"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

God's Forgiveness in Bless Me, Ultima (Journal #3 Eleanor Kennedy)

Like the other Chicano novels we have read thus far, Bless Me, Ultima is a book which is greatly concerned with religion and its changing meaning for youth as they grow and learn. Antonio, like Richard and the narrator of And the Earth Did Not Devour Him, faces struggles and backlash when it comes to his understanding of God.

After witnessing the death of Lupito, Antonio wonders what will happen the dead man in the afterlife. He questions whether Lupito will wind up in hell or purgatory or be forgiven. But before he can consider this thought for too long, he decides, "But God doesn't forgive anyone," (30). This viewpoint is somewhat surprising for a boy whose been raised in the Catholic faith, a tradition in which Confession and forgiveness is key.

Antonio is not able to hold on to this belief for long, however. When he expresses his concerns to Ultima, she rebuffs him by saying, "...you must never judge who God forgives and who He doesn't -" (36). Why might Anaya include these two contradictory statements within just a few pages of each other? It could be a commentary on the confusion inherent in Antonio's Catholic upbringing. Antonio appears to have a flawed and discomforting view of his religion, and these contradicting influences clearly don't make things any better.


  1. I completely agree that Antonio is dealing with conflicting feelings towards the religion his mother so greatly devotes her life to. I also saw a shift in him, however, from the belief in one distinct religion towards another. The first religion, traditional Catholicism, could represent his old heritage, the beliefs of his family, and a focus on the past. In the beginning, Antonio believes firmly in God, whether from habit, example, or his own free will remains a little ambiguous. He tries to imagine himself a priest to fulfill his mother's dream, and although he is torn by pleasing her and his father, the idea is not terrible to him. When Antonio is witnessing the murder of Lupito, he finds himself immediately resorting to prayer "from the moment I heard the first shot, and I never stopped praying until I reached home" (24).

    The moment I see Antonio first beginning to doubt catholicism and the notion of one God is when he goes with Ultima to cure his uncle Lucas who had been cursed by a group of brujas. He begins to wonder why "doesn't the priest fight against the evil of the brujas. He has the power of God, the Virgin, and all the saints of the Holy Mother Church behind him" (88). When Ultima is the only one who can cure Lucas, Antonio begins to doubt his religion even more. "The power of the doctors and the power of the church had failed to cure my uncle...Was it possible that there was more power in Ultima's magic than in the priest?" (103).This is the beginning of the internal struggle Antonio feels to distinguish between the conflicting religions and find the belief that best suits him.

    Antonio again questions his catholicism faith when he goes with Cico to find the secret of the golden carp. Before they get to the sacred pond, he struggles with the idea of there being more than one God. He argues with himself, "But maybe there were other gods? Why had the power of God failed to cure my uncle?" (112) When the golden carp does appear to him, Antonio "knew he had witnessed a miraculous thing, the appearance of a pagan god, a thing as miraculous as the curing of my uncle Lucas" (119). After this moment, Antonio continues to question his faith and even turns to the deep wisdom of Ultima. And through her advice of finding his own truths for himself, Antonio begins to grow and enter manhood.

  2. I think you've both hit on one of the central conflicts of Anaya's text: what seems to be an absolute demand that Antonio choose EITHER Catholicism or Indigenism/Paganism beliefs. Because Ultima is presented to us with such love and respect by the author on behalf of Antonio, we expect Ultima's actions or words to resolve this problem for us, for Antonio. As you note, however, she does NOT; in fact, she only seems to make the choice harder by respecting Catholic ritual and God's right to forgive. So now the question for me becomes, what is Ultima's strategy in doing this? Why would she not just tell Antonio, through action or story, that one or the other religious system is better than the other? Clearly, she is wise and skilled enough to have learned this for herself by now.