Bless Me, Ultima | Study Guide

Rudolfo A. Anaya

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic
MLA

Bibliography

Course Hero. "Bless Me, Ultima Study Guide." Course Hero. 27 Apr. 2018. Web. 16 July 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Bless-Me-Ultima/>.

In text

(Course Hero)

APA

Bibliography

Course Hero. (2018, April 27). Bless Me, Ultima Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved July 16, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Bless-Me-Ultima/

In text

(Course Hero, 2018)

Chicago

Bibliography

Course Hero. "Bless Me, Ultima Study Guide." April 27, 2018. Accessed July 16, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Bless-Me-Ultima/.

Footnote

Course Hero, "Bless Me, Ultima Study Guide," April 27, 2018, accessed July 16, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Bless-Me-Ultima/.

Bless Me, Ultima | Chapters 1–2 | Summary

Share
Share

Summary

Chapter 1 (Uno)

Ultima, the elderly curandera, or healer, will be coming to live with the Márez family. Before Ultima arrives, Antonio tells the reader about his mother, Maria, his father, Gabriel, and his two sisters, Deborah and Theresa. They live in a small house in Guadalupe, New Mexico. Gabriel comes from the little town La Pastura, where he grew up as a free and wild vaquero, or cowboy. Maria convinced her husband to move the family to town, which hurt Gabriel's pride.

Maria, a devout Catholic, prays for the well-being of Antonio's three older brothers, who are fighting overseas in World War II. The couple recalls how much Ultima helped them when they lived in La Pastura, and how honored they will be to have her live with them now. Ultima has healed people who'd been cursed by brujas (witches). Some stories even portrayed her as a witch, though it's not true.

When Gabriel goes to fetch Ultima, Antonio is sleeping and has a vivid dream. In his dream his soul flies over the landscape. He sees through a window where a mother has just given birth. An old woman attends her, but Antonio cannot see who it is. Antonio sees his maternal uncles enter the dream room and tell the new mother her infant will be a Luna and will keep their farming traditions. Soon after, vaqueros come into the room and boisterously announce the newborn son will grow up to be a cowboy. The uncles and the vaqueros argue about the future of the infant son. Violence nearly erupts between them, but the old woman stops it.

As Antonio waits for Ultima's arrival he disconsolately remembers he'll be starting school in the fall. He cheers himself up by feeding the animals in the pen by the molino (windmill). At breakfast Maria and the girls talk about Ultima, and Maria insists she's not a witch, but a healer who must be respected. Antonio asks if Ultima was at his birth, and his mother says she was. It turns out many of the details of Antonio's dream really happened. For the first of many times his mother tells Antonio he is a Luna—her family name—and will grow up to be like her farmer brothers, or else a priest.

Antonio goes to his friend Jasón's house, but he's not home. Antonio asks where he is, and Jasón's mother indicates Jasón went down to the river to visit his Indian friend. Antonio returns home and works in the family garden. When the family hears Gabriel's truck approaching, they all go up to Ultima to greet her, calling her Grande, a word of respect. When Ultima takes Antonio's hand, he feels a great power surging through him, and he see the beautiful landscape through her eyes. Somehow Antonio understands Ultima knows "the secret of [his] destiny." Ultima tells Maria there is something special between herself and Antonio. Ultima tells Antonio she'll spend the rest of her life with his family. Antonio responds he'll protect her from death.

The family helps bring Ultima's belongings into the house. Antonio notices the owl that came with Ultima up in a juniper tree just outside her window. The owl follows her everywhere. It is not the owl of a witch but a being of sweetness and calm. That night Antonio dreams of the owl. In his dream the Virgin of Guadalupe smiles at the owl's goodness.

Chapter 2 (Dos)

Ultima fits easily into the everyday life of Antonio's family. Ultima helps with the housekeeping and is a companion for Maria. Gabriel, too, talks to Ultima, telling her of his ambition to take his three eldest sons to work with him in California. Antonio loves being with Ultima as she picks herbs and wild plants for healing. She teaches him about plants, flowers, and animals. She reveals to him the beauty and mystery of the natural world. Antonio was afraid of the presence, or soul, of the river, but Ultima tells him he shares his spirit with the spirit of all things.

One Saturday night Ultima's owl calls out a warning. Antonio looks out his window and sees a "dark figure [running] madly towards the house." The figure begins pounding on the door and calling for Gabriel to come outside. Antonio recognizes the voice of Jasón's father, Chávez. Gabriel goes outdoors. Chávez says Lupito, a man made crazy by the war, has killed Chávez's brother—"mataron a mi hermano!" Gabriel asks him to explain, and Chávez says his brother, the town sheriff, was killed while quietly drinking a cup of coffee in a café. The men grab rifles and rush to the bridge over the river where Lupito is hiding. After the men leave, Antonio sneaks out of the house to follow them.

As Antonio hides in the reeds along the riverbank he sees the killer, Lupito, who has a gun in his hand. He turns toward Antonio with a "face twisted with madness," but he can't see the boy. Chávez and the other men see Lupito, who screams insanely and then escapes. Vigil, the state policeman, arrives and confirms Chávez's brother has been murdered. Chávez wants to hunt down and kill Lupito immediately, but Narciso, who is more reasonable despite his tendency to drink too much, says Lupito will give himself up if Narciso talks sense to him. Narciso leans over the bridge railing and begins speaking to the invisible Lupito. He calls him amigo (friend) and says he only wants to help. Lupito is touched by Narciso's words. Lupito jumps up and starts shooting toward the sky, but the men react to the firing of bullets by shooting and killing Lupito. Antonio is shocked by the whole incident, and he runs home undetected. He thinks a priest might have saved Lupito's life, or at least his soul. As he nears home, Antonio hears the calming hooting of Ultima's owl, and he feels strong with Ultima's spirit. Still, Antonio is shaken by having seen a man killed.

Antonio finds Ultima in the house, and she admits she knows what happened. She carries Antonio into her room and gives him a potion to calm him down and help him sleep. Antonio falls asleep and dreams. In his dream he hears and sees the vaquero Márez men talking about how life becomes evil when you leave the llano and live in a town. They talk about the importance of the free cowboy life. In his dream Antonio recognizes the voices of his brothers who are away fighting in World War II. They tell Antonio he shares his mother's nature; she is a Luna, whose fate is not that of a vaquero. The dream brothers call Ultima la llorona (the witch), and Antonio drapes a priestly robe over himself.

Analysis

Antonio's time with Ultima is infused with magic and the supernatural. The book opens with Antonio stating how magical his childhood was. When he touches Ultima he feels her supernatural power. As he spends more and more time with Ultima, Antonio says, "My soul grew under her careful guidance." She becomes his spiritual teacher.

The different traditions and cultures of Antonio's parents causes tension in the Márez family. Maria and Gabriel have different ambitions for their children. Maria wants her sons to follow the Luna tradition and become farmers who are gentle and close to the earth. Gabriel dreams of his eldest sons working with him in California. Maria is a devout Catholic, much given to praying and tears. Gabriel comes from a freer, less religious tradition, and he has a wilder spirit.

At this point in the story Antonio is still too young to be truly conflicted by the two traditions that might shape his future. Yet the reader gets an inkling of Antonio's uncertainty about fulfilling his mother's expectations: her dream was for him to "grow up and become a priest." Further undermining his mother's expectations, Antonio is becoming closer to Ultima, who embodies the supernatural role of seer and healer. It is she, not his mother, who will tutor and deepen Antonio's spiritual growth. Her influence over Antonio will distance Antonio from his family's expectations. Yet the more doubts Antonio feels and expresses about becoming a priest, the more his mother weeps and prays for this future.

Gabriel tells Ultima he wants to keep his family together, at least his sons. He, like his wife, needs to realize children seek their own lives independent of their parents' ambitions and expectations.

Antonio's dreams reveal how attuned he is to the supernatural. Some of his dreams reveal the meaning behind mystery or memories, others foretell the future. Antonio's first dream reflects the conflicting expectations of his family and the near-violence between the representatives of his family's two cultural traditions. Only Ultima, the dream's midwife, can prevent the men of disparate traditions from physical violence. Ultima says, "Cease! ... Only I will know his destiny," referring to the fate of the newborn Antonio. Later, while speaking with his mother, Antonio learns his dream revealed what happened when he was born.

Antonio's dream at the end of Chapter 2 may foreshadow his possible future. In the dream his brothers mock him for his future as a "farmer-priest for mother." They laugh at him and call him a baby. When his brothers try to frighten Antonio by saying Ultima is a witch and Lupito is calling to him, Antonio dons the robe of a priest to protect himself. The dream shows his mother's expectation still have power over Antonio.

Ultima's owl follows her to the Márez house. Ultima's owl represents the goodness in the supernatural, as embodied in Ultima. It also fulfills the role of guardian spirit. Although owls were often thought of as familiars for witches who practice the black arts, this owl is not evil or frightening. In fact, when Antonio hears its gentle hooting he becomes calm. The owl protects Ultima and the good people she cares about and helps. When the owl hoots a warning to the family it is signaling the murder of Chávez's brother by the unstable Lupito. It is very likely the owl's warning also presages the violence soon to snare Gabriel, Chávez, and other men in an act of revenge.

In his dream Antonio sees the holy Virgin of Guadalupe smiling at Ultima's owl for its goodness. The Virgin of Guadalupe represents divine compassion, so her acceptance of the owl is a clear sign of its beneficence.

Chávez wants revenge for the murder of his brother. Lupito is the murderer, but he committed his crime when he was "twisted with madness." Despite his insanity, the townsmen are intent on revenge, and they shoot and kill Lupito.

Antonio is shocked and disturbed after witnessing Lupito's murder, and the violence and bloodshed force him to consider the role of justice—both human and divine—in the world. He is bothered because even though the men knew Lupito was deranged—and thus not accountable for his actions—they still had to have their revenge. Antonio cannot reconcile Lupito's innocence with his lethal punishment. Antonio prays to the Christian God to save Lupito's tormented soul. Antonio wonders, "Did God listen? Would he hear?" and asks, "Where was Lupito's soul winging to, or was it washing down the river" to the valley? If Lupito wasn't responsible for his actions, would God still condemn his soul? Antonio is comforted only when he hears Ultima's owl hooting gently. Perhaps the owl is communicating acceptance of the world's unfathomable injustice, or suggesting that all will be well with Lupito, though Antonio cannot understand.

Antonio carries a weight of guilt because he did nothing to save Lupito. He thinks the sin of inaction disqualifies him from the priesthood, and this self-judgment will affect Antonio later on.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Bless Me, Ultima? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!