Bless Me, Ultima: Who Knows What to Think

I have been pretty impressed with myself, a person who had not take a liking to books before this year, getting through texts like With His Pistol in His Hand and the Squatter and the Don. However, though I understand Bless Me, Ultima, I am struggling to piece together a bigger picture idea and connect it to the Latino/Chicano experience. This blog post along with discussion tomorrow will hopefully solve my confusion.

There are a couple key ideas in Bless Me, Ultima that seem to jump off the page; family division, religiosity, and the learning. The family division is seen in almost every chapter of the book, as the father of Antonio wants him to grow up and be a farmer and work on the llano, but Antonio’s mother wants him to become a priest and be a success in the family. This division leads to disagreement, anger, and even alcoholism. Antonio seems to gravitate towards his mother, believing that he is destined to become a priest and be a “man of learning.” Further family division is apparent when Antonio’s brothers return from the war, and their short stay is ended by their desire to move away from the llano and make their own future. The brothers sudden impulse to create their own paths could be another key theme in the book; intuition (but I digress).

Religion also is a very important part of this book. As the family is divided with the brothers moving away and the parents wanting different careers for Antonio, religion seeks to divide the family as well. Antonio’s mother is devoutly religious, who takes the time to pray for it seems almost everything. Whether it be the brothers returning, a frightful night occurring, or Antonio getting good grades, the family (excluding the father) seems to be gathered around the statue of the Virgin Mary ’round-the-clock. Another important note with religion in this book is that it is not the most powerful force, as most would claim it is, but rather it is Ultima’s magic that is godly. Apparent with Antonio’s uncle, the church turns him away when he is dying from a presumed curse by three evil witches. However, Ultima’s cure rids him of the evil and makes Antonio question the true power of the church. Now at war with himself, he does not know what to believe; whether to follow the word of God or follow the teachings of Ultima.

The last big idea of the book is teaching. From the day Antonio was born, he was taught the difference between right and wrong, what it means to be Catholic, and what his destiny should be. Tony’s life seemed to be figured out until Ultima came along, made him feel a spiritual connectedness towards her, and began learning the details of her cures and magic. Ultima, nearing death, is passing on her knowledge to Antonio, prepping him not to become a priest like his mother wants, but rather preparing him to become a healer, a curandero who can help others more than the Catholic church can. His teaching does not end with Ultima though, as Antonio is in awe of the power of reading and writing. Almost every time Tony is at school, he is starstruck by the magical figures on chalkboards or sheets of paper, wanting to decipher them. Antonio is definitely a “man of learning”, but I believe he will not learn the ways of Catholicism like his mother wants, but rather will learn and the mystical power of words and Ultima’s way of life.

This blog post served as a blank canvas for me to write down my thoughts, observations, and predictions. It really helped me understand the book more and allowed my mind to formulate more cohesive ideas. I’m looking forward to discussion tomorrow and seeing what others come up with. As for me, I believe that the 3 main themes in the book, Bless Me, Ultima are family division, religion, and teaching/learning.

-Curtis HR

2 thoughts on “Bless Me, Ultima: Who Knows What to Think

  1. Hey Curtis,

    I relate so much with what you say. I am not a reader. I found myself struggling with this book, and I usually give a book 50 pages before giving up. But…Chapter 3 starting bringing me in. I agree, I can’t make much sense of it yet, but I am interested enough to keep going. As for your themes, I agree too. It almost seems that there is a break down of beliefs…as if tradition dissolves and fades into something else. Whether it’s the faith in nature and hocus-pocus that Ultima brings or the overwhelming burden of Catholicism (I say this as a recovering Catholic who converted at the age of 14…but that’s a whole other story). But there is a conflict between the traditions of the father and those of the mother; the old and the new…the limits of which are tested on nearly every page.

    Have a good day.
    Craig

    Like

  2. Hey Curtis,

    Great post – I’m totally with you; this book is confusing and almost carries too many concepts and themes and magical components that it is overwhelming and hard to piece together, or at least make sense of it. I think it is really interesting that you bring up learning – this immediately brought my back to something Piri Thomas wrote in his afterword: “children become what they are taught or not taught; children become what they learn or don’t learn”. This really seems quite relevant to what we see in Antonio and how we see him developing and taking in the knowledge and the experiences at such a young age.

    Madeson

    Like

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