"I see a mosaic pattern (Aztec-like) emerging, a weaving pattern, thin here, thick there . . . This almost finished product seems an assemblage, a montage...now appearing, now disappearing in a crazy dance. The whole thing has a mind of its own, escaping me and insisting on putting together the pieces of its own puzzle with minimal direction from my will." – Gloria Anzaldua.
English 380A, Winter 2011
Professor Deborah Miranda

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Earth, Wind, and Fire: Nature and the Presence of the River in Bless Me, Ultima

This is an hopelessly corny observation, but much of the natural imagery in Bless Me, Ultima has an almost Pocahontas like quality to its understanding of the earth. I was continually reminded of the lyrics in the Disney song, “Colors of the Wind” during our reading:

“But I know every rock and tree and creature

Has a life, has a spirit, has a name...

Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains?

Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?”

Through Ultima, Antonio will learn to sing with all the voices of the mountain, to paint with all the colors of the wind. Ultima teaches him to “listen to the mystery of the groaning earth and to feel complete in the fulfillment of its time” (16). Ultima’s connection to the earth and its inhabitants extends far beyond what Antonio’s parents can fathom. For the Marez, the land is something to be free from; for the Luna, it is a something to harvest, to respect as an intrinsic part of their culture and traditions. It is only Ultima who sees the earth as its own entity, who can talk to its plants and understand its ways as a feeling body.

While his father is wild, a Marez, a man of the sea and the ocean, it is the river that best suits Antonio’s and Ultima’s introspective natures. Antonio had been afraid of “the awful presence of the river, which was the soul of the river, but through her [he learns] that [his] spirit shared in the spirit of all things” (16). The river is symbolic not only because of its baptismal properties (Lupito is soaked through by “the holy water of the river” as he dies), but its flow is also representative of the earth energy that Antonio must learn to harness in order to let his spirit truly take flight (24).


  1. I also noticed the divine connection to nature in this book. I think the most important element of it, and of your post, is that Ultima is the conduit through which Antonio builds this deeper connection. But it is not through anything specific she says or does that Antonio gains this knowledge and understanding of nature; just her very presence gives him a much broader perspective on the world around him. When Ultima and Antonio first meet, she takes his hand and he "felt the power of a whirlwind seep around [him]." The simple touch of her hand helps him see the "wild beauty" of the hills and the "magic of the green river." He hears the song of the mockingbirds, the drone of the grashoppers, and the pulse of the earth all join together harmoniously. All of these feelings and experiences come from one simple touch.

    Moments like this one illustrate the physical spirituality of Ultima. Not only does she help Antontio grasph the power and grandeur of the physical world around him, she does so through the physical act of touching his hand, not by telling him how amazing the world is.

  2. I agree. Another line from this song goes, "Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon?" Without revealing too much about what I'm presenting on Monday, I can say that all of these ideas are evidence for Jane Rogers "The Function of the La Llonora Motif in Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima".
    The la llorona myth, in short, is the story of a wailing woman of the river who cries out in search of her lost children. Similarly to your comment Rogers notes, that it is the "presence of the river, which Antonio fears and yet with which he senses a sharing of his own soul and mystic peace" (65). The river calls to Antonio in a very trace-like way, (Rogers compares it to the sirens of the Odyssey), just as you seem to be describing through the Pocahontas song.
    I also liked how Eleanor described Ultima's relationship to Antonio through nature, as a "conduit". Another point I will be making on Monday is whereas the cry of la llorona in the novel, from the women at Rosie's to the river's presence, is a "conduit" of stagnation, Ultima is it's foil, a "conduit" for growth and freedom. While la llorona paralyzes Antonio with her allure of safety, Ultima allows Antonio to see the world in a way so that, as you say, he can let his "spirit take flight".

  3. In the same vein, I would argue that Antonio's own exploration of this animism (which he experiences through the presence of Ultima), in relation to the Catholicism in which he has been inculcated, represents the struggle at the heart of the novel thus far. Antonio repeatedly feels the 'Truth' of his Catholic upbringing challenged by what he views as the truth/effectiveness of the nature-based paganism offered to him by Ultima, Cico, and others in the community. For example, when Cico reveals to him the location of the golden carp of legend, Antonio experiences a certain tangibility to the religious story, a satisfaction he is not able to achieve through Christianity. In fact, when he sees the golden carp for the first time Antonio admits that, "[he] could not have been more entranced if [he] had seen the Virgin, or God Himself" (119). Similarly, in the healing of his Uncle, Antonio experiences firsthand the therapeutic spiritual power that Ultima wields.

    From an ecocritical perspective, Rudolfo Anaya depicts the natural world in a beautiful, powerful way, imbuing it with the spirituality characteristic of pantheistic views. For Antonio, this depiction furthers his young quest for spiritual Truth, allowing him the opportunity to see the world around him through a new perspective and question Catholic doctrine.

  4. "While his father is wild, a Marez, a man of the sea and the ocean, it is the river that best suits Antonio's and Ultima's introspective natures." If we remember, too, that the Lunas are represented by their relationship to the land/seasonal cycles, then the river as a place for Antonio seems perfect - it is the water that travels between ocean and land, and at the estuary (mouth of a river) is where both fresh and salt water mix, forming a new eco-niche in which a whole new adaptation of animals, insects and fish learn to live or physically change to manage. Yet another metaphor for the mestiza consciousness Anaya seems to be trying to resolve.

  5. And this makes me think, too, that Ultima serves as the bridge between sea and land - that's why she's in the book, to provide a model for how to live in both worlds at once.