In the novel Bless me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya there is plenty of significant symbolism shown throughout the whole story. The water, the Golden Carp, the Virgin Mary, Ultima’s owl and plenty of others but a very intriguing symbol from the novel is blood. Blood symbolized several things such as the blood of the Marez and the Luna symbolized Antonio’s connection to the cultures of both his mother and father which later causes a lot of uncertainty and skepticism in Antonio’s life as his mother wants him to become a farmer or a priest, but his father wants him to be a vaquero according to the Márez tradition. The blood stained the river symbolized the sins and wrong doings of the people of the town. Blood was also portrayed as a symbol of impurity and the loss of innocence the moment Antonio witnessed the murders.
The blood that Antonio encounters throughout his childhood symbolized the loss of his innocence or the staining of his innocence. After witnessing many deaths with visible blood present, his innocence and his mind are greatly affected by the tragic deaths. “The innocence which our isolation sheltered could not last forever, and the affairs of the town began to reach across our bridge and enter my life” (Anaya 15) shows how quickly things changed for Antonio and how his innocence was lost. One day he’s an innocent little boy sitting by a river admiring the beauties of the world to him witnessing the deaths of two men.
For example, one scenario that really affected Antonio was Lupito’s death which occurred in the beginning of the novel when he shot the sheriff. “He fell forward then clawed and crawled out of the holy water of the river onto the bank in front of me. I wanted to reach out and help him, but I was frozen by my fear. He looked up at me and his face was bathed in water and flowing, hot blood… He made a strange gurgling sound in his throat, then he was still…The horror of darkness had never been so complete as it was for me that night.” (Anaya 22). Antonio was there to witness it all.
In addition, Antonio also witnessed Narciso’s death with also greatly impacted his way of thinking and his views on things. “I had not held Lupito while his body went cold. I had not bloodied my hands with his life’s blood. I looked at the wound on the chest and saw the blood stop flowing; rage and protest filled me. I wanted to cry out into the storm that it was not fair that Narciso die for doing good, that it was not fair for a mere boy to be at the dying of a man.” (Anaya 170) Narciso’s blood stained the snow just as Antonio’s innocence was stained.
Another example is the ceremony performed by Father Byrnes, the catholic priest. At Antonio’s Holy Communion, when the priest raised the chalice, it no longer held wine but the blood of Christ. ‘’It’s blood now,’ Abel whispered when the priest raised the chalice with the wine… I peeped and saw the chalice raised high… The blood of Lupito, the blood of Narciso, winding its way along the river, crying on the hills of the llano…” (Anaya 219) In Antonio’s eyes, not also did the blood symbolize the blood of Christ but the blood of Lupito and Narciso after their deaths. When Antonio pictured the wine as the blood of Lupito and Narciso, it suggested that Antonio is remorseful and compunctious because he couldn’t save them from dying.
The blood can also be an interpreted as a reference to the feud between the two conflicting parts of his life and his beliefs about the forgiveness of God. As Antonio “called again to the God that was within…but there was no answer. Only emptiness.” (Anaya 221). Antonio struggles to understand God’s forgiveness towards everyone, “why couldn’t there be a god who would never punish his people, a god who would be forgiving all of the time?…Perhaps that is why God could not forgive; He was too much like man.” (Anaya 138)
Not all the symbolism of blood was physically visible. In Bless Me, Ultima there were two instances where blood was not mentioned or shown but there was some speculation of the symbol present. The death of Ultima and Antonio’s friend Florence could be used as an example. Ultima’s and Florence’s death occurred near the end of the novel, although they were similar, they also differed.
Florence was not murdered nor was he physically harmed, his death occurred due to the drowning in the river. “We looked and saw the body come up through the water, rolling over and over in a slow motion, reflecting the sunlight… His open eyes stared up at us. There was a white film over them.” (Anaya 240) His death by drowning involved no blood, only suffocation as the cause of death.
On the other hand, Ultima was assaulted by Tenorio when he shot her owl. As humans and most animals bleed, Ultima’s owl must’ve bled the moment it was shot. Ultima was like a holy figure in Antonio’s life so her blood would taint and scar Antonio, Ultima was not physically harmed only her owl which took physical damage. Ultima’s soul is connected to her owl. When the owl died, she died as well. “It was true that the owl was Ultima’s spirit. It had come with Ultima. and as men brought evil to our hills the owl had hovered over us, protecting us.” (Anaya 256)
Even though blood is a very important symbol in the novel, blood wasn’t mentioned in the deaths of Florence and Ultima because they were very significant figures in Antonio’s life. Neither did they didn’t sin but they were also non-catholic. Florence did not believe in God. Florence is bitter against God and blames him for his harsh life and the evils of the world. Florence states that “God has sinned against me because he took my father and mother from me when I most needed them, and he made my sisters whores. He has punished all of us without just cause.” (Anaya 213).
On the contrary, when Ultima successfully cured Antonio’s Uncle, Antonio realizes that Ultima’s spirituality is separate from the Catholic Church. Antonio becomes aware that the church does not have the same kind of power as Ultima “The power of the doctors and the power of the church had failed to cure my uncle. Now everyone depended on Ultima’s magic. Was it possible that there was more power in Ultima’s magic than in the priest?” (Anaya 99) This suggests to him that no matter what way you interpret the world, you can ever comprehend everything; life requires a commingling of different perspectives, explanations, and beliefs. This really illustrates how different they really were compared to the rest of the town’s people shown throughout the whole novel. They both made an influence in Antonio’s life, especially when it came to religion.
In conclusion, the novel Bless me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya illustrated many different significant symbols throughout the whole story. Blood not only symbolized Antonio’s connection to his culture with the Marez from his father’s side and the Lunas from his mother’s side, but the blood stained the river symbolized the sins of the people of the town and was also portrayed as a symbol of impurity and the loss of innocence within Antonio.
- Anaya, Rudolfo A. Bless Me, Ultima. New York : Grand Central Pub., 1994.
- Anaya, Rudolfo. Bless Me, Ultima. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1972. Print.