Bless Me, Ultima: The Cultural Distress of a Young Society


An answer to the discussion question of whether or not there is a
defined border culture would need a great number of years in field research, but
we can also observe a few of the characteristics of such border culture just by
looking at scholastic essays and books related to the topic. Within the
research that I did, I found a number of scholars who, while defining the border,
mention all the specific or special characteristics of this new emerging society,
but who also very few times defined it as such. In the book that I researched,
Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo A. Anaya, we find many of those characteristics.
There is already much work on this piece of literature, therefore, I decided to
present my research and study in two ways. First, I will give a personal
analysis of the work, in which I will discuss the different topics and
parallelisms that I believe are related to an emerging border culture, and
second, I will discuss and complete analysis made by Roberto Cantu, published
in The Iden tification and Analysis of Chicano Literature.
The novel by Rudolfo Anaya Bless Me, Ultima, was printed in June 1972,
but won the first price in the Second Annual Premio Quinto Sol Literary Award in
1971.
The main characters of the novel are Antonio, his father, mother, two
sisters, three brothers, Tenorio and his three daughters, and Ultima. The
argument presents how a child, (Antonio), matures in one year, thanks to the
different episodes that he goes through. Antonio, a seven year old child,
narrates in first person, and describes the events that changed his life from
the moment that Ultima arrived at his house. During the beginning of the book,
his thoughts and actions are typical of such age, but as the events take place,
Antonio changes and matures incredible fast through the text. It is even hard
to find where the changes in his behavior take place, due to Rudolfo\'s smooth
literary transitions.
Carl and Paula Shirley condense their presentation of Bless Me, Ultima
by simply mentioning the story line of the book:
She (Ultima) is present from the boy\'s earliest experiences growing
up, family conflict, school, religion, evil and death... Much good in
this novel, beauty, magic, New Mexico landscape, legends... (Shirley and
Shirley, 105).
All of this is true, but there is more that they did not mention. The
novel is full of inner conflicts. Each of the story lines of thought of Antonio
represents not only a personal conflict, but also a social one. An old society
vs. a new one, Spanish vs. English, good vs. evil, Catholics vs. Protestants vs.
legends, the town vs. the llano and so on. In each one of them we can see the
formation or foundation of a new society ruled by Antonio\'s generation. A new
society not yet aware of itself, but new nevertheless.
For a better understanding of my analysis I have defined several
different components that present essential keys in the underlined development
of a border culture. The development if the Mexican border culture is called to
be a mixture of two worlds. Tom Miller says that:
Ironies and contradictions thrive on the border between the US and
Mexico, a region that does not adhere to the economic, ethical, political, or
cultural standards of either country (...) It is a third country of its
own, its own food, its language, its music (...) It is a colony onto itself,
long and narrow, ruled by two faraway powers. (Tom Miller, xii)
In the same way, Anaya\'s description of Antonio\'s life represents
ironies and contradictions, first in a main cultural collision of Mexican and
Anglo culture, family structure and language; and then, in more deep levels of
religion, and basic understanding of oneself. Inner fights and double realities
are present through out Antonio\'s development. Ramon Saldivar does an extensive
study of Anaya\'s Bless Me, Ultima, and as well as Shirley and Shirley, he seems
to be afraid of calling or recognizing a representation of a border culture.
Saldivar says:
Bless Me, Ultima thus can be said to capture in the form of romance
critical and complex transition period in literary-cultural history of the South
west: the simultaneous existence within Chicano communities of pre-Columbian
myths, beliefs, legends and superstitions, and mid-twentieth century
technological, literate mass media culture. (Saldivar, 108).
As I mention before, Bless Me Ultima presents the struggle between two
different life styles and cultures. On one hand, we have the Mexican
traditional