Bless Me, Ultima Essay, Research Paper
Bless Me, Ultima is a story about the maturation of a young Mexican-American boy, Antonio M’arez, struggling with many questions about his destiny, life and death, and good and evil. Ultima who comes to live with Antonio becomes his caretaker and his teacher. Antonio learns there are powers in the world that differ from his beliefs in the Catholic faith. Ultima teaches Antonio “that the tragic consequences of life can be overcome by the magical strength that resides in the human heart” (237). Ultima shows Antonio how to experience the magic of life with his heart and not with his eyes. For the first time, he sees the river not as something to be feared but as a source of life, “I had been afraid of the awful presence of the river, which was the soul of the river, but through her I learned that my spirit shared in the spirit of all things” (15). The river is both creative and destructive in nature. It is this new magical way of seeing the river that will help Antonio understand many of the events that occur in the novel.
Ultima also teaches Antonio to appreciate nature and helps him develop a spiritual relationship with the plants of the llano. It is this growing harmony with the earth that will later help Antonio connect with his heritage and the ancient ways of his ancestors. Ultima teaches him the magic of nature, “even the plants had a spirit, and before I dug she made me speak to the plant and tell it why we pulled it from its home in the earth” (39). Antonio learns which plants are good for healing but more importantly he learns of Ultima’s nobility and grace as they wonder the llano together. Ultima teaches Antonio that one must give back to the earth what has been taken away. It is this spiritual connection with the earth that helps Antonio understand “that the tragic consequences of life can be overcome by the magical strength that resides in the human heart” (237). As Antonio deepens his understanding of the river and the forces of nature that surround it, he begins to understand the human journey and his destiny.
Ultima teaches Antonio of this magical strength as she tries to help him understand the murder of Narciso. The townspeople do not seek justice because Narciso had been the town drunk and his life seemed worthless, “Because Narciso was the town drunk, nobody cared much” (177). Ultima explains that Narciso had died trying to help a friend and that was honorable. Once Narciso had been a respectable young man but hard times had fallen upon him after the death of his young wife. Narciso had turned to alcohol to ease the pain but had remained forever indebted to Ultima for trying to save his wife. Ultima uses the death of Narciso to teach Antonio the ways of his ancestors. She explains, “The old people…always helped each other; through good or bad they stuck together, and the friendships that were formed in that desolate llano were bonds for life” (179). It was through Ultima that Antonio discovers life is not what is always seems. Narciso had died trying to warn Ultima but few remembered anything good about him. Narciso had an inner goodness that had been hidden by his use of alcohol. Ultima taught Antonio to see the magic in Narciso, just as she had thought him to see the magic in the river and all that surrounded it.
At the end of the novel as Ultima is dying, Antonio again understands “that the tragic consequences of life can be overcome by the magical strength that resides in the human heart” (237). On her deathbed, Ultima explains, “the owl was my spirit, my bond to the time and harmony of the universe” (260). Like the owl, Ultima is headed to “a new place, a new time” (260). She reassures Antonio that she will always be with him, “when the wind is gentle and the owls sing in the hills” (261). Upon Ultima’s death, Antonio is no longer afraid of death. Birth, life, and death are all part of the universe and like Ultima; Antonio too must go through the process. He also realizes he must not rely on his Catholic fate but on his inner strength, his harmony with nature, and a lifetime of experience to understand. In the future, Antonio will build his own dreams, “out of those things that were so much a part of my childhood” (261).
In the novel, Bless Me, Ultima, Antonio learns about his relationship with his universe. Through the teachings of Ultima, he learns to see with his heart and to appreciate all the magic that nature beholds. The river of life is never ending like the river that binds the llano to Guadalupe. All that Antonio has experienced is symbolized in the river and the life that surrounds it. Ultimately, it is his teacher and friend, Ultima, which teaches Antonio that life is a cycle and that understanding oneself brings peace and harmony. The river also serves to bind the past, present, and future. Antonio learns that his future is tied to his past and that his destiny will be guided by an understanding of his heritage and “the magical strength that resides in the human heart” (237).