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Bless Me, Ultima

Rudolfo A. Anaya

Dos (2)

Uno (1)

Tres (3)

Summary

The whole family is glad that Ultima has come to stay with them. Mária is happy to have a woman to talk to, and Antonio’s two older sisters are happy to have someone to help with their chores so that they can spend more time playing together with dolls. Gabriel talks to Ultima about his desire to move to California, a wish he now feels will never come true because his older sons are fighting in World War II, and he cannot move his young family alone.

Antonio is happy because he and Ultima quickly become friends. Ultima takes Antonio on walks to gather herbs and teaches him about their healing properties. Antonio says that he begins to hear the voice of the river. He senses that his family’s peaceful isolation is about to end. Jasón’s father, Chávez, comes to the Márez home shouting that Lupito, a local war veteran, shot Chávez’s brother, the sheriff, dead. When Gabriel joins Chávez and the other men searching for Lupito, Antonio secretly follows them to the river. He sees Lupito, armed with a pistol, hidden in the water. Antonio makes a small noise, and Lupito looks down at him. But just then, the searchlights fall on Lupito, and he is confronted by his pursuers. Lupito runs off again into the reeds, out of sight of the men on the bridge. Gabriel and Narciso, the town drunk, try to explain to the mob that Lupito is shell-shocked because of the war, but after crying out something about Japanese soldiers, Lupito shoots his pistol into the air, drawing the fire of his pursuers. Lupito begs Antonio for his blessing as he dies.

Antonio runs home, sobbing and reciting the Act of Contrition, the last prayer that Catholics say before dying. When he realizes that Ultima’s owl has been with him the whole time, he loses his fear. He fears that the river will be stained with blood forever. He thinks about the town, which he knows his father despises, and the llano, and he wonders why Lupito had to die. He remembers when his father built their house. Rather than choosing to build on a patch of fertile ground, Gabriel built a house on a barren place at the start of the llano. Antonio enters the house and Ultima meets him. She cleans him and puts him to bed. Ultima explains that it is not for them to judge whether Lupito or the men who killed him will go to hell. Antonio dreams of his three older brothers discussing their father’s dream to build a castle in the hills. When Antonio states that they must gather around their father, they reply that he is supposed to fulfill María’s dream and become a priest. When they try to cross the River of the Carp to build Gabriel’s castle, a mournful voice calls Antonio’s name. His brothers shrink in fear, saying that it is La Llorona, the “Weeping Woman,” or Lupito asking for his blessing. Antonio declares that it is the presence of the river. He calms it so that his brothers can cross.

Analysis

Antonio’s changing attitude toward nature reflects the ways in which he is developing into an independent and thoughtful young boy. As a child, Antonio’s fear of the llano represents his dependence on his family and his youth. Later, Ultima helps him appreciate the natural beauty of the wide plains that his father loves so much. Her guidance allows Antonio to find harmony between his conflicting paternal and maternal heritages. This development foreshadows Antonio’s ultimately optimistic end, but it also suggests a new period of difficulty and conflict that parallels his general transition away from childish innocence and toward a more adult wisdom. After he witnesses Lupito’s death, Antonio becomes preoccupied with sin, punishment, and the loss of innocence. Antonio’s confrontation with ideas of good and evil manifests itself in his use of religion to try to understand the world. Antonio recites the Act of Contrition as he runs home, even though he doesn’t fully understand its significance. Furthermore, Lupito forces Antonio to take the figurative role of priest when Lupito asks Antonio for a blessing. Antonio must suddenly deal with the moral significance of an adult dilemma.

Antonio’s dream about his brothers further symbolizes the conflict between his maternal and paternal heritages. But unlike his brothers, Antonio now senses that there is greater strength in embracing his entire heritage than in choosing any one part of it. The novel suggests that Antonio’s maternal and paternal heritages result from the same conflict, the conflict between Spanish and indigenous cultures. Antonio’s struggle to reconcile his family heritage is much like the struggle to evaluate the influences of the varying cultures of New Mexico.

Anaya’s reference to the legend of La Llorona demonstrates how Bless Me, Ultima breaks from a traditional Western canon of great works. Like the more commonly known legend of Medea, La Llorona is the story of a woman who kills her children in a fit of rage. However, the legend of La Llorona is more relevant within Antonio’s culture as an illustration of his continuing fear of veering from his parents’ expectations. The legend of La Llorona is a classic of Mexican and Chicano folklore. Some versions of the tale suggest that La Llorona kills her children because their father leaves her or makes her jealous of her children. Many versions of the legend suggest that she died or killed herself when she realized what she had done. Her spirit wanders the river, crying out for her lost children.

Many versions of the tale associate La Llorona with evil. Some versions describe her visits to lustful young men whom she lures to their deaths. Other versions describe her efforts to steal living children who are out by the river late at night, mistaking them for her own dead children. Because some versions imply that the children are disobeying their parents, parents often use the story to frighten children into obedience. In some versions, however, La Llorona is a sympathetic figure deserving of pity. In others, she is a malevolent force to be feared. Gabriel and Narciso ask the mob to have mercy on Lupito because he was mad when he killed the sheriff. The connection is that Lupito and La Llorona were both insane when they murdered, and thus they cannot be held accountable to rational moral judgment.

The pairing of La Llorona and Lupito in Antonio’s dream shows that he is beginning to deal with morally ambivalent issues. Antonio wants to make moral sense out of Lupito’s death, but easy answers elude him. The figure of La Llorona expresses Antonio’s anxieties about growing up, about disobeying his parents, and about wandering by the river. His dream ends with the voice of María mourning that her son is growing older, an apparition that phrases Antonio’s anxiety about leaving his mother in her own voice. Antonio is developing an independent self-consciousness and learning to combine elements of both his parents’ heritages. As a young boy, though, he is still ambivalent about the consequences of change.

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