Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima portrays a young boy who must navigate his often-times dichotomous culture. On one hand, the people in his life are extremely religious, as they are firm Catholics. But on the other hand, a more pagan religion, a religion of the land, is what everyone turns to when Catholicism fails. After the healing of his uncle, Tony recounts “I had been thinking how the medicine of the doctors and of the priest had failed. In my mind I could not understand how the power of God could fail. But it had” (Anaya 111). Whereas the practicing of the pagan religion yields tangible results, believing in Catholicism to solve problems does not produce any physical evidence. When Tony sees the golden carp, he describes it as witnessing “the appearance of a pagan god” (Anaya 119).
As a reader, I was surprised at how much the indigenous practices were focused on in this novel. In comparison to Rivera’s and Villarreal’s books, the story in Bless Me, Ultima becomes less realistic with the tangibility of witchcraft and magic. Why would Anaya choose to make pagan practices such a dominant theme of the story? Does this make his story less creditable as a realistic portrayal of the struggles Mexican-Americans face?
Tony’s age must account for some of the larger-than-life qualities of the novel. He is only in the first grade for the majority of the book, so his surprisingly high intelligence level that he has at his age level could lure the reader into a false trust in his accuracy as a narrator. Also, there is hope at the end of the first eleven chapters that the stark contrast between Catholicism and paganism will be reconciled in the future. In Tony’s dream, Ultima tells him, “You have been seeing only parts... and not looking beyond into the great cycle that binds us all” (Anaya 126). Whereas Richard in Pocho and the boy in Rivera’s novel merge Catholicism and the indigenous practices of their culture in their minds rather quickly, Anaya chooses to portray more of the struggle and leaves hope at the end of chapter eleven for the resolution to occur. But this will not come about in Tony’s life without a struggle.