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Bless Me, Ultima

Rudolfo A. Anaya

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

1.

How do María’s and Gabriel’s attitudes regarding the process of growing up relate to Antonio’s future?

María associates growing up with learning how to sin, but Gabriel and Ultima view growing up as an inevitable process that is neither good nor bad. María believes that as a boy becomes a man, he uses his life experience and his knowledge to make decisions. She also believes that Antonio will be saved only if he becomes a priest. María even wants to go to Father Byrnes to discuss Antonio’s future as a priest. Gabriel sharply disagrees, arguing that no one but Antonio should decide whether he becomes a priest. Gabriel’s response reveals his staunch belief that destiny should be determined by one’s own thoughts and actions, not by outsiders or imposing family members. María, a staunch Catholic, believes she must guide Antonio’s future carefully because his soul is at stake. She also has a selfish motive: if she releases control over him, Antonio will start to make his own decisions and will no longer look to her for guidance.

2.

Antonio struggles to choose between his maternal and paternal heritages. What are the conflicts within his parents’ heritages?

María’s family is devoutly Catholic, and their greatest hope is that Antonio will become a priest. The spiritual character of their relationship to the earth is closely tied to indigenous religion, while their devotion to Catholicism represents the extent to which European culture has shaped them. They plant by the cycles of the moon. Luna, the Spanish word for moon, illustrates symbolically how deeply this spiritual relationship is rooted in the family’s identity. Despite the violent clash between Spanish and indigenous religions, María’s culture contains harmonious elements of both.

On the other hand, Gabriel’s family favors the vaquero, or cowboy, way of life. His family is driven by the same adventurous, restless spirit that drove the Spaniards across the ocean to the New World, as conveyed by their family name, which is derived from the Spanish word for ocean. Gabriel’s worldview is heavily influenced by indigenous culture as well. Like the Luna family, he has a strong spiritual and mystical relationship with the land. The Lunas see the opportunity to build towns in the vast expanse of the llano. Gabriel’s family views the llano with reverence and deference; they want its wildness preserved because for them it represents their heritage and the struggles and hardship they have endured.

3.

How does seeing Andrew at Rosie’s house affect Antonio’s opinion of Andrew?

Antonio is forced to relinquish his idealized image of Andrew when he sees him at Rosie’s house. Originally, when Ernie teases Antonio about Andrew’s visits to the brothel, Antonio ignores the comments, refusing to believe that his brother visits a brothel. However, when Antonio later sees Andrew at the brothel, he is forced to accept the truth. This confrontation makes real a dream of Antonio’s in which Andrew promises not to enter the brothel until Antonio loses his innocence. If Andrew’s entrance into the brothel signifies that the dream has become a reality, then Antonio must have also lost his innocence. However, Antonio’s loss of innocence does not necessarily mean he has sinned. It might suggest instead that Antonio is no longer in denial about Andrew’s behavior and that he acknowledges the power of physical desire, which Antonio will eventually feel as well.

4.

Antonio has a dream in which the golden carp’s prophecy comes true. How does his dream demonstrate Antonio’s growing understanding of the religion of the golden carp?

The golden carp’s apocalyptic prophecy frightens and saddens Antonio at first because it seems so fatalistic. Catholicism offers the chance of salvation through communion with God, but Antonio does not perceive any chance for salvation in Cico’s religion. Instead, Antonio sees the entire town destroyed by degenerate sinners, just as the golden carp’s prophecy predicts. However, his dream shows him that Cico’s religion might also contain a promise of salvation. The golden carp swallows everything, both good and evil. Afterward, the world is reborn. The prospect of rebirth promises moral purification in Cico’s religion. Moral purification simply occurs in a different way in Cico’s religion than it does in Catholicism.

5.

When Ultima blesses Antonio on his first day of school, he feels the power of a whirlwind surround him. How does local folklore regard whirlwinds? What realization do whirlwinds help Antonio make about good and evil?

Local folklore refers to whirlwinds as dust devils, an evil phenomenon against the will of God. As a result, the sign of the cross is supposed to ward off dust devils. Ultima’s blessing reminds Antonio of the time he let a whirlwind knock him to the ground, and he wonders if the powers of good and evil have the same origin. At this point, Antonio understands that power in itself does not have a moral component. Instead, how people use their powers determines their moral status.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. Both Ultima and Narciso are called “magic” by various characters in the book. Compare and contrast the characters of Ultima and Narciso. How does Ultima’s brand of magic differ from Narciso’s? How are they alike? In what sense might each character be called “magic”?

2. What does Antonio learn from his conversation with Gabriel during the trip to El Puerto after Florence’s death? How does this lesson help to prepare him for the challenges that lie ahead?

3. What is the significance of the conflict between English-speakers and Spanish-speakers that Antonio encounters at school? Why is language so important in the novel? In what sense does this conflict give Antonio perspective on the conflict within his family?

4. In María’s view, how are sexuality, adulthood, and sin related? Why is childhood preferable to adulthood? How do these factors influence her desire for Antonio to become a priest? And how does María’s own childhood influence her current beliefs?

5. What does Antonio learn from watching Gabriel cope with the rebellion of Antonio’s brothers?

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