Bless Me, Ultima is the story of transition. The protagonist Antonio and his journey through life make up the central plot. The subconscious plays a key role in shaping up the plot and Antonio’s character. In a way Antonio’s dreams show the transition of his character. In Bless Me, Ultima we find that the central character comes to a deeper understanding of his individual self while provoking the subconscious through the myth of cosmic relevance. It is through the dreams that his eyes are in fact opened. In an interview Anaya went onto further state that it was his dreams that helped him in beginning to see and that is the holistic nature of the universe, “to see beyond the dualities that at first are very apparent to him and those people he comes in contact with” (Dick, Sirias 52)
Ultima continually asks him to see beyond reality and his dreams; to incorporate dualities into a vision that is whole and into a vision that is complete. Ultima is indeed an essential element for his growth during his formative years. She helps him understand the dreams interspersed within the text. It is through those dreams that he is able to express his fears or foretell the future. The dreams also at times only recall events from the past. Antonio’s contact with his culture’s various value systems is intensified by the densely symbolic dreams, which are often described with splendor which at times makes them sound more like out of body experiences or journeys to an altogether different world.
When Antonio dreams of his birth, he sees his parents bring him the emblems of their respective work. There is a conflict as to where his life is headed as both the Luna and Marezes part of him are strong at that point. This causes great confusion for Antonio and he comments in one point that he “loves[s] w hem both, and yet [is] of neither” (38). The dream is extremely significant because it shows the beginning of Antonio’s struggle with his personality and his heritage. He is trying to find his identity, trying to figure our where he fits in there is a fight between his mother’s side of the family and his father’s because they both want a different kind of life for the child. They both have different rituals to initiate him into life and there is a great conflict because of that. Ultima also appears in this dream as the peacemaker and throughout the novel she is the peacemaker in Antonio’s life. The dream is important because it shows the uncertainty that Antonio feels towards his roots, it also shows that the only thing that is concrete is Ultima’s influence over the boy and his life (Saldivar 114).
His second dream is imperative in underlining his identity. His brothers lean towards his father’s side of the family and tell him he belongs to his mother’s side. They point out very clearly that he is a Luna. The cry from the river startles and scares his brothers who believe it is Lupito’s soul. Antonio knows in his dream that it is only the rivers soul and asks it to help his brothers in their quest to build a castle on the hill. At this point in the novel this dream serves as a premonition to what is coming. His mother cries out that he is growing too fast which tells us that a significant time has lapsed between reality and the time in the dream. The dream however, is significant because of the religious connotations attached to it. Antonio sees the power in the river; where others see danger he sees something else. He feels connected to this power and this is juxtaposed to the religion he is practicing at the time. This shows how his subconscious is becoming aware of the multidimensional world around him and how the religion he is privy to is not the only answer.
Innocence is also a subject that is touched upon. The dream, where Antonio tries to keep his brothers from going to the brothel and is told he can enter only when he has lost his innocence, is important in showing the impact other’s actions have on Antonio. Antonio seems to childishly believe that innocence is connected to sin. His mother and the priest remind him that innocence is gone once one has knowledge. It is that knowledge which further shapes his identity. At the end of the novel Antonio has witnessed three murders. At the time he sees the dream one is left wondering how innocent he really is. Antonio seems to elude the very idea of innocence because he understands too much and sees too much at his age. If we ignore the connection of age and innocence then we are forced to conclude that Antonio is far from innocent.
Most of Antonio’s dreams have a religious undertone. In one of his dreams Antonio tries to bring together Catholicism and the religion of the Golden Carp. She sees the water split between the two religions of his parents and when the two collide, a massive storm is about to break right before Ultima, the perpetual peacemaker in Antonio’s life, steps in and stops it. She tells Antonio how the sea needs the replenishing waters of the moon and that the ocean is attracted to the sky in order to transform into the waters of the moon. This dream is significant in fueling Antonio’s understanding of religion. His long lasting conflict is based on a need to take one side. This is the part where he reconciles both facets of his religious identity. Finally, after this dream, he can now look at things in unison and in a perfect balance, instead of struggling to pull himself together in one piece where his religion’s pulls him in two different directions.
After connecting his religious beliefs in one neat bundle, Antonio than begins to delve into the hypocrisy of religion itself. In his dream, he asks God forgiveness for his brother’s sins, he faces a dilemma when the virgin marry places the condition that forgiveness can only be given to Narciso if Tenorio is forgiven as well. Antonio sees his own death in this dream when he is trying to help his brothers with their sins. This dream represents the clashes of all the religious entities in Antonio’s life. It represents his fear of turning away from the Catholic God. In his mind he is afraid of questioning their power; for him this will bring great destruction for his family, the children, Ultima – everything he holds dear in life. He seems to find comfort in the Golden Carp which seems to renew all of life. Here we can once again see a transition. Antonio is no longer.
After his final dream we come to realize that for him becoming a novelist is a solution to all the conflict he has seen in his life; this is his way of bringing together all facets of his life. This is the ultimate answer to all claims on the protagonist. The modification of archaic fragments to something contemporary by translation them into fiction. It is in this final dream that he sees “all the sources of holy power and meaning in his life desecrated and dead: the Catholic Church, the carp slaughtered, Ultima Murdered”. At this point as they depart they cry out, “we live when you dream, Tony, we live only in your dreams,” (244) and this shows us that perhaps to Antonio it became apparent in the end that the struggle was only in his mind.
We can see the psychological impact the dreams have on the character. The influence of his early dreams is clear on his personality. Here, Antonio is focused on the question of his destiny and the future. He does not yet know whether he will become a vaquero or a priest. But as the character grows, his dreams also change to more profound questions of morality, duty and belonging. The dreams show the change in his psyche and the change in his life. They catalogue his transition from a child to an adult.
Anaya, A. Rudolfo. Bless Me, Ultima: a novel. TQS Publications, 1972
Anaya, Rudolfo A., Dick, Bruce, Sirias, Silvio. Conversations with Rudolfo Anaya. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1998
Calderon, H. & Saldivar, J. (1991). Criticism in the Borderlands. Durham & London: Duke University Press.
Creel, J. (1986). The People Next Door, an Interpretative History of Mexico and Mexicans. New York: John Day.
Diaz-Guerrero, R. (1991). Understanding Mexicans and Americans. New York: Plenum Press.
Gonzalez, Ray, “Desert Songs,” in Nation, Vol. 259, Issue 3, July 18, 1994, p. 98.
Jussawalla, Feroza, ed., Interview with Rudolfo Anaya, in Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World, University Press of Mississippi, 1992, pp. 17–46.
Kanoza, Theresa M., “The Golden Carp and Moby Dick: Rudolfo Anaya’s Multi-Culturalism,” in MELUS, Vol. 24, No. 2, 1999, p. 159.
Larson, Charles R., “Summer of the Curandera,” in World & I, Vol. 9, No. 8, 1994, pp. 324–30
Saldivar, Ramon. Chicano narrative: the dialectics of difference. Univ of Wisconsin Press, 1990