this country.

The reader will notice that the novel uses Spanish words with some frequency. As we explain in the first chapter’s notes, Anaya almost always provides a gloss (meaning) for these words in the immediate context in which they occur. Nevertheless, this guide provides the translations of Spanish words as they occur. As a reader, dwell on the reason Anaya might have chosen to use Spanish words in writing a novel which he knew would have its largest audience in European American people who do not know Spanish.

Anaya was part of a movement called Aztlan. This is the name of a mythical Aztec place. Latino/a writers and artists wanted to find a place of origin for their heritage. The mythical place of Aztlan was a useful way for writers to think back to the past that was before or alongside European American history. In other words, a European American writer might think of the origin of her/his family or country in the thirteen colonies. Since there were few Latino/a people participating in the American Revolution, a Latino/a writer would logically choose a different point of origin as a place to look back to for inspiration or cultural-historical reference.

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