Keys To Identity In Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima
“Understanding comes with life. As a man grows he sees life and death, he is happy and sad, he works, plays, meets people – sometimes it takes a lifetime to acquire understanding, because in the end understanding simply means having sympathy for people”. Rudolfo Anaya, author of the novel Bless Me, Ultima, creates an epic battle between a boy named Antonio and his uncertainties about life, which ultimately unfolds his true personality. Through a long and rigorous journey, Antonio discovers with the guidance of others, aspects of his life that represent the storyline of the novel: the discovery of Antonio’s questions and his true identity. Antonio’s struggles with religious beliefs, pagan gods, and identity. These struggles cause him to search for answers, with his answers Antonio is able to syncretize religion, cultures, to find his true identity.
Antonio represents opposing families and cultures, his mother’s family, Lunas, and his father’s family, the Marez. The Lunas represent quiet people who are tied to the earth by their farming whereas, Marez are people who are free to travel and do as they please. Throughout the novel, Antonio is constantly divided between the Lunas and the Marez. Antonio is constantly trying to distinguish who he is. Even from the very beginning of the book this conflict of Antonio’s is present.
This one will be a Luna . . . he will be a farmer and keep our customs and traditions. Perhaps God will bless our family and make the baby a priest . . . Then the silence was shattered with the thunder of hoof-beats; vaqueros surrounded the small house . . . He is a Marez . . . His forefathers were conquistadores, men as restless as the seas they sailed and as free as the land they conquered.
Throughout the novel, Maria and Gabriel, constantly argue about Antonio. Maria and Gabriel cannot deny that one day when Antonio gets to be a man that he will have the pick to be his “mother’s priest” or his “father’s son”. Both parents always insult each other. For example, Maria thinks that the people the Llano are “worthless drunks” and that they are “always dragging their families around the country like vagabonds”. His father is always questioning Tony becoming a priest and a farmer.
Even though there is constant bickering in the family, Antonio goes on a quest to find the answers to his identity. To find the answers, it was needed that Antonio experience both sides of his family. Anaya writes, “But from my father and Ultima I had learned that the greater immortality is in the freedom of a man, and that freedom is best nourished by the noble expanse of land and air and pure, white sky”. Anaya writes, “I learned to be at ease in the silence of my uncles, a silence steeped as deep as a child’s. I watched closely how they worked the earth, the respect they showed it, and the way they cared for living plants. The experiences that Antonio gathers allows him to make his own decisions, to forge his path. Anaya writes, “‘Then maybe I do not have to be just Marez, or Luna, perhaps I can be both’ I said”. His experiences have made Antonio realize that there are pros and cons of only being on one side of the family. Knowing the cons of both sides of his family Antonio can pick and choose what he likes.
Another problem with Antonio is religion. His mother is catholic and often imposes her religion upon Antonio. However, Antonio slowly begins to doubt the catholic god, after repeated failures to receive God’s explanation of the existence of evil. Furthermore, Antonio even thinks that God himself does not exist. Anaya writes, “there was only silence”. His faith in God is further challenged when Ultima can lift the curse on Téllez’s home, a task the priest failed to succeed in. God is also seemingly unforgiving and harsh when a tragic event happens to Antonio. Antonio’s doubt in the catholic god motivates him to find the answers of religion. In his quest for answers, Antonio discovers the golden carp The golden carp represents a wonderful pagan god to Tony because it is loving, tangible, and beautiful. Samuel opens another door in Tony’s religious education. Cico takes him to see the golden carp. When Tony sees the golden carp for the first time, his reaction is one of awe, “I could not have been more entranced if I had seen the Virgin, or God Himself”. By seeing the supernatural, “Antonio’s eyes have been opened…and he can begin to sense the latent energy in the landscape”.
Antonio starts to show signs of blending the two different religions begins when he asks Cico, “Does one have to choose . . . Is it possible to have both?”. Even though Tony doubts the Catholic Church, he cannot bring himself to solely believe in the golden carp or God. Once he sees this great presence of the pagan gods that are out there in the natural world, he begins to accept that it can be. By opening his eyes to this new world, this leads Tony to the conclusion that he is in charge of his own destiny, not those around him, and he himself has the option to choose what will happen to him because he sees the world in a different way now.
In the end, he has learned about the opposing religions, he decides he wants to create a new religion, a step to finding his true identity. Anaya writes, “‘Take the llano and the river valley, the moon and the sea, God and the golden carp-and make something new… can a new religion be made”.
The entirety of this book is essentially about choices and decisions that Tony has to make. There is a definite presence of destiny and fate and the idea that Tony has his future planned out for him by those who are around him; however, he comes to realize that it is indeed up to him to make the choices in his own life. The major choice in the novel comes with the idea that he may choose his own fate, what he wants to be, and especially what he wants to believe in. He does not have to be a Catholic or a pagan just because someone told him that that was the right thing to do. He does not need to be solely Luna or Marez. One way or another, he has to make a choice about what to believe, but he eventually sees that he is like both, but like neither; rather, he is simply Tony, only now he has a voice.
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