Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Antonio has a number of dreams throughout the novel, from his early dream about watching his own birth to his later dreams about his brothers calling for his help. Anaya uses the recurrent dream motif to show how Antonio’s interpretations of his thoughts and experiences change as he develops as a character. In his early dreams, for instance, Antonio is largely preoccupied with the question of his destiny, of whether he will become a vaquero or a priest. But in his later dreams, he is preoccupied with much larger questions of family, morality, and duty. This gradual transformation, traced in dreams, reflects Antonio’s growth from childhood to maturity. His dreams also offer him a rich and variable set of images and symbols with which to understand his own life.
The recurring presence of various family relationships—uncles, siblings, and parents, especially—provides a subtle commentary on the nature of identity and ultimately underscores the book’s main theme of moral independence. Many of Antonio’s family members seek to define his future, especially his uncles, who argue about whether he will become a priest or a vaquero. Antonio looks to other members of his family to help define his identity, especially when he tries to model himself after Andrew, his older brother. In the end, Antonio must learn to make his own choices, drawing from the wisdom and experience of his family, but not being limited by their wishes and perspectives.
Ultima once predicts vaguely that Antonio will be a “man of learning.” Many scenes in the book explore Antonio’s education, both religious (his Communion classes) and academic (his school classes). Antonio’s growth and development serve as examples of education. Ultima believes that every experience helps inform one’s identity and perspective on life. Bless Me, Ultima is the story of Antonio’s growth from childhood to maturity. His progress is represented by his gradually expanding education, both in the classroom and in his own introspective interpretation of his experience.
Ultima represents the importance of tolerance and understanding. Though she comes from an indigenous mystical tradition, she openly acknowledges the value of the Catholic faith. She also encourages Antonio to draw from the various conflicting sets of ideals that define his outlook. Learning the importance of tolerance marks Antonio’s growth, especially as he begins to realize that some religions may be better suited to some people than to others, as Florence is seemingly better suited to the faith of the golden carp than to Catholicism.