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Bless Me, Ultima is a fiction novel published in 1972 by Rudolfo Anaya. Some of the main themes are about culture, the supernatural, religion, and growing up. The protagonist is a six-year-old boy born in New Mexico named Antonio Marez. He is always up for learning new things and faces difficult situations about life as he grows up. Other main characters are, Ultima, Gabriel, Marez, and the Florence. The antagonist is Tenorio Trementina whose daughters and wife are believed to be witches. The story takes place in the 1940s in their town or in Antonio’s home in New Mexico during WWII.
The story begins with Antonio recalling the time when Ultima, the healer, lived with him and his family. He talks about the day before Ultima moved in as he lies in bed and listens to his dad discussing how she lives alone near them. Antonio’s dad is Gabriel who used to be a cowboy. Maria Luna is his mother who insisted in moving to the llano. The move affected Gabriel and he started drinking and spends a lot of time crying about his sons being away fighting in WWII. Antonio is happy about Ultima moving in with them because he is thankful that she has helped Maria after giving birth and thinks it’s wrong for her to live alone. As Antonio is going to bed, he has a dream about a woman giving birth and realizes it’s him who she is giving birth to. After his birth, his uncle walks in and says he wants Antonio to become a farmer in his afterbirth. While the cowboys want him to become a vaquero just like them. Ultima tells them that only she will know what happens to the baby. The next morning, Antonio has school but is scared of leaving his mother. His mother tells him that Ultima was there during his birth and that she wishes he will become a priest. Later, Gabriel comes home with Ultima and as Antonio shakes her hand, he feels a power around him. Ultima has an owl that hangs around their home and Antonio believes it is evil until he has a dream about the owl and the Virgin de Guadalupe carrying children to heaven. Everyone is happy about Ultima moving in and she starts helping with chores and listens to Gabriel talking about wanting to move to California but cries because his sons are off fighting in WWII and doesn’t think his dream of moving will ever come true.
One night, the owl is heard crying and Jason’s father, Chavez, runs into the family home to say that his brother was killed by a man named Lupito who shot him in the head. Chavez asks for Gabriel’s help in killing him and they leave to find Lupito and Antonio follows them before Maria could lock the kids inside. Antonio hides and sees Lupito with a pistol near the river. Gabriel and Chavez find him, and Lupito starts saying something about Japanese soldiers and disappears while running towards Antonio. They tell a policeman names Vigil that they have to kill Lupito and they all start to argue. Gabriel’s friend, Narciso talks to Lupito to convince him to give himself up and he shoots up at the sky and the other men get scared thinking he’s shooting towards them, so they shoot back and kill him. Antonio runs towards him and prays for Lupito’s soul. As Antonio enters his home, Ultima helps him by giving him medicine and answers his questions about whether Lupito’s soul will go to hell. Eventually he falls asleep and has a dream about his brothers gathering to build a castle on the hills for Gabriel. As they’re crossing the river to build the castle, they hear a voice calling out Antonio’s name and they say it’s la Llorona or Lupito calling him. When Antonio wakes up, he notices Ultima’s potions healed him. He starts to wonder what happened to Lupito’s soul and hopes that God will forgive him for his sin and questions if his father also shot Lupito. As they all get ready to go to church, Ultima tells Maria how the night before was a tough day for the men. Maria tells her that Antonio is not a man, and Ultima tells her he will soon be one. Gabriel tells them that everything he is going through will make him a man. Maria says she hopes he will become a priest to avoid corruption of life. Antonia asks Ultima about how he can help his father if he did kill Lupito and Ultima tells him she doesn’t think he did. As they’re walking past a mansion, Maria makes them bow to a woman, but Antonio realizes that it belongs to an evil woman named Rosie.
One night, Antonio has a dream about the Virgin Mary. In his dream, she promises his mom that her sons will come home, and Antonio will become a priest. After he wakes up, Antonio’s uncle, Pedro Luna, arrives to take him and his family to the farms to harvest. They visit Maria’s dad, Prudencio Luna, and they stay at her brother Juan’s home. Antonio hears Maria and Juan talking about wanting him to live a life like the Luna family and stay at El Puerto.
It’s Antonio’s first day back at school and before he leaves, his mother asks Ultima to bless him. While she’s blessing him, he feels a breeze and is reminded of the evil spirits at el llano. Maria asks for Antonio’s fate and Ultima replies “a man of learning”. On his first day, he learns how to write his name but is bullied by kids because he can’t speak English. The war ends and Maria cries tears of joy after hearing that her sons will be returning. Antonio has a dream about his bothers asking for help because they are dying. When he wakes up, he sees his brothers walking towards their home. The three brothers suffer from trauma and spend most of their time sleeping and going out with women. The three brothers hope to live their lives independently and don’t listen to their dad’s wish of wanting to move to California. Antonio has another dream about his brothers telling him to go to Rosie’s brothel and he tells them he can’t because he is trying to become a priest. Leon and Eugene think that he will eventually go inside her brothel. They both enter while Andrews waits because he doesn’t want to lose his innocence. Ultima appears and tells him that it only happens in el llano surrounded by nature. Antonio wakes up to his brothers and parents yelling about wanting to live their own life and the next day, Leon and Eugene leave. Antonio stays and gets a job in a market and when asked about what he wants to become he says the war has made him grow too fast. Gabriel becomes unhappy about his sons leaving and Maria is sad about her brother getting sick. They believe the witch cursed him. Pedro Luna asks Ultima if she can help cure him and she agrees to but warns them about the consequences. Pedro agrees to take responsibility and explains that Lucas was in a cottonwood forest when he saw Tenorio Trementina’s daughters dancing and performing a satanic ritual. They saw Lucas and attacked him, but he made a cross and scared them away but as they were walking away, they cursed him. As Ultima and Antonio are on their way to help Lucas, they see an omen that is believed to be good luck for Lucas. When they arrive, they ask everyone to leave the room and asks to talk to Tenorio. As they enter his room, he is seen with a cruel look on his face. Ultima explains that she is there to cure the evil curse from his daughters. Tenorio gets angry at Ultima for blaming his daughters and says he will kill her. Ultima tells him his daughters must deal with the consequences. As they’re leaving Tenorio attempts to hit them with his horse, but they move just in time to avoid it. As Ultima enters the room Lucas is in, she starts using a herbal remedy and makes atole. She eventually saves Lucas and calls Prudencio to tell him that his son is cured. One day as Antonio is by the river, he hears Cico calling out for him. He asks is he thinks the golden carp is God and he replies that he only believes in one God because of his religion. Antonio promises Cico to never hurt a carp. Antonio and Cico are both invited to play ball and their friend Ernie tells them a witch is living in Antonio’s house. Antonio is asked to do a magic trick and suddenly vomits carrot juice that scared off his friends. As Cico and Antonio run to a pond, they find a golden carp. Cico says the carp lives in the same place as a mermaid and warns him never to go there because the mermaids will kill him. Cico tells Antonio that the golden carp predicts that the amount of sins by a person will sink the land. Antonio tells him it’s unfair to men who do not sin and Cico tells him that every man sin. When Antonio goes back home, he finds out that Ultima is already aware of the golden carp.
One day, Narciso comes running into the Marez home and tells them that one of Tenorio’s daughters died and that Tenorio is telling everyone that he found herbs under her bed left there by Ultima. Narciso warns Ultima that he is coming to kill her. Tenorio arrives and Gabriel asks him to identify himself and the reason he is there. Needles in the sign of a cross are over the door and Narciso explains that if Ultima can walk through the door, it means she is not a witch. Ultima’s owl comes flying in and cuts out Tenorio’s eye. Ultima is able to walk through the door but Antonio was the only one to notice the needles weren’t pinned on the door but doesn’t know how they came off.
The next day Pedro takes the family to help with the harvest and brings Gabriel along this time. As they are driving, Antonio begins to wonder about the golden carp’s punishment and if there is a God that forgives instead of punishing. As they’re harvesting, they talk about the “Black Mass” that will be done on the Trementina’s dead daughter. Antonio has a dream about the Black Mass but instead of the Trementina daughter being in the coffin, he sees Ultima. When he wakes up, he sees Ultima at the Trementina funeral. When Tenorio and his daughters try entering the church, the priest blocks them, and the burial must be done on unholy ground.
When Antonio returns to school, he tells Samuel that he saw the golden carp and that other kids won’t understand the reason for defending Ultima. Ernie tries starting a fight with Antonio by calling Ultima a witch and he defends her by getting into a fight. As Antonio is walking back home, he sees Tenorio fighting two guys and before he leaves, he makes a promise to kill Ultima after another one of his daughters becomes sick. Narciso and Antonio go to Rosie’s house to ask for Andrew and this makes him wonder if Andrew has lost his innocence. Suddenly, Antonio hears gun shots outside and sees Tenorio and Narciso fighting. Tenorio aimed the gun at Antonio but his pistol won’t shoot. Antonio goes home and has a dream where the virgin says she will not forgive Narciso after he begged God and the virgin to forgive Andrew and Narciso. He also sees Lupito and Narciso’s blood in a river and they ask Antonio to forgive them but as Antonio walks towards them, they suddenly turn into the Trementina’s and they cut Antonio’s hair to mix it in bats blood. Antonio dies even after Ultima’s magic and becomes a new sun. Antonio suffers from pneumonia for some day and the coroner declares Narciso’s death was accidental. Tenorio finds Antonio one day and tells him that another one of his daughters is dying and that he will kill Ultima. Antonio tells her and she tells him that he won’t be able to get to her as easily as he did with Narciso.
A rumor begins to spread that Tenorio’s daughter is close to dying and Antonio worries that he is trying to kill Ultima, so he spends more time with her. One of Gabriel’s friends, Tellez, asks Ultima for help believing his home is cursed. Ultima explains that Tellez’s grandfather is the reason they are cursed, and Gabriel agrees to take responsibility if Ultima can help. She burns the platform where Camanche burned dead bodies and when it is completely burned, they are no longer cursed.
One night, Antonio has a dream about Lupito, Florence, and Narciso. He wants to know why there’s so much violence and hears a voice tell him that “creation lies in violence”. He watches the priest pour pigeon blood on the altar, Cico destroying the river by killing the golden carp, and Ultima is murdered by Tenorio. When he wakes up, Ultima is next to him ready to give him the potion. He tells them he wants to stay with the Lunas because he has witnessed too many people dying. Antonio is there for one month working and enjoys his life there. His nightmares aren’t a problem while he stays there and after a couple of months, his parents send him a letter saying they will bring him back home. While Antonio and Pedro are talking, Juan tells them that Tenorio’s daughter has died and he is coming to help Ultima as a way of repaying her for saving Lucas. As Antonio is walking, Tenorio tries hitting him with his horse. Tenorio is thrown off his horse because of Antonio and he hides. Tenorio searches for him and hopes that Antonio dies. He also says that he found out Ultima’s secret is the owl and that he will kill it. Antonio gets worried after finding out that the owl is Ultima’s soul. He runs to try and save Ultima and as he gets home, he sees Tenorio with a rifle. The owl attacks him to stop him from killing Antonio and as the owl is flying towards him, he shoots it. Tenorio holds the owl up and tries shooting Antonio again but Pedro shoots and kills Tenorio. Nobody understands the importance of the owl, so they don’t panic about it being killed but Antonio looks for Ultima everywhere. As Antonio runs into Ultima’s room, he sees her dying and begs her to keep living but she explains that she can’t. She asks him to burn all the medicines and bury the owl under a tree and he runs to bury it.
I enjoyed this novel because it has themes about family, religion, and the struggles faced as you grow. Rudolfo Anaya created a fiction story that included heritage and made it possible to relate to some of the topics such as the importance of religion. The story was also very entertaining and keeps you alert and wondering what will happen next. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading fiction novels.
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