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Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas
explored in a literary work.
An emphasis on thinking independently about moral decisions
pervades Bless Me, Ultima. Antonio’s progress toward
moral independence is the main marker of his maturity and development throughout
the novel. Antonio’s struggle to reconcile the complexities of his
experience with his religion leads him to conclude that he must
make his own decisions. He becomes increasingly frustrated by the
failure of the church to explain the most pressing questions about
morality and human experience.
Ultima acts as Antonio’s guide as he learns the importance
of moral independence. Ultima teaches him that the most difficult questions
about life can never be answered entirely by a single religion or
cultural tradition. Antonio has questions about evil, forgiveness,
truth, and the soul, questions he can answer only for himself. Antonio
once believed that the Communion ritual would answer all his questions,
but Ultima teaches him that he must think for himself and arrive
at his own conclusions.
Bless Me, Ultima explores the difficulty
of reconciling conflicting cultural traditions. In the end, Anaya
suggests that a person can draw from several cultural traditions
to forge a more complex and adaptable identity. Antonio is so eager
to find a single, definitive answer to the questions that haunt
him because he has been influenced by many conflicting cultures.
The first major conflict involves his parents. His Luna mother wishes
for him to become a priest, while his vaquero father wishes for
him to ride the llano. Each parent has deeply rooted cultural convictions.
Next is the conflict within his town between its Spanish and indigenous
cultures. We see evidence of this conflict in the pronounced tension
between Ultima’s mystical folklore and the Catholic church. Another
conflict takes place at Antonio’s school between Spanish and English
Anaya uses these conflicts to explore the influence of
culture on identity. Many characters in the book are limited by
their cultural prejudices and never learn to look beyond their own
assumptions. For example, the townspeople condemn Narciso for being
a drunk and refuse to acknowledge that his traumatic experience
in the war might play a part in his psychological state. Ultima
teaches Antonio to avoid the limitations inherent in abiding by
one culture, one religion, or one creed. Instead, Ultima encourages
Antonio to embrace all of the cultural influences in his life to
become a better person.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Bless Me, Ultima!