"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

The Notion of Dreams in Bless Me, Ultima - Journal #3

Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima is a powerful work that traces a young boy's journey from childhood to adulthood in the midst of a culturally divided world. Anaya uses the method of exploring Antonio's dreams in order to reveal his ultimate transformation. The first dream the reader relives with Antonio is the retelling of his birth. This dream introduces the internal conflict throughout the entire novel of Antonio's destiny; will he become a Luna priest and fulfill his mother's dreams, or will he follow the Marez route and experience the freedom of the llano? Even at such a young age, the little boy is distressed and bothered by his future. He wants to make his family happy, yet is pulled in a myriad of different directions to the point where he, at times, forgets who he is completely.

Antonio's next dream suggests a similar conflict, yet the emergence of Antonio taking control of his own destiny. In this dream, he encounters his three brothers finally home from the war and speaks to them about the future. First, he reminds them that "We must all gather around our father," yet later, he takes on a more religious role by speaking "to the presence of the river [so that] it allowed my brothers to cross with their carpenter tools to build our castle on the hill" (28). While Antonio is still unsure at this point what he wants to become, he is at least starting to make his own decisions, even if they may represent his parents' wishes. Yet by actively defending his father, and then his mother, rather than passively waiting for his life to pass him by, Antonio is beginning to come into his own.

The dreams that follow often involve Antonio's brothers and decisions made by his part to either represent his mother or father's way of life. It's true that he frequently goes back and forth, but the activism of Antonio trying to pursue a future is a credibility to his emerging maturity. One of the later dreams he has after he sees the golden carp shows the beginning of a blending of the two distinct cultural identities for Antonio. Ultima, the character Antonio relates best to and learns the most from in the novel, comes to the little boy during a moment of family tension. She soothes him, reminding him that "the sweet water of the moon which falls as rain is the same water that gathers into rivers and flows to fill the seas" (126). In other words, the seemingly opposing cultures of his mother and father are inherently connected and maybe Antonio doesn't have to choose at all. At this point, Antonio is beginning to understand that it is up to his to formulate his own destiny and be who ever he wants to be.


  1. Like Morgan states, Antonio’s dreams are reflective of the confusion and difficulties occurring around him in real life. His dream become representative of his own inward contemplation about life and the future. Ultima certainly seems like the impetus for Antonio’s inward contemplation as he struggles between two different cultural identities. But I wonder if Ultima, who acts as a kind of teacher/mentor to Antonio, is completely neutral in her own stance.

    Whereas Antonio struggles between Catholicism and a type of indigenous spirituality, Ultima does not seem like a good balance between the two. When Catholicism and priests fail to help the people in the community, Ultima is the one who is summoned. She is perceived as a type of witch; nevertheless, her “magic” works and produces physical results where the Church fails. Therefore, do you think she embodies the indigenous religion?

    At the end of chapter 11, the final dream hints at the possibility of a combined worldview -- Antonio will not have to pick one or the other. But do you think that will necessarily be easy for him? Does Ultima embody the kind of middle way he seeks, or does she lean more towards a pagan/indigenous worldview?

  2. Rivera's character (the unnamed boy) feels pulled in many directions at once - trying to make his parents proud, but getting expelled from school; trying to stay honest, but being made accomplice to a murder - and at times completely forgets what his name is and who HE is. This battle for identity seems to have three possible outcomes: one can choose A or choose B, or, if neither, become C - lost, a person without identity at all.

    I agree with Morgan here that Antonio's dreams might be showing him a possible fourth outcome: that of being blended, or choosing the best from each part of his identity. The fact that his mother and father represent the wild land/sea, and the cyclic moon/seasons make me wonder, too, if we are seeing Anaya making an even larger statement about identity: we must choose not just to become both European and Native, but male and female; both at the same time, not choosing one side or the other. Hmmm!

  3. And a comment on Rachel's note: Ultima seems to be a sort of "in between" space, much in the way that the Rivera scholar Frank Pino talked about in "The Outsider and El Otro." Ultima is a witch, yet she honors and respects Catholicism. Is there a kind of power she accepts no matter how it gets labeled?