University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Catholic Church and Ultima’s mystical folklore
The novel “Bless Me, Ultima” by Rudolfo Anaya is pastoral, apocalyptic and, at the same time, tragic story revealing the complex nature of human relations and ambiguity of the world. The novel teaches readers not to interfere with the destiny of any person not to change the cosmic order. However, Ultima dares to influence the destiny and her death at the end of the novel is symbolical representation that every person should be responsible for his own actions. The author describes relations between an old healer Ultima and a young boy Antonio who is seeking for truth.
The novel can be defined as apocalyptic as the author illustrates that biculturalism leads to inevitable conflict between cultures and religions. I think that the novel belongs to Chicano literature being rather popular in 1965-1975s. However, it can be seen as cultural novel which tends to explore self-development, personality and ethnic identity in the world filled with race and ethnic discrimination. The novel is rich narrative weaving many themes and sub-themes together allowing readers for different interpretations.
Therefore, the objectives of the paper are to analyze author’s writing style, relations between Antonio and Ultima, to identify main themes and symbols, and to discuss the question of autobiography. “Bless Me, Ultima”: Analysis I think that the novel “Bless Me, Ultima” can be analyzed from different perspectives and from many angles. The novel is a rich literary work dealing with social changes, cognitive and psychological development of main heroes, religious issues, etc.
Moreover, the novel weaves cultural conflicts and formation of ethnic identity into believable and coherent story illustrating the smoothes and roughs of Antonio’s life – the main hero. On the one hand, the novel can be seen as romance novel as it discusses societal period through myth creation. On the other hand, the novel can be seen as cultural novel as it describes historical conflict between villages and opposes race discrimination in the United States. Furthermore, the novel can be defined as Chicano literature as it promotes apocalyptic ideas and moods.
The novel presents fertile background for analysis as the author uses rich themes and symbols to show the life pass of a young extraordinary boy. Writing Style The author incorporates powerful and vivid images to present the multiplicity and ambiguity of responses. In other words, Anaya uses prophetic dreams, episodes of horseplay among children, idyllic scenes presenting harmony and natural balance, mystical dynamism, scenes of violence and death as imagery to create strong impression and to make people think whether the world we see is real one and what the destiny of the person is.
However, the novel tends to reveal whether it is permissible to change human destiny. Anaya uses strong imagery to show that characters and nature are strongly tied together creating so-called natural continuum. Anaya refers to technique of oppression when writing the novel in order to create multi-level conflict. For example, Antonio’s parents have opposing backgrounds, views and aspirations. Further, religious are opposed in their beliefs, values and demands on the individual. Cosmic forced are apposed as they symbolize eternal struggle between the good and the evil.
Finally, the author juxtaposes forms of nature saying they can choose whether to make soil dry or fertile. The novel is based on conflicts – social, psychological, physical and cultural. Antonio’s life is also a conflict. The novel is also based on tripartites. It means that all evens and things are occurring in so-called ‘threes’. For example, there are three cultures in the novel, three Trementina sisters, three brothers, three Comanche spirits, three prophetic dreams, three Ultima’s efforts to identify her ethnicity, and three Ultima’s interference in the life of other people. Numerology is central in structure of the plot.
Issue of Autobiography I think that “bless Me, Ultima” can be defined as quasi-autobiographical novel as the narrator refers to ‘I’ style showing that the novel is generated from personal experience or experience of the younger ‘I’. The novel is told by mature Antonio who shares experiences of being a young boy. Moreover, the experiences are transmitted in childish manner and it may seem that the story is told by a six-year-old boy. One more interesting fact is that the author says that he had to refer to his personal experiences and experiences of other children to construct the story.
Despite the fact that the novel is quasi-biographical, the readers aren’t allowed to distinguish the real and imagined events as the author represents everything as fiction. I think that the author does base the story on rich expository of personal experiences, but he skillfully hides this fact. Relations between Antonio and Ultima Antonio is the main hero in the novel who decided to reconcile his conflicting religious and cultural identity. Antonio is only six years old, but he is extraordinary child with questioning mind, appreciation of life, and moral curiosity.
Antonio is more serious than other children of his age, he is more sensitive to ambiguity of the world and conflicting cultural traditions. Anaya shows that Antonio is troubled about his uncertain destiny and he is willing to understand the world. After the death of one of the town’s residents Antonio seems to plunge into crisis of the faith and for the first time he doubts validity of the Catholic faith. Therefore, desire to reveal the truth can be defined as one of the strongest components of his character as his desire leads to interest in sin, death, innocence, and the nature of God.
Antonio is developing to maturity throughout the novel progression and it is Ultima who teaches how to remain morally independent, to receive knowledge from all available traditions and to refrain from prejudices and limitations. Ultima leads Antonio to his physical and psychological maturity. Ultima helps him to resolve many conflicts and to determine his future. Old healer Ultima represents the moral system which Anaya supports. Relationships between Antonio and Ultima are the most important bond in the novel. Ultima is Antonio’s mentor helping him to overcome difficulties and to cope with anxieties and uncertainties.
Relations between main characters can be defined even as spiritual. Ultima presents herself as the keeper of Antonio’s destiny and starts playing central role in his life and psyche. She uses her power of influencing to make Antonio think of himself and create his own sense of morality. Ultima incorporates knowledge of both Catholic and indigenous traditions. She thinks that spirituality and life are tied. Nevertheless, we see that Catholic Church rejects her mystical power, and Ultima respects its wisdom attending mass regularly.
Ultima teaches to appreciate equally multiple faith and perspectives as each person is entailed with rights to make independent moral decisions. Ultima instills tolerance, open-mindedness and independence in Antonio’s faith. Ultima treats Antonio with respect and understanding, despite he is a small child. At the end of the novel Antonio is treated as spiritual partner and Ultima asks to bury the owl which symbolizes her own death. Ultima dies, but her spirit continues to guide Antonio throughout his life. Main Themes
Firstly, the author stresses the importance of moral independence as no one has the rights to interfere with the destiny of others. Anaya emphasizes rights to think independently and to make up moral decisions. In the novel Antonio’s progress is the sign of maturity and self-development. Antonio constantly struggles to make his own decisions and he realizes that complex experience of religion has forced to change his minds. Antonio is really frustrated when he realizes that the church has failed and pressing questions about human morality emerge in his head. We see that Ultima becomes his guide and teaches about morality and independence.
Moreover, Ultima explains ambiguity of life stressing that life can be viewed simply in terms of culture and religion. Cultural and religious traditions are important, but they constrain human abilities to be morally independent. Antonio realizes that he should find answers about evil, good, soul, forgiveness and truth himself. Once Antonio has committed fatal mistake, when he believed that the Communion ritual was able to answer all questions. Instead, Ultima teaches Antonio to make decisions and choices himself. Secondly, the author identifies the influence of culture on identity.
In the novel Anaya explores the conflict between cultural traditions which fail to co-exist as one culture tends to dominate others and vice verse. However, in the end we see that the author offers new solution – he argues that several cultural traditions are able to create more adaptable identity. For example, Antonio manages to find answers as his life has been influenced by several constantly conflicting cultures. The first conflict was with his parents as Antonio’s mother wanted him to become a priest, whereas his fathers wanted Antonio to ride the llano. The problem was that parents had different cultural convictions.
The next conflict is observed within Antonio’s native town where Spanish culture is struggling with other culture. The conflict is presented in tensions between the Catholic Church and Ultima’s mystical folklore. I think that through such conflicts the author explores the influence of culture on identity formation. Anaya shows that many characters in the story are limited by cultural prejudices and they have failed to look beyond their horizon. For example, when people define Narciso as drunkard they didn’t consider his traumatic experiences in the war, although it is known that war may serious distort human psyche.
Ultima teaches Antonio to become free from cultural and religious limitations. Instead, she tends to encourage Antonio to think of all cultural influences as it is the only way to become a descent person. Symbolism “Bless Me, Ultima” is highly symbolical novel. The author uses different colors, figures, numbers and objects to represent abstract ideas and concepts. In the novel the golden carp, Ultima’s owl and the virgin of Guadalupe are provided with symbolic meanings. As for mea, the golden carp is symbolical representation of magical religious order which is hardly associated with Catholicism.
The legend about golden carp offers main characters and readers moral guidance, brand of wisdom and comfort. Golden carp supports author’s idea that cultural traditions are different, but they are equally valid. Antonio firstly rejects the golden carp as he thinks that in such a way he abandons God. However, later he realizes that golden carp can help to weave cultural and religious sources together in creating his won identity. Then, Ultima’s Owl represents religious mysticism and life force. One night the owl sings outside Antonio’s windows symbolizing Ultima’s presence in boy’s life.
Moreover, owl is the symbol of protective power of magic. In the end of the novel killing of the bird symbolically represents that Ultima’s life force is destroyed and she will die soon. When Antonio buries the bird, he buries Ultima. Finally, the Virgin of Guadalupe represents symbolically understanding, forgiveness and solution of cultural conflict. The story of the Virgin is definitely reconciliation of Antonio’s indigenous culture and European Catholic Church. When Antonio is frustrated, he often turns to Virgin to find a forgiving god. Conclusion
“Bless Me, Ultima” reveals the ambiguous nature of the world and human relations. The author shows that every person has to make independent choices and to appreciate different religious and cultural traditions as it is the only way to become a better person. Ultima teaches Antonio to create his own sense of morality and to remain independent person. Moreover, she teaches him to avoid prejudices and limitation. But the author shows that no one is allowed to interfere with the destiny of other people. Works Cited Anaya, Rudolfo. Bless Me, Ultima. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1994.