At some point within people’s lives, they find themselves struggling to find who they want to be, what they want to believe and trust, and what they want to do. “ I cannot tell you what to believe. Your father and your mother can tell you, because you are their blood, but I cannot. As you grow into manhood you must find your own truths-” (Anaya 119). Readers see this in the novel Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. Antonio, is a six year old boy who lives in the eastern plains of New Mexico during the 1940’s who struggles with finding his purpose and finding what he believes in. The novel starts with the Márez family taking in Ultima, a curandera, to live with them, most likely until the day she dies. Then the reader learns that Antonio’s parents are both very different people and have very different views for what Antonio should do in his life. His father, Gabriel Márez, a former Vaquero, wants his son to follow in his footsteps and spend his days roaming the llano on horseback. His mother, Maria Márez, desperately wants Antonio to become a priest of the Luna instead of a vaquero like his father. Although, Antonio was raised in the Catholic church, he finds himself second guessing what he believes when he experiences many deaths, and learns about possible other gods, like the Golden Carp. With all this, he finds himself lost with what he believes and what he wants to do and who he wants to be. All of his worries intensifies later in the novel, but Ultima is there to help. Ultima tells him the stories and legends of his ancestors, and he comes to understand how the history of his people stirred his blood. Through her, Antonio learns the ‘old ways’ and develops a new relationship with nature. This relationship opens him to the contemplation of the possibility of other gods. Antonio learns there are powers in the world that differ from those honored by the Catholic faith. He learns to overcome his fears, especially his fear of change. In the end, Antonio understands himself and the world around him better, and he learns to accept life and the many challenges that it presents. Before he reaches that point, Antonio must go through the hardships of figuring out who he is. Through Antonio’s journey to becoming a man, Antonio struggles with being able to manifest his own purpose; however, with Ultima’s help, he learns he must find his own truth and purpose.
Antonio struggles to find his own truths due to the many different viewpoints on what his destiny is to be. These viewpoints come from many people within Antonio’s life. The first major conflict involves his parents. His Luna mother wishes for him to become a priest, while his Vaquero father wishes for him to ride the llano. Each parent has deeply rooted cultural convictions. “Mother of god, make my fourth son a priest.” (Anaya 45). Antonio’s mother; Maria Márez, comes from a family of farmers and maintains a good relationship with her brothers who are all Luna farmers. She is a devoutly religious woman with a strong conviction that Antonio should become a priest. Antonio’s mother speaks to him like a little boy, and is very overprotective of him. She opposes the lifestyle of the Vaquero like her husband. Antonio’s father instead wants Antonio to follow in the footsteps of the Márez tradition of wandering across the llano on horseback and move to California. These different views and thoughts on how Antonio should live his life cause Antonio to be so eager to find one single, definitive answer to the questions that haunt him because he has been influenced by many viewpoints by his parents. “Hush! He shall be a scholar,” (Anaya 53). “Remember you are a Luna-” “And a Marez,” (Anaya 53). Each side of the family wants control of the newborn’s future. Through all this, Antonio struggles to find what he self consciously wants to pursue when he is of age. “You are to bring honor to your family,” (Anaya 53). He becomes increasingly frustrated and lost with what he wants to do, without disappointing any of his parents. While the coming of moral independence is a huge part of maturing, not disappointing his own parents does not make it easy to do so when they both expect something different of him.
Being raised Catholic, there are many things expected of Antonio, in order to be a member of the faith. But when Antonio experiences the murder of Lupito, a soldier recently returned from World War II, Antonio begins to consider sin, death, and the afterlife in earnest. Antonio worries about the fate of the men who shot Lupito on the bridge. His father was apart of the group of men who committed the murder. He worries his father could be punished by God for the sin. Why does God sometimes seem to punish the good? Where will they go after death? He begins to question what the truth really is. “‘The golden carp,’ [Antonio] said, ‘a new god?’’(Anaya 81). Antonio discovers the golden carp at a time when he starts to doubt his mother’s Catholicism which she wishes for him to be extremely devoted to. The golden carp is supposedly a god sent to guide the other carp, who were once ancient people who sinned. Antonio can actually see the Golden Carp and feels a sense of enlightenment, instead of the seeming effectiveness of the Catholic god. “For Ultima, even the plants had a spirit.” (Anaya 39). Ultima plays an important role in helping Antonio gain knowledge of good and evil. She was a Curandera, a woman who knew the herbs and remedies of the ancients, a miracle-worker who could heal the sick. Ultima tells Antonio not what to believe, but how to make choices. She wants him to start thinking for himself. As Antonio starts to interact with Ultima more, she teaches him the ways of his ancestors and tells him the stories and legends about them. He begins to realize that the blood of his ancestors and past relitive’s ways are within his blood. Antonio develops a strong relationship with nature through Ultima, that opens his mind to other gods. “The power of the doctors and the power of the church had failed to cure my uncle.” (Anaya 99). The church is not providing answers to Antonio’s deepest questions in life. Antonio continues to become more and more disappointed in the church. Antonio has nothing to hold onto for a sort of beacon on hope. He is always struggling to find what is the truth and what god is the true god.
With the many different things that make it impossible to find his own truths, Ultima is there to help him think for himself and guides him to be able to make his own choices. “‘I cannot tell you what to believe. Your father and your mother can tell you, because you are their blood, but I cannot. As you grow into manhood you must find your own truths-’” (Anaya 119). Ultima understands the struggles Antonio is going through after they’ve built their relationship. She also understands that life and spirituality can be viewed in many different and equally valid ways. Ultima’s appreciation for multiple faiths and perspectives allows her to see that each person must make independent moral decisions, rather than blindly trust someone else’s opinion. “‘It is because good is always stronger than evil. Always remember that, Antonio. The smallest bit of good can stand against all the powers of evil in the world and it will emerge triumphant.’” (Anaya 98). She assures Antonio that although there is much evil in the world, the smallest bit of good can stand against all the evil. She uses the power from nature to guide her through life, which she passes on to Antonio.