Hybridity as a key element in the process of identity construction in Rudolfo Anaysa’s "Bless Me, Ultima"

Analysis of the main character Antonio Márez

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar), 2015

19 Seiten, Note: 1,3


Table of Contents

Magical Realism and features of the Bildungsroman in Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima
Formal and content-related hybridity in Bless Me, Ultima

Antonio’s search for identity in Bless Me,Ultima
Antonio’s feeling of disintegration: Torn between the Márez and the Lunas
Antonio’s passage to maturity and a new sense of place in different steps


Works Cited


“She took my hand, and the silent, magic powers she possessed made beauty from the raw, sun-baked llano, the green river valley, and the blue bowl which was the white sun’s home.”(Anaya 1) It is this opening paragraph in Bless Me, Ultima which introduces the reader directly to Antonio’s state of alienation at the beginning of the novel since these natural surroundings represent separated entities for him. And this is exactly what he is struggling with through the entire novel: There are several dichotomies in his life that seem irreconcilable to Antonio, especially the oppositional traditions of his parental lines, the Lunas and the Márez, and closely related to that the religious question he struggles with. When Ultima comes to live with his family, Antonio starts his journey towards self-discovery, going through different steps until he can finally complete his rites of passage and esteem his hybrid mestizo identity.

The main focus of this term paper are those different steps and binary forces Antonio goes through and has to face in order to finally being able to constitute his transcultural identity. Furthermore, the paper should highlight the necessity of difference and a “double vision”(Köhler 201) which make the constitution of a new identity possible. Therefore my thesis is: Hybridity as a key element in Rudolfo Anaysa’s Bless Me,Ultima in the process of identity construction, exemplified in the main character Antonio Márez.

The term paper starts with the magical realist elements and features of the Bildungsroman present in Bless Me, Ultima, which are part of the novel’s formal hybridity which is discussed in the subsequent paragraph, apart from the content-related hybridity. Afterwards, I will focus on Antonio’s search for identity throughout the novel with its different steps, from alienation at the beginning, his loss of innocence in the middle up to his final understanding and therefore the last step of his move from childhood to adolescence. Apart from the novel Bless Me, Ultima itself, the central literature I will work with is Angelika Köhler’s essay The New World Man: Magical Realism in Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima and Juan Bruce-Novoa’s Learning to Read (and/in) Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima.

Magical Realism and features of the Bildungsroman in Rudolfo Anaya’sBless Me, Ultima

Bless Me, Ultima is a strong coming-of –age novel containing many elements of the Bildungsroman and Magical Realism. Following the characteristics of the Bildungsroman, the protagonist Antonio goes through a moral development searching for his real identity. Starting off with Antonio’s lack of experience at the beginning of the novel, there is also an unpleasant incident, Lupito’s death in that case, which is further typical for the Bildungsroman and serves as the driving force into his journey. Obstacles and disappointments are part of the novel, too. Antonio learns that Catholicism fails in some cases such as in the four deaths he experiences, the deaths of Lupito, Narciso, Florence and Ultima. These incidents force him to mature since he questions his religion and wonders why God allows this people to die. Another typical feature of the Bildungsroman is the moment of understanding which takes place in a rather unrealistic and magical scene since Antonio is dreaming when he realizes what he has to do or in how far he should change his thinking. This is an important moment since the elements of both, the Bildungsroman and Magical Realism come together. The acceptance of the supernatural in the real world, such as witchcraft, is a typical feature of Magical Realism which coexists with the natural and is totally integrated into the real world. Myths and symbols play an important role in Magical Realism and in Bless me, Ultima, too. As Isabel Allende and Sasser say:

“Magic realism is a literary device or a way of seeing the world in which there is space for the invisible forces that move the world: dreams, legends, myths, emotion, passion, history. All these forces find a place in the absurd, unexplainable aspects of magic realism.… It is the capacity to see and to write about all the dimensions of reality”(Allende 54)

“Magic is [understood to be] derived from the ‘supernatural’ elements of ‘local’ or ‘indigenous’ myths, religions or cultures [. . .] (Sasser 9)

In Bless me, Ultima, there is the legend of the Golden carp, as well as Ultima’s Owl, the river, the Virgin of Guadalupe, the bridge or Antonio’s dreams, elements and symbols which have a deeper meaning to the story. Another key element, hybridity, is also highly relevant to the story and is reached by the mix of the oppositional forces.

Formal and content-related hybridity in Bless Me, Ultima

In Bless Me Ultima, there is cultural, religious and social hybridity which occurs throughout the entire novel. This hybridity is mostly manifested in the main protagonist Antonio Márez, who experiences two oppositional educational modes from his parental lines. “His Euro-Iberian roots are challenged by his Indigenous heritage; his orthodox Catholicism by Native mysticism; his family’s respected social status by accusations of witchcraft and abnormality.”(Derby 85)

Furthermore, there is also hybridity in the novel’s form which is the coexistence of the characteristics of the strict European Bildungsroman and the mystical and supernatural elements of Magical realist fiction. The fact that there are Spanish vocabularies added to the English vocabulary predominant in the novel, highlights that hybridity again as well as the coexistence of two traditions and cultures.

Antonio’s search for identity in Bless Me,Ultima

In the novel Bless Me,Ultima, Antonio Márez, the protagonist, tells his childhood memories in an extended flashback told in a first-person childhood voice. The window of time the narrator focuses on, is the time from the summer of 1945 until the summer of 1947, an important period for Antonio which “marks the beginning of [his’] rite of passage from a state of childhood innocence to adolescent awareness of the moral ambiguities and corruptions that define adulthood.”(Köhler 202)

There are many dichotomies in Bless Me, Ultima since Antonio finds himself in a world of opposites and extremes: There is the Luna family versus the Márez family, indigenous versus Western culture, English versus Spanish and the simple confrontation of good and evil.

Throughout the entire novel, Antonio is unsure of which god to place his faith in. As he continues to search for a forgiving god, he goes through a spiritual search in which he puts his faith in God, the Golden Carp, and finally, Ultima. The protagonist’s step-by-step-development towards adolescence is accompanied by his inner struggle for understanding and a new sense of belonging.

The following chapters deal with the different steps Antonio goes through until he can finally reconcile his conflicting cultural and religious identities and become “that Mestizo with a unique perspective.”(Köhler 202)

Antonio’s feeling of disintegration: Torn between the Márez and the Lunas

“My father had been a vaquero all his life, a calling as ancient as the coming of the Spaniards to Nuevo Méjico. Even after the big rancheros and the tejanos came and fenced the beautiful llano, he and those like him continued to work there, I guess because only in that wide expanse of land and sky could they feel the freedom their spirits needed.” (Anaya 2)

“My mother was not a woman of the llano, she was the daughter of a farmer. She could not see beauty in the llano and she could not understand the coarse men who lived half their lifetimes on horseback.”(Anaya 2)

These two passages right at the beginning of the novel, introduce the reader into the main topic, the binary conflict predominant in the Luna and the Márez family. The two families are very different regarding their mentality and their traditions. While the Lunas are farmers down to earth, firmly rooted to their homeland and devoutly catholic since they are descendants of a priest, the Márez are loud, unsettled and anarchic freethinkers who have indigenous beliefs:

“When the peoples of Las Pasturas came to town for supplies, they always came to visit with my parents. When they came my father was happy, not only because they were his people, but because they were a happy people. They were always laughing, and the men’s eyes were always bright with the sting of whiskey. Their talk was loud and excited, and there was a song in it. They even smelled different from the people of the town [. . .].The people from Las Pasturas were like the wind, and the fragrances they carried on their clothing shifted as the wind shifted.” (Anaya 124)

Antonio’s mother does not really like the people of the llano since she calls them “worthless drunkards [and] wanderers.” She does not have sympathy for their “tragedy, their search for freedom” that was forever gone since they had moved to Guadalupe. (Anaya 125)

The following table, schematized by Enrique Lamadrid, illustrates the dichotomy between both families with regard to their origins and values:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

(Lamadrid 498)

As different as the two families are, as different are their expectations on Antonio. The narrator’s father Gabriel wants his son to follow in his footsteps as a vaquero, to ride the llano and appreciate the wilderness and freedom. On the other hand, there is Antonio’s mother María who prefers that her son becomes a priest and therefore follows the Luna family tradition. The entire novel is marked by Antonio’s parents’ remarks about his belonging as the following quote shows. Antonio has breakfast, ready for his first day at school when his mother says: “Hush! He shall be a scholar, [. . .].” ”Remember you are a Luna-.” Gabriel interrupts her by adding: “And a Márez.”(Anaya 53)

The rivalry of the families over whether Antonio will represent one or the other in his way of life and whose values will dominate in the boy’s future is already presented at the very beginning of the novel. In a dream scene, Antonio goes through the day of his birth:

I recognized my mother’s brothers, my uncles from El Puerto de los Lunas [. . .]. This one will be a Luna, the old man said, he will be a farmer and keep our customs and traditions. Perhaps God will bless our family and make the baby a priest. And to show their hope they rubbed dark earth of the river valley on the baby’s forehead, and they surrounded the bed with the fruits of their harvest so the small room smelled of fresh green chile and corn, ripe apples and peaches, pumpkins and green beans.( Anaya 5)

This joyful and calm introduction to the Luna’s side of Antonio’s family is interrupted by the vaqueros, the Márez side of the family who “surrounded the [. . .] house with shouts and gunshots,[. . .]laughing and singing and drinking. (Anaya 5):

Gabriel, they shouted, you have a fine son! He will make a fine vaquero! And they smashed the fruits and vegetables that surrounded the bed and replaced them with a saddle, horse blankets, bottles of whiskey, a new rope, bridles, chapas, and an old guitar. And they rubbed the stain of earth from the baby’s forehead because man was not to be tied to the earth but free upon it. (Anaya 5,6)

This dream scene reflects the families’ persistent attempt to come into possession of the afterbirth in order to have the “right to claim the child’s future.”(Novoa 183). The Márez family side wishes to burn the afterbirth and scatter the remains freely to the winds of the llano, while the Lunas would bury it in the field. In this scene, the reader learns about Antonio`s discrepancies and how he is torn between the opposing forces of his parents which follow him into his dreams.

In addition to that, the question about his destiny is what worries him constantly throughout the novel. Will he become a vaquero and follow the call of the llano accompanying his father’s side, or is he predestined for a priest complying his mother’s wish? The fact that Antonio grows up in an in-between space between a pastoral and an agrarian society with different values and the permanent pressure to decide for one of them, make him feel alienated. At least at the beginning of the novel, his mother’s and his father’s side seem to have irreconcilable traditions for Antonio, which moves him to try to please both of them. Therefore, “he performs chores-familial training rituals-associated with both parental lines: he feeds the livestock, but also ekes out a garden for his mother from the stony and arid fringe of the plain.” (Novoa 181) His state of being torn between both sides is emphasized by the fact, that Antonio feels nurtured and ruptured at the same time by these opposing traditions in his life. The conflict between his father’s pastoral family, the Márez and his mother’s farming family, the Lunas, is a significant circumstance for Antonio’s journey into adulthood.

Antonio’s passage to maturity and a new sense of place in different steps

As already mentioned in the text before, Antonio worries a lot about his destiny. This “desperation [. . .] results from the inflexibility of his parents’ attitudes toward life, which does not allow them to discover the beauty of the other and makes them ignorant of their son’s painful struggle for understanding.”(Köhler 205)

According to Köhler, Antonio needs to distance himself from the limited views of his opposing parental lines in order to appreciate both sides with its differing traditions and values. (205) Antonio needs to realize that the two families are complementary to one another and that he cannot choose the one or the other. Certain dichotomies, symbols and incidents help Antonio to start thinking and questioning his prior black-and-white mindset.

Antonio’s loss of innocence

Bless Me, Ultima is a Bildungsroman since Antonio goes through different steps of development until he recognizes his hybrid identity. The first step towards adult knowledge Antonio goes through is a distressing experience since he notices Lupito’s killing. Lupito, who is mentally ill, killed the sheriff and is shot in return by some villagers. Antonio witnesses Lupito dying who asks Antonio for his blessing in his last seconds:

“Bless me”-I thought he cried [. . .]. I had started praying for myself from the moment I heard the first shot, and I never stopped praying until I reached home. […] [M]y mother had taught me the Act of Contrition. [. . .] Did God listen? Would he hear? Had he seen my father on the bridge? And where was Lupito’s soul winging to [. . .] ? A priest could have saved Lupito. Oh why did my mother dream for me to be a priest! How would I ever wash away the stain of blood from the sweet waters of my river! (Anaya 22,23)

In this scene, Antonio achieves a state of alienation from his familiar surroundings. The “sweet waters of [his] river”(Anaya 23) serve as a metaphor in this place, since they are now defiled with Lupito’s blood. The river has symbolized security and protection so far, since it separates Antonio’s house from the town and the evil behind the bridge. The fact that Antonio witnessed Lupito’s death represents his loss of innocence, which can be seen as the first step of growing, and left him with an uncertainty of whether or not Lupito would go to heaven or hell. Beyond that, the nature of good and evil is another significant conflict Antonio has to deal with throughout the novel.


Ende der Leseprobe aus 19 Seiten


Hybridity as a key element in the process of identity construction in Rudolfo Anaysa’s "Bless Me, Ultima"
Analysis of the main character Antonio Márez
Universität Osnabrück  (Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
Magical Realist Border Fiction
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
562 KB
Rudolfo Anaya, bless me ultima, hybridity, process of identity construction
Arbeit zitieren
Claudia Rumms (Autor:in), 2015, Hybridity as a key element in the process of identity construction in Rudolfo Anaysa’s "Bless Me, Ultima", München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/428993


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