“Bless Me, Ultima” by Rudolfo Anaya
This review has been created by the Academic Decathlon class at COHS. It’s a team effort.
“Bless Me, Ultima” is a novel set in Guadalupe, New Mexico. The narrator, Antonio Marez, is an adult looking back to when he was six years old. Antonio is conflicted over his future. His father’s side of the family have always been nomadic cowboys, living near the sea. His mother’s family have been farmers, living on the llano (plains, grasslands). Antonio us being pulled in both directions. In addition, his mother wants him to be a Catholic priest. He is quite religious and thinks he might make a good priest.
Antonio begins to question this heritage when Ultima comes to live in his family’s house. Ultima, or La Grande, (we think she is known from life on the llano when she helped ) deliver Antonio. This creates a connection between the two.
The townspeople are suspicious of Ultima because she is a curandera. A cuandera is folk healer who uses herbs. People suspect that she is a bruja, or witch. Although Ultima seems to have supernatural powers, she is unable to interfere with the destiny of others.
Ultima does have some friends among the townspeople. One is Narciso. He is the town drunk, but also a friend of the Marez family. He defends Ultima’s reputation and warns her when Tenorio, the saloon owner, threatens Ultima’s safety. He has three daughters who are truly brujas. These are the women who made Antonio’s uncle very ill. He would have died if not for Ultima’s cure.
The longer that Ultima is in the Marez home, the more Antonio explores spiritual avenues outside the Catholic Church. A friend, Cico, tells him the story of the golden carp and takes Antonio to a secluded section of the river to see the carp. The carp is purported to be a pagan god.
Tenorio’s fears and hatred for Ultima cause him to challenge her more than once. In one incident, Tenorio states that Ultima will not be able to cross the threshold of the door when a cross is placed there because the cross has the power of God. Ultima does indeed cross the threshold, but the reader realizes later that the blessed sewing needles making up the cross have fallen from the threshold, leaving him to wonder if Ultima really is a witch.
Ultimately Ultima dies after Tenorio realizes that Ultima’s spirit is contained in her owl. Tenorio kills the owl, and Ultima falls mortally ill.
Antonio learns to incorporate the many spiritual aspects of his Hispanic heritage including the pagan golden carp, Ultima’s power of goodness, the Catholic.