Places: Bless Me, Ultima

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1972

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Bildungsroman

Time of work: 1943

Places DiscussedGuadalupe

Guadalupe. Bless Me, UltimaSmall town in eastern New Mexico where Antonio lives. Tony’s family has moved from Las Pasturas (a smaller town where he was born) to Guadalupe, where he will spend these crucial years growing up. The town is dominated by three symbolic structures: the Roman Catholic church where Tony receives his catechism, the school he attends, and the water tower. Many of Tony’s adventures will be on water: It is at the river at night where he watches the death of Lupito, in a pond where he sees the golden carp, in a snowstorm where he witnesses the death of Narciso, and in Blue Lake where he finds his friend Florence drowned.

Tony and his family live on a hillside outside of town, where Tony does traditional chores, feeding the livestock and tending his mother’s garden, and it is from his mother’s family that he learns some of his most lasting lessons: “From my mother I had learned that man is of the earth, that his clay feet are part of the ground that nourishes him, and that it is this inexplicable mixture that gives man his measure of safety and security. Because man plants in the earth he believes in the miracle of birth, and he provides a home for his family, and he builds a church to preserve his faith and the soul that is bound to his flesh, his clay.”

Ultima, a curandera (or healer) and grandmother-figure who was present at Tony’s birth, introduces him to the beauty that surrounds Guadalupe: “the wild beauty of our hills and the magic of the green river” that surround the town. Thus, Tony’s location just outside of town, and his adventures in the hills and on the river there, show a merging of the two familial traditions through the help of Ultima.

<i>Llano</i>

Llano (YAH-noh). Plains on which Tony’s father works all of his life as a cowboy. The vaquero tradition is a dying one, being eliminated by fences and highways and the modern farming equipment which changes the face of the Southwest in the twentieth century. The llano also symbolizes not only an older way of life, but a sense of freedom that Tony’s father and others still cherish in the modern world: From “my father and Ultima I had learned that the greater immortality is in the freedom of man, and that freedom is best nourished by the noble expanse of land and air and pure, white sky.”

Agua Negra ranch

Agua Negra ranch. Between Guadalupe and Las Pasturas. Tony accompanies Ultima when she goes to the simple adobe home of Tellez to lift a curse that has caused stones to rain down upon it. It is the last act before her death.

El Puerto (de los Lunas)

El Puerto (de los Lunas). Small town that is Tony’s mother’s birthplace. Every fall, Tony and his family make a pilgrimage to “the adobe houses of the peaceful village. . . . We always enjoyed our stay at El Puerto. It was a world where people were happy, working, helping each other.” By the end of the novel, Tony says, “Take the llano and the river valley, the moon and the sea, God and the golden carp–and make something new.” He will weave together, in short, the various strands of his family traditions: not only the “moon” and the “sea” (the Luna and Marez families), but also his orthodox Catholic heritage with the native spiritual traditions of the Southwest, including the magical folk religion and history represented by Ultima.

Suggested ReadingsBruce-Novoa. Portraits of the Chicano Artist as a Young Man: The Making of the “Author” in Three Chicano Novels. Albuquerque, N.Mex.: Pajarito Press, 1977. This important early analysis of Bless Me, Ultima reveals the novel to be “the apprenticeship of a writer who fulfills his training with Ultima by becoming a novelist, the author of his own text.”Calderón, Héctor. “Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima: A Chicano Romance of the Southwest.” Critica 1, no. 3 (Fall, 1986): 21-47. Argues that the novel is actually a highly crafted romance.González-T., César A., ed. Rudolfo A. Anaya: Focus on Criticism. La Jolla, Calif.: Lalo Press, 1990. Gonzalez-T., Cesar A., ed. Rudolfo A. Anaya: Focus on Criticism. La Jolla, Calif.: Lalo Press, 1990. Includes useful essays on Bless Me, Ultima by Roberto Cantu, Jean Cazemajou, and others.Lamadrid, Enrique R. “The Dynamics of Myth in the Creative Vision of Rudolfo Anaya.” In Paso por aquí: Critical Essays on the New Mexican Literary Tradition, 1542-1988, edited by Erlinda Gonzales-Berry. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989. Shows the ways in which Anaya uses Southwestern myth in his novel.Saldivar, Ramon. “Romance, the Fantastic, and the Representation of History in Rudolfo Anaya and Ron Arias.” Chapter 5 in Chicano Narrative: The Dialectics of Difference. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990. Argues that Anaya’s book “creates a uniquely palatable amalgamation of old and new world symbolic structures.”Trejo, Arnulfo D. “Bless Me, Ultima: A Novel.” Arizona Quarterly 29 (1973): 95-96.
Categories: Places