Bless Me, Ultima | Study Guide

Rudolfo A. Anaya

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Bless Me, Ultima | Plot Summary

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Summary

Meeting Ultima

It is the mid-1940s, and six-year-old Antonio Márez is living with his family in the New Mexican town of Guadalupe. The Márez family is Chicano—Mexican American. Antonio's mother, Maria, comes from a devout Catholic farming family, and his father, Gabriel, hails from wilder, freedom-loving vaqueros, or cowboys. Antonio is a smart and inquisitive boy, and he becomes greatly attached to the elderly female healer, Ultima, who comes to live with his family. Antonio loves learning about herbs and healing plants with Ultima, who also teaches him about the spiritual aspects of nature.

Just before he starts school, Antonio witnesses the murder of Lupito, a veteran whose awful war experience made him lose his mind. Antonio is deeply troubled by Lupito's death, and he begins thinking about good and evil, punishment and forgiveness—especially in a religious context. Antonio does well in school, learning how to read and write and also learning some English. His mother is delighted with Antonio's progress. She has ambitions for him to become a Catholic priest, something Antonio is unsure about. Antonio is thrilled when his three brothers return home from their military service in World War II. The boys' father wants the boys to stay and work with him, but the war has made them restless. Two of them leave home soon after their return. Andrew, the eldest son, gets a job locally and stays with his parents for a while.

Supernatural Divine

A friend tells Antonio about the golden carp, a benevolent god living in the nearby river. Antonio has been troubled by the harsh and unforgiving nature of the God of the Catholic Church. He becomes more attuned to the compassionate Virgin of Guadalupe than to God. Yet when Ultima heals his Uncle Lucas and removes a curse placed on him by the evil daughters of the violent and vengeful Tenorio, Antonio becomes increasingly drawn to the supernatural divine. When Antonio later sees the golden carp, he discovers the possibility that there is knowledge in the world beyond what he has learned from his family and his religion. However, his friend tells him the carp, which is now kind and forgiving, will someday bring lethal punishment to sinful people. This throws Antonio into a kind of spiritual crisis. He can no longer relate to the unforgiving God of the Church, and now he is not sure he can fully embrace the spirituality of the golden carp.

Threats to Ultima

Tenorio, the vicious saloon owner, hates Ultima and threatens to kill her. Narciso, a kind, level-headed, but frequently drunk friend of the family, tries to defend Ultima against Tenorio's accusation that she is a witch who practices black magic. Ultima's owl, which follows her everywhere, attacks Tenorio and claws one of his eyes out. Tenorio is consumed with rage and vows to kill both Ultima and Narciso. When two of Tenorio's daughters become gravely ill, Tenorio blames Ultima for causing their sickness with her witchcraft. For the second time Antonio witnesses a murder when Tenorio kills Narciso. Antonio prays for Narciso's soul, but he is deeply disturbed that an evil man like Tenorio is not punished for killing a good and kind man like Narciso. Antonio grapples with the relationship between good and evil deeds and divine indifference to both the welfare of the good and the punishment of the evil.

Antonio is studying religious doctrine and preparing for his first communion. He is exposed to new ideas about good and evil and God through conversations with his friend Florence, who is an atheist. Florence is a good and kind boy, yet his life has been filled with undeserved suffering. His inability to reconcile his suffering with his goodness has made Florence turn away from God. Antonio agrees the God of the Church is unfair, punishing the innocent with suffering and letting the evil—such as Tenorio—go unpunished. Antonio expects to have a divine revelation or spiritual awakening at his first communion, but he is disappointed when the experience offers no insight or knowledge into God and the world.

Ultima visits Gabriel's friend's house and lifts a curse on the house and its inhabitants. As Antonio notes, she succeeds where the Catholic priest had failed. Antonio again sees the golden carp. He decides to show the golden carp to Florence, but Florence drowns in a swimming accident. Again, Antonio is beset by doubts and troubling questions about the fairness of God and the world. Antonio's mind is somewhat relieved when he spends the summer working on the farm owned by his maternal uncles, who are kind and good men.

When Antonio learns Tenorio is actively looking for Ultima so he can murder her, he hurries home to try to protect her. On his way Antonio runs into Tenorio, who tries to kill him. Tenorio says is going to kill Ultima's owl; he is sure if he kills the owl Ultima too will die. Just as Antonio reaches home Tenorio kills the owl, which embodies Ultima's spirit. Antonio's Uncle Pedro then kills Tenorio. The death of her owl has mortally wounded Ultima, who is on her deathbed. Antonio holds her hand and just before she dies he asks her to bless him. As Ultima requested, Antonio buries the owl. Antonio now understands he's at a turning point. He determines to "build [his] own dream" to guide his life, based on his personal beliefs and the dreams of his childhood.

Bless Me, Ultima Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction

Introduction

1 Ultima comes to live with Antonio's family.

Rising Action

2 Lupito kills Chávez's brother. Chávez kills Lupito.

3 Antonio's brothers return from war, but soon leave home.

4 Ultima heals Lucas of the witches' curse.

5 Cico shows Antonio the golden carp.

6 Tenorio threatens Ultima. Her owl claws out his eye.

7 Ultima lifts the curse on the Téllez house.

8 Tenorio vows revenge on Ultima for his daughters' deaths.

Climax

9 Tenorio kills Ultima's owl.

Falling Action

10 Tenorio is shot dead by Uncle Pedro Luna.

11 Ultima dies.

Resolution

12 Antonio buries Ultima's owl.

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