Only a few books dare to discuss the confusion surrounded by a religious awakening. In Bless Me, Ultima, Richard A. Anaya, Premio Quinto Sol national Chicano literary award recipient, challenges standard religion and brings in differnet ideas through the perspective of a young and confused boy. At the end of his struggle to understand, the boy reaches the peace of mind he was seeking.
Antonio, the young boy, wants answers to the questions that have been nagging at him since he was introduced to religious ideology. He does not understand why Ultima, a close elderly friend and a curandera or healer, can save his dying uncle from the curses of evil while the priest from El Puerto with his holy water and the power of God can not lift the curse from him. He wonders whether God really exists or if the Cico’s story of the golden carp is true. Bless Me, Ultima, is a compelling story that deals with Antonio’s family, beliefs, and dreams.
Throughout the book Antonio is introduced to many new ideas. The first is the experiences he has with Ultima. Ultima is a healer who learned her techniques from an old wise man on the llano or prairie. She is sometimes called a bruja or witch. This confuses Antonio because in his heart he knows Ultima represents good and not the evil she is sometimes blamed for. Antonio learns some of the ways of Ultima and begins to understand his surroundings. He knows the name of almost every plant and what medicinal uses each has.
The next revelation for Antonio is the myth of the golden carp. Antonio learns about the golden carp from Cico, a friend of his. According to Cico, the golden carp was once a god who loved the people of Antonio’s town, Gaudalupe. The people were not allowed to fish for the brown carp that lived in the river that flowed around the town. These fish were sacred to the gods. However, becasuse of a drought and no food, the people had to eat the carp to survive. This angered the gods.
They wanted to punish all the people by death but “they relented from killing the people. Instead, they turned the people into carp and made them live forever in the waters of the river-” (74). The god who loved the people wished to become a carp like them to protect them from the dangers of the river. The gods agreed and “because he was a god they made him very big and colored him the color gold” (74). Antonio can not believe there is a new god and seeks answers from Ultima. Ultima is pleased that he has learned so much but says she can not tell him what to believe for he must decide for himself.
The last idea Antonio learns about is the Catholic religion. This isn’t new to him completely but he only knows what his mother has told him and what he has learned on Sundays at church. It is not until he starts going to catechism that he learns more about the religion his mother so dearly follows. He is still not satisfied even after his First Communion, ” [I] thought I had felt His warmth, but then everthing moved so fast. There wasn’t time just to sit and discover Him like I could do when I sat on the cread bank and watched the golden carp swim in the sun-filtered waters (210). He expects to hear God answer all his questions the second he drinks the wine but he hears nothing from the God he pursues: “A thousand questions pushed through my mind, but the Voice within me did not answer. There was only silence” (211). He doesn’t know what to believe. The only thing that has proven completely worthy is Ultima and her magic.
Anaya’s writing successfully integrates the confusion of a young boys who wants answers to topics over his head with a wonderful story. By weaving three subjects in a continuous pattern the stories tie into each other. Anaya uses many Spanish phrases which are very effective and bring a real life quality to the book. He also uses dream sequences which underscored Antonio’s confusion. With such topics it can be hard for a book to flow lightly but with comical scenes and interesting characters scattered throughout the book, this is possible. Anaya uses deep descriptions that do not bore the reader but give insight to the surroundings of the characters. Although writing is not easy, Anaya creates a masterpiece story that satisfies the mind.
The theme of Bless Me, Ultima is one of finding what beliefs are right for the indivudial by experiencing each one characteristically. This relates to our society in so many ways. People follow many different religions but many are not content with their current situation. They want to learn more and discover the religious idea that suits them. Richard A. Anaya has brought this theme of religious confusion into the literary world and may help many confused people like Antonio find what they are searching for.