Bless Me, Ultima is a coming-of-age novel by Rudolfo Anaya centering on Antonio Márez y . The relationship between Anaya's protagonist, Antonio and his spiritual guide, Ultima, unfolds in an enchanted landscape that accommodates. Bless Me, Ultima describes the evolution of Antonio Juan Márez y Luna from .. of the relation of myth and social consciousness, often defined as antithetical. Everything you ever wanted to know about Ultima (a.k.a. La Grande) in Bless Me, Throughout the novel, the relationship between Ultima and Antonio only.
However, one night Antonio witnesses the death of a man back from the war, which makes him question his religion and identity, and sparks his journey towards manhood. Antonio begins school in the fall, where he is portrayed as an excelling student, which greatly pleases his mother. Tony's First Communion experience leaves him disillusioned as he did not receive the spiritual knowledge he had expected.
He begins to question the value of the Catholic Church, concentrated on the Virgin Mary and a Father God, and on ritualas unable to answer his moral and metaphysical dilemmas. At the same time, realizing that the Church represents the female values of his mother, Tony cannot bring himself to accept the lawlessness, violence and unthinking sensuality which his father and older brothers symbolize.
Instead through his relationship with Ultima, he discovers a oneness with nature. One day, while socializing with his friends they tell him the story of the Golden Carp. Antonio also continues to be an example for the children, who praise his religious savant as they dress him as a priest while preparing for first communion. Antonio's admiration for Ultima strengthens as he continues to question his faith, hoping to understand once he takes communion for the first time.
Ultima, in her role as protector, uses her knowledge of healing and magic to neutralize the evil witchcraft and, despite lacking priestly recognition, emerges as the only one who can cure him from death. In another traumatic death, Antonio witnesses the murder of Narciso, known as the town drunk, by Tenorio, a malicious saloon -keeper and barber in El Puerto.
As a result, Antonio becomes ill and enters a dream-like state. Tenorio blames Ultima for the death of one of his daughters, claiming that his daughter passed because Ultima cursed her.
Tenorio plots his revenge on Ultima throughout the duration of the novel. Following the death of the owl, Ultima quickly follows and is accompanied by Antonio at her bedside as she dies. Before her death, she instructs Antonio to collect her medicines and herbs before destroying them by the river.
In addition, he reflects on the pull between Catholicism and the continuation of Ultima's spiritual legacy and concludes that he does not need to choose one over the other, but can bring both together to form a new identity and a new religion that is made up of both. Antonio says to his father: Take the llano and the river valley, the moon and the sea, God and the golden carp—and make something new Papa, can a new religion be made? He turns to both pagan and Christian ideologies for guidance, but he doubts both traditions.
With Ultima's help, Antonio makes the transition from childhood to adolescence and begins to make his own choices and to accept responsibility for their consequences.
Both hold conflicting views about Tony's destiny and battle over his future path. While Gabriel represents the roaming life of a vaquero and hopes for Tony to follow this path of life, Maria represents the settled life of hard-working farmers and aspires for her son to become a priest. Her role in the community is as mediator. Ultima knows the ways of the Catholic Church and also the ways of the indigenous spiritual practices over which she is master.
Ultima understands the philosophy and the morality of the ancient peoples of New Mexico and teaches Tony through example, experience and critical reflection, the universal principles that explain and sustain life. Although she is generally respected in the community, people sometimes misunderstand her power. At times she is referred to as a brujaor witch, but no one—not even Antonio—knows whether or not she is truly a witch. Finally Antonio puts pieces of the puzzle together and the revelation of who she is comes to him.
She holds Antonio's destiny in her hands, and at the end of the story sacrifices her own life so that Antonio might live. Tenorio Trementina and his three daughters — Tenorio is a malicious saloon -keeper and barber in El Puerto. His three daughters perform a black mass and place a curse on Antonio's uncle Lucas Luna. Tenorio detests Ultima because she lifts the curse on Lucas and soon after she does so, one of Tenorio's daughters dies.
Hot-tempered and vengeful, Tenorio spends the rest of the novel plotting Ultima's death, which he finally achieves by killing her owl familiarher spiritual guardian. Afterwards, he tries to kill Antonio but is shot by Uncle Pedro. Ultima's Owl — Embodies Ultima's soul, the power of her mysticism, and her life force. The song the owl sings softly outside Antonio's window at night indicates Ultima's presence and magical protection in Antonio's life. Ultima's owl scratches Tenorio's eye out as he stands in Gabriel's doorway and demands the right to take Ultima away from Gabriel's house.
By the end of the novel Tenorio has figured out the connection between Ultima and her owl. By killing Ultima's owl, Tenorio destroys Ultima's soul and life force, which leads quickly to her death. Antonio takes on the responsibility of burying the owl and realizes that he is really burying Ultima. Lupito — A war veteran who has post-traumatic stress disorder.
Bless Me, Ultima
After Lupito murders the local sheriff in one of his deranged moments, he is killed by the sheriff and his posse as young Antonio looks on from his hiding place on the banks of the river.
Lupito's violent death provides the catalyst for Antonio's serious moral and religious questioning. As a result, he gets so sick that Ultima is summoned to cure him. She concocts a potient of herbs, water, and kerosene as a purgative and uses Antonio's innocence as a mediator to effect the cure.
Narciso — Although known as the town drunk, Narciso cuts a large, strong figure of a man. Narciso and Gabriel are good friends because they share a deep and passionate love for the llano. Narciso has a deep abiding loyalty and love for Ultima because of her extraordinary efforts to save his young wife who had succumbed to an epidemic that struck the town. Narciso demonstrates a strong appreciation for the richness of the earth —his garden is a lush masterpiece full of sweet vegetables and fruits.
Tenorio kills him as he is on his way to warn Ultima that Tenorio is after her. As he lies dying in Antonio's arms, he asks Antonio to give him a blessing. He challenges Tenorio when Tenorio speaks badly of Ultima. Not long afterward, a curse is laid on his home.
Horse loves to wrestle, but everyone fears Bones more because he is reckless and perhaps even crazy. Ernie is a braggart who frequently teases Antonio. The Vitamin Kid is the fastest runner in Guadalupe. Red is a Protestant, so he is often teased by the other boys. Lloyd enjoys reminding everyone that they can be sued for even the most minor offenses. Abel, the smallest boy in the group, frequently urinates in inappropriate places.
Samuel — One of Antonio's friends. He is also the Vitamin Kid's brother. Unlike most of Antonio's friends, Samuel is gentle and quiet. He tells Antonio about the golden carp. It is here that Antonio starts questioning his faith.
Florence — One of Antonio's friends who does not believe in God, but goes to catechism to be with his friends. Florence shows Antonio that the Catholic Church is not perfect. He dies in a very bad drowning accident.
He disobeys his father when he continues to visit an Indian who lives near the town. He is described by Antonio as being moody. Cico tells Antonio that the story of the golden carp originally comes from the Indian. When they return home, they suffer post-traumatic stress as a result of the war. Restless and depressed, they all eventually leave home to pursue independent lives, crushing Gabriel's dream of moving his family to California.
Most of the time, they play with dolls and speak English, a language Antonio does not begin to learn until he attends school. They struggle with Gabriel to lay a claim to Antonio's future. Antonio's uncles are quiet and gentle, and they plant their crops by the cycle of the moon.
Father Byrnes — A stern Catholic priest with hypocritical and unfair policies. He teaches catechism to Antonio and his friends. He punishes Florence for the smallest offenses because Florence challenges the Catholic orthodoxy, but he fails to notice, and perhaps even ignores, the misbehavior of the other boys. Rather than teach the children to understand God, he teaches them to fear God. When Tenorio declares an all out war against Ultima, he does not want his sons to get involved, even though Ultima saved Lucas's life.
Miss Maestas — Antonio's first-grade teacher. Although Antonio does not speak English well, Miss Maestas recognizes his bright spark of intelligence. Under her tutelage, Antonio unlocks the secrets of words. She promotes him to the third grade at the end of the year. Miss Violet — Antonio's third grade teacher. He, with Abel, Bones, Ernie, Horse, Lloyd, Red, and the Vitamin Kid, set up a play about the First Christmas on a dark and snowy night, which turns into a hilarious disaster because of the ever crazy Bones.
Old age seems to be a time of rest, a lightening of the load of day-to-day responsibilities. Ultima still helps around the house with the children and the daily chores, but these are the primary responsibility of the mother, and she still acts occasionally in her magical role of curandera, when no one else can effect a cure, but she no longer goes out regularly for illnesses or births.
The middle generation, Tony's parents, bear the heaviest load for the welfare of the family. Tony's father is primarily concerned with being the breadwinner, and although he takes some responsibility for Tony's welfare, we never see him interacting with his daughters. Tony's mother has the main responsibility for raising the children and running the household.
She sees that the children learn their catechism and attend school; she is most often shown in the kitchen and sometimes sewing. The older brothers have already left home and seem to have few responsibilities within the family. They return to visit and help out a little; although their parents would like them to return to the family home and find work in the neighborhood, they are restless and drawn to the city.
The two girls hardly appear in the novel; they play dolls and giggle, they go to school and help their mother a little, but they really are never shown interacting with the other characters. The life of the young boy is shown the most extensively; by the age of six he is clearing rocks away for a garden for his mother.
We see him interacting with his teachers and friends at school, his priest at catechism class, his parents, and Ultima.
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He has plenty of time during the summer to play along the river and in the country around. His primary responsibility is to do well in school so that he will bring respect to the family. Through Anaya's description we learn the different role expectations for females and males, but we see the conflict between female and male primarily on the symbolic level.
On the literal level, the conflict between husband and wife is caused more by their own characters than by the roles they play. However, through these two personalities and their respective family ideals, the conflict between feminine and masculine values is portrayed; and through the androgynous character of Ultima, a solution is suggested.
Marez is a descendent of the conquistadores who crossed the sea and became men of the llano: Luna-Marez is the descendent of farmers who depend on the phases of the moon and who are quietly in touch with the rhythms of nature. Their innate character involves being tied to the land rather than roaming over it, and their extended family lives together farming the same land rather than separated like the Marez family in their restless wandering.
Finally, because the founder of the Lunas was a priest, the Catholic religion and the education required for the priesthood are more important to the Lunas than to the Marezes. The conflict between feminine and masculine is also shown on the religious level. God, the father, is omniscient and omnipotent—the Old Testament deity who can seem harsh because he has justice without mercy: He is a deity who because of his power and perfection seems very distant from human beings and their everyday weaknesses and imperfections.
On the other hand, the Virgin Marywho is not omniscient nor omnipotent, understands humans and their weaknesses and loves them anyway. Because she is female, she can plead with God and intercede for mercy on the behalf of humans. God was not always forgiving. He made laws to follow and if you broke them you were punished. The Virgin always forgave. He spoke and the thunder echoed through the skies. The Virgin was full of quiet and peaceful love….
But he was a giant man, and she was a woman. She could go to him and ask Him to forgive you. Her voice was sweet and gentle and with the help of her son they could persuade the powerful father to change his mind. The mother's goal for her son is clear; she wants him to become a priest or, if that is impossible, a farmer. The father's goal for Tony is not so clear, but he does not want him to become a priest or a farmer, rather something more in keeping with the men of his own family.
Furthermore, Tony is being torn by his religious doubts about a harsh God who seems to allow so much evil in the world.Bless Me, Ultima, Getting Ready For School Clip HD - Movie Clips - FandangoMovies
Despite being the archetypal female, she is really androgynous. She has had no husband or children, although she has been a mother figure to many. She has been active in the public world as well as the private household in ways not usually accepted for women in traditional patriarchal societies.
At least partially because of such power and public role, she is accused of being a bruja. Finally, she is a devout Catholic like the Lunas, but also devout in her love of the wind, the sun, and the llano like the Marezes. Because she personally combines many of the qualities of both female and male, of Luna and Marez, she acts as a mediating influence on the family and as a moderating influence in Tony's life: 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 inextricable mixture that gives man his measure of safety and security.
Because man plants in the earth he believes in the miracles 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. But 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….
She is an individual who has learned to understand and love her society and its members and to accept the bad along with the good. Tony, too, is an individual, and he is just learning about himself, his family, and his society. At times he is disillusioned by the wickedness he sees, and at times he feels that he can satisfy only the desires of one of his parents, but not both; as a result of Ultima's guidance, he may be able to find a middle path.
Anaya uses the curandera and the bruja to show the traditional ties between the sacred and secular worlds. Ultima, the curandera, is the most important figure in Tony's life during the three years from ages six to nine; she is his teacher, counselor, and friend. She seems to be known throughout the area as a midwife and herb doctor who learned her skills from a renowned healer, "the flying man of Las Pasturas.
She is wise in her knowledge of nature, humanity, and the supernatural and seems to be a devout Catholic—although some conflict arises between the church and her magic: He wanted the mercy and faith of the church to be the villagers' only guiding light" Ultima, like the other traditional folk healers of Western cultures, uses botanical medicines, faith healingpsychological practices, and magical rituals.
She has practical knowledge of the curing properties of certain herbs, and she knows when to harvest and how to cure them. She believes that the natural world is also a spiritual world, so she tells Tony when he is helping her to collect herbs that he should "speak to the plant and tell it why we pulled it from its home in the earth" In her curing she uses such plants as yerba del manso, oregano, osha, manzanilla, and atole the sacred blue corn meal of the Pueblo Indians.
Not only does she use Catholic prayers, but she may also use other prayers to the spirit world, possibly to spirits known to the Indians.
Such practice would be consonant with our knowledge of curandismo since it derives from both Spanish and Indian healing traditions. She also uses what she calls "the magic beyond evil, the magic that endures forever" 88which includes incantations and rituals as well as the more clearly described imitative magic of sticking pins into clay dolls in order to kill the evil witches. Unlike the curanderas of some areas who do not accept payment for cures or who only accept donations after the cure, Ultima requires the payment of forty dollars in silver for the curing of someone who has been cursed, the payment agreed on in advance.
Ultima, then, combines botanical, psychological, and faith curing with magic, but magic is used only when the source of the illness is magical. Ultima acts in her role of curandera or hechicera three different times in the novel. Lucas, Tony's uncle, was bewitched by brujas because he chased them away from where they were dancing; they placed a curse on him that was causing him to waste away, and even the city doctors and the priest had been powerless to cure him.
Before agreeing to effect the magical cure needed for Lucas' illness, Ultima warns his family about the consequences in the natural world of tampering with the supernatural: You must understand that when anybody, bruja or curandera, priest or sinner, tampers with the fate of a man that sometimes a chain of events is set into motion over which no one will have ultimate control. You must be willing to accept this responsibility. The cure, involving herbs steeped in a mixture of kerosene and water, atole, and chanted prayers, lasts for three days.
Tony acts as Ultima's helper during the cure, and his strength is magically used to strengthen his uncle. Toward the end of the cure, Ultima makes clay figurines of the three witches and then sticks pins in them.
Finally, both Tony and his uncle vomit out the poison, and Lucas is on the road to recovery. Although the cure involved magical practices, it could be explained by the skeptical reader as a psychological cure. The skeptic would believe that Lucas became ill because he feared the witches, that because he believed that witchcraft was the cause of his illness, he also believed that only magic could cure him hence the inability of the doctors and priest to cure himthat Ultima's reputation as curandera and hechicera makes her the only one whom Lucas will have faith in to effect his cure, that Lucas receives psychological support, especially through Tony, as well as monetary support from his family—itself often important in curing psychological illnesses, and that the herbs Ultima gives to Lucas may also have some curative value.
Ultima's cure is described only through Tony's eyes, and Anaya does not insist that the reader accept everything that Tony believes as literal fact. Clearly, however, all the family believe that only Ultima's magic cured Lucas. The second cure Ultima performs is on Tony.
During a snowstorm Tony chances on a fight between Tenorio, the brujo, and Narciso, a kind old man, and sees Narciso shot. Later, Narciso dies in Tony's arms, and the boy gives confession to him. Naturally, the incident causes Tony considerable emotional upheaval. As the result of chill from the snowstorm and the emotional trauma, Tony develops pneumonia.
For the physical part of his illness, Ultima rubs him with an ointment of Vicks mixed with herbs and gives him a cool liquid to drink, and the doctor from town treats him. Ultima alone treats Tony's feverish nightmares by staying at his side and reassuring him.
Her curing this time is almost entirely psychological; no magic is used because the illness does not have a magical cause. Although Tony realizes Ultima's important part in his cure, Anaya does not insist that only Ultima cured him. The third cure involves the lifting of another curse, one laid by Tenorio on three ghosts or bultos who then disturb the Tellez family. Although the family members are not yet sick, they cannot eat or sleep because the bultos are causing pots and pans to fly against the wall, dishes to jump when people try to eat from them, and stones to fall on the house from the sky.
Once again, the priest has been unable to do anything. Ultima realizes that the curse is on the ghosts rather than on the family and that the ghosts are those of three Indians who died on the ranch two generations earlier and were not buried properly. The brujo's curse has awakened them and caused them to do wrong. The cure, then, involves laying these spirits to rest. Ultima has a rectangular platform erected with the four posts in each of the four directions—similar to some Indian burials.
During a whole day she chants and in the evening brings out three bundles which are placed on the platform. Tony wonders if these are the remains of the Indians, and it is not clear whether they are or not. Then the platform is burned. The description of Ultima at the cremation again ties her practice of curandismo with Indian practices for she seems like an Indian woman with her long braids falling over her shoulders and a bright sash at her waist, and Tony feels "she had performed this ceremony in some distant past" Again the skeptic could explain the curse and cure in psychological terms as perhaps mass hallucination, but Anaya makes clear here that the reader should not use that explanation, for the flying dishes and falling rocks are experienced not only by the Tellez family but by Tony's skeptical father as well.
The reality of the curse and cure, though seen through Tony's eyes, is insisted on by Anaya by showing the father's skepticism. Throughout the novel, Anaya gradually tries to bring the reader to an understanding and acceptance of the way the curandera and others in the natural, secular world affect and are affected by the supernatural, sacred world. From early in the novel where Ultima teaches Tony to speak to the spirits of the plants and to listen to the voices and rhythms of nature, through the curses and their cures, and finally to the climax of the novel when Tenorio shoots Ultima's "familiar," the owl, and Ultima almost immediately dies, Anaya shows the close ties of the sacred and secular, the supernatural and natural worlds.
Improper acts in the natural world have their repercussions in both the natural and supernatural worlds. The brujas, too, help tie these worlds together. The actions of the four black witches, Tenorio and his three daughters, unlike Ultima's, are only reported; we do not see them practicing their magic. Tenorio is a tavern keeper and a barber, and on occasion his barbering can be dangerous to his clients—Tenorio's daughters took some of Lucas' hair to use in placing their curse on him.
The daughters are all bad tempered and ugly, "too ugly to make men happy" 91and although we learn little about the daughters, Tenorio is shown as a troublemaker in the village and the murderer of Narciso. In a close-knit traditional society, the troublemakers and the dissatisfied are sometimes labeled witches, for their unhappiness would cause them to envy and hate others and, therefore, be willing and desirous of causing others pain and trouble.
The description of the brujas, like that of the curandera, conforms to the traditional pattern for witches in Christian societies. They sell their souls to the devil; they have black masses and a sabbat of sorts; they read the Black Book; they stir up horrible concoctions of such things as blood of bats, entrails of toads, and blood of roosters; they use incantations and magical words; and, of course, they can perform image magic.
They can change into animals, especially coyotes, and also into balls of fire—two forms that are found in Southwest Indian beliefs as well as Spanish-American beliefs. Witches cannot pass by a cross, nor can they stand the sight of it, and the names "Christ" and "Mary" hurt their ears.
Bless Me, Ultima - Wikipedia
They can be killed in their own bodies or in their animal shapes by shooting them with bullets etched with a cross. Although we see the bruja and the curandera both performing magic, Ultima uses her magic only for what she and the reader perceive as good. Her killing of three people is considered justifiable since they are brujas. Twice Ultima is accused of being a bruja, but in one incident the mob is satisfied that she is not, for it thinks she walks under a cross, and in the other she does not flinch when a cross is held up in front of her.
Throughout the novel, good magic is shown to conquer evil magic, but magic must be fought with magic, and the Catholic religious rituals cannot take the place of the ancient magic. One must remember, however, that using magic to tamper with fate as it affects the natural order of things may bring undesired and unexpected consequences.
Anaya shows considerable love for and understanding of the traditional rural Spanish-American society of the Southwest United States. However, his love of these people does not lead him to romanticize their traditional way of life, for he describes the harsh along with the pleasant realities of that life. Bless Me, Ultima helps to give contemporary urban Americans, both Hispanos and Anglos, a better understanding of and respect for traditional peoples and their beliefs in the spiritual nature of the world we live in.
Lippincott,p. Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima Berkeley: Quinto Sol Publications,p. Subsequent references are to this edition. The Dialectics of Knowledge. And if so, how did the work fit into the overall social and creative context of chicanismo?
As the first best seller novel of Chicano literature, it was impossible to dismiss Ultima 's introduction of compelling mythic themes into the disjunctive context of the combative and polemical ethnic literatures of the late sixties. Ultima was serene in the face of this turmoil, full of conflict, yet noncombative, a portrait of the developing consciousness of the young protagonist, Antonio.
The metaphysics of this emerging consciousness were so convincingly drawn that no reader doubted that the seeds of social conscience were deeply sown if yet untested in the chief character.
Rudolfo Anaya strikes a deep chord in portraying two primordial ways of relating to the earth, the pastoral and the agricultural. Bless Me, Ultima, BMUis not a quaint, historical sketch of rural folkways, but rather a dialectical exploration of the contradictions between lifestyles and cultures.
At the novel's heart is the process which generates social and historical consciousness. A Marxist-Structuralist perspective defines this process as myth, the collective interpretation and mediation of the contradictions in the historical and ecological experience of a people. In his account of the relationship between a curandera folk healer and her young apprentice, Anaya penetrates deeply the mythical conscience of the reader.
Despite their enthusiasm for his novel, critics have thus far been unable to define the parameters of this response nor prove the reason for its depth. Contributing elements in the narrative include: From the first reviews to later articles, an increasing body of vague but glowing commentary points to a rich "mythic" or "magical" dimension that underlies the novel.
Despite these claims, there appears to be something exceptional about the emerging consciousness of the boy. It is mystically harmonious with nature, yet also incorporates a dynamic, even dialectical awareness of historical forces, from the colonization by Hispanic farmers and ranchers to the coming of the Anglos and World War II.
These seeming contradictions invite a reexamination of the relation of myth and social consciousness, often defined as antithetical, incompatible categories which erode and undermine each other. Since the novel apparently transcends this impasse, we are obliged to consider a critical model comprehensive enough to explain this achievement.
A review of commentary on the novel is the first step in this direction. Bless Me, Ultima has undergone extensive dream and thematic analyses which include attempts to link its "mythic" elements to precolumbian roots. The suggestion of analogical patterns achieves credibility for the Golden Carp without having to invoke Huitzilopochtli or Quetzalcoatl as other Chicano writers have done. The political analysis which deems the novel reactionary seems to be based on the assumption that Chicano novels should document only the most relevant social and political struggles.
These diverse and fragmentary approaches have fallen short of estimating the overall impact and unity of the work and the structural integrity it has achieved on a number of levels.
Since the "mythic" dimension of Bless Me, Ultima is a point of confluence in the above commentaries, a definition of terms is necessary at this point. Thus far, the study of myth in Chicano literature has been scholastic. The neoclassic allusions to Aztec and other precolumbian mythological and religious systems are fairly common in Chicano Literature, especially in poetry and theater. Critics have been quick to point this out, elaborating only superficially by tracing the origins of the myths and speculating on how they pertain to the socio-cultural identity of the present day Chicano.
Inspired by the work of Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes on the Mexican national psyche, an analogous process has been initiated in Chicano literature and criticism, although it is doubtful that an institutionalized Chicano psychotherapy will be the result. The underlying assumption that would prevent this is that these mythic or collective psychological patterns supposedly lie outside time, eternally remanifesting themselves in different epochs.
Myth is here considered to be an ongoing process of interpreting and mediating the contradictions in the everyday historical experience of the people. Such a structuralist approach to myth offers some analytical tools which can be applied in a way that avoids ideological analysis and is potentially much more penetrating and historically relevant than traditional thematic or culturalist approaches.
The reader of Bless Me, Ultima recognizes the elderly curandera as a kind of repository for the wisdom and knowledge invested in Indo-Hispanic culture. The novel functions well at this level, for Ultima is indeed in touch with the spirit that moves the land and is intent on conveying this knowledge to Antonio in her indirect and mysterious ways. Yet, the knowledge she commands and the role she plays go far beyond the herbs she utilizes, the stories she saves for the children and her dabbling in "white" witchcraft.
The crossed pins, the demon hairballs, the rocks falling from the sky and the fireballs are "colorful" touches which are authentic enough in terms of folk legend. Anaya inserts the "witchery" only after having won the readers' trust in a clever conquest of their disbelief. However, the enumeration of the standard paraphernalia and the usual supernatural feats of a curandera are neither the reason for nor a barrier to the novel's success. There is an ancient system of knowledge that Ultima exercises that in this novel does not happen to be in the herbs she uses.
Any anthropologist is aware that taxonomies such as those of ethnobotany actually contain the philosophical roots and perceptual conventions of the culture. It is her role as a cultural mediator and Antonio's natural inclination towards a similar calling that link them to their real power, which is the ability to recognize and resolve the internal contradictions of their culture.
These oppositions are clearly defined in both social and symbolic terms. If they were, they would then be merely pretexts for a combination mystery story, morality play and Hatfield-McCoy saga with a New Mexican flavor. Something more profound is at work in Bless Me, Ultima, for the oppositions are dialectical, and they are mediated in a way that has counterparts in many different cultures around the earth. In his comparative studies of origin myths, Claude Levi-Strauss extracts the two most basic and primordial ones which occurred either exclusively or in combination in every culture studied.
The rival origin myth is more empirically based: Then comes the task of finding the first woman. Each lifestyle and the world view it is based on is as compelling, soul satisfying, and original as the other. The opposition as it occurs in the novel may be schematized as follows: The settling down of humankind into the sedentary ways of the neolithic brought with it the emergence of social classes and institutionalized religion and all the economic and social contradictions that accompany the birth of civilization.
Likewise, the agricultural developments of horticulture and animal husbandry are distinct enough to carry with them their own ideologies as evident above. Relating more specifically to the novel in question is the history of the colonization of New Mexico and the tremendous impact of the advent of large scale pastoralism.
As grazing became more important, the communal egalitarianism of agrarian society began giving way to an emerging class system based on the partidario grazing system and the rise of patrones bosses. However, such developments are not evident in the novel, perhaps because its locale, eastern New Mexico, was the last area to be settled before American annexation. The coming of the Texas ranchers, the railroad and the barbed wire destroyed the freedom of the plains.
As the popular saying goes, "Cuando vino el alambre, vino el hambre" when the barbed wire came, so did hunger. When an economic system is threatened, so is its ideology, which becomes nostalgic as its dreams are shattered. Each felt the importance of having their values dominate in the boy and both vied to establish their influence at the dream scene of Antonio's birth: This one will be a Luna, the old man said, he will be a farmer and keep our customs and traditions. Perhaps God will bless our family and make the baby a priest.
And to show their hope they rubbed the dark earth of the river valley on the baby's forehead, and they surrounded the bed with the fruits of their harvest so the small room smelled of fresh green chile and corn, ripe apples and peaches, pumpkins and green beans. Then the silence was shattered with the thunder of hoof-beats; vaqueros surrounded the small house with shouts and gunshots, and when they entered the room they were laughing and singing and drinking. Gabriel, they shouted, you have a fine son.
He will make a fine vaquero. And they smashed the fruits and vegetables that surrounded the bed and replaced them with a saddle, horse blankets, bottles of whiskey, a new rope, bridles, chapas, and an old guitar.
And they rubbed the stain of earth from the baby's forehead because man was not to be tied to the earth but free upon it. The intervention of Ultima to settle the feud illustrates her role of mediator and demonstrates the basic mechanism of myth. As in all cultures the thrust of mythical thought progresses from the awareness of oppositions towards their resolution. In Bless Me, Ultima, both the curandera and the boy serve as mediators between the oppositions within their culture.
Their intermediary functions can be traced throughout the text. The middle ground that Ultima and Antonio occupy is evident even in special and geographic terms.
Ultima has lived on the plain and in the valley, in Las Pasturas as well as in El Puerto de la Luna, gaining the respect of the people in both places.
Antonio's family lives in Guadalupe, in a compromise location at mid-point between Las Pasturas and El Puerto. Through the father's insistence, the house is built at the end of the valley where the plain begins. Antonio mediates between father and mother, trying to please the latter by scraping a garden out of the rocky hillside: Everyday I reclaimed from the rocky soil of the hill a few more feet of earth to cultivate.