Self-Identification in Bless Me Ultima
In this excerpt from Bless Me, Ultima, Antonio struggles to define his identity as his parents pull him in different directions. Through strong images, the deliberate structure of the language, and powerful symbols, Rudolfo Anaya presents the idea that in order to find one’s true identity, he or she must synchronize known truths.
Anaya’s use of strong and contrasting images adds to the visualization of the struggle Antonio faces. The first set of contrasting images comes from Antonio’s parents. On one side, his father stands “on the corpse-strewn shore,” and on the other, his mother descends “on a huge golden moon that came down from the heavens.” Which side should he pick? This exemplifies Antonio’s struggle in two different aspects. Firstly, his mother and father are on opposite sides, one on land and one on the moon, and he does not know which side to go to; therefore, he stays in the middle as a compromise. The image of each of them yelling at him from opposing sides while Antonio remains in the center shows how Antonio is not ready to compromise his identity search by agreeing to one side or the other. Secondly, the images of his mother, golden and beautiful on the moon and his father, miserable on the corpse-strewn shore of sinners, demonstrates Antonio’s religious struggle as well. With the image of the golden carp, this religious struggle escalates more, as shown by the passage “and all around him were the people he had saved.” The images of his mother and father in heaven and hell contrast with the image of the magnificent golden carp. Antonio is not sure which side to believe, the religion his family gave him, or the religion his friend gave him. He is able to synchronize these when Ultima comes in, as “the power from the heaven and the power from the earth obeyed her.” Ultima is able to control both sides, both types of religion, creating a feeling of binding together the two beliefs into one world.
The stream-of-consciousness way that this dream sequence is presented adds to the confusion of the passage, and therefore creates more havoc in Antonio’s mind. When a character talks in this selection, no quotation marks are present. For example, in one line, after Antonio sees his mother, Anaya writes (as Antonio) “Mother, I cried, you are saved! We are all saved!” This deliberate elimination of quotation marks and pauses demonstrates the theme of the passage that everything is connected. It also adds to the somewhat confusing nature of the passage, creating more chaos inside Antonio’s mind which screams with need for organization. Antonio has multiple things happening at once: his mother’s yelling, his father’s yelling, Ultima’s lurking, the golden carp swimming along the sidelines. Not only is Antonio confused, but also he feels the need to remain loyal to everyone and everything, for fear of punishment. This confusion inside Antonio’s head reinforces the idea that right now, Antonio’s mind is a mess of information, but in order to create his identity, he must step back and see how all these little details are related.
Water in this excerpt serves as a powerful symbol of knowledge, which then adds to Antonio’s identity struggle. In the beginning of the passage, Antonio “Walked by the shore of a great lake.” This symbolizes his search for knowledge. He searches for a base off of which he can discover and form his identity. Later, “the moon rose and its powers pulled at the still waters of the lake.” This represents the two sides of Antonio (one being the moon) fighting for the knowledge Antonio seeks. Gained from his family, Antonio has a base of knowledge, but the two sides are now opposing each other and attempting to spin the knowledge Antonio possesses in their favor, to make him choose their side. His mother and father go on to argue about which water Antonio was baptized in, and Antonio begs “Oh please tell me which is the water that runs through my veins.” Interestingly, he is not speaking to his mother or his father, but to anyone that is able to answer the question. He wants anyone to help him form his identity, anyone who would truly guide him without a biased view. Through his veins, the water boils as Antonio “sweat[s] blood,” symbolizing an overload of information without any way to organize or make sense of it. Finally, everything changed. Calmly, Ultima connects the symbol of water with the theme of syncretism when she says “the sweet water of the moon which falls as rain is the same water that gathers into rivers and flows to fill the seas.” She is saying that the water that runs through Antonio’s veins is not strictly his mother’s or his father’s, but a combination of both, which Antonio then can use as a guideline for forming his dual identity.
Whether someone has multiple identities, or whether someone has only one, their basic knowledge must somehow become personal to form said identity. All things considered, Antonio forms his identity on the basis of his knowledge gained from his parents, symbolized by the river. Rudolfo Anaya uses powerful contrasting images, a consistent symbol, and a stream-of-consciousness style to highlight Antonio’s struggle to find himself in his chaotic setting.
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In this excerpt from Bless Me, Ultima, Antonio struggles to define his identity as his parents pull him in different directions. Through strong images, the deliberate structure of the language, […]