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Bless Me, Ultima



Lyrical story of young boy questioning religion, morality.

What parents need to know

Educational value

This fine novel has a high educational value on two levels: Culturally, it introduces the lives, issues, and concerns experienced by Mexicans and Native Americans in rural New Mexico during World War II; on a thematic level, it deals with the need for spirituality, even in young lives, and the frequent contradictions found in religious traditions.

Positive messages

The paramount positive message of Bless Me, Ultima is the importance of making careful and individual choices, then accepting responsibility for their consequences. Antonio, the main character, is only 6 at the start of the story, but as we follow him through the transition to adolescence, it's abundantly clear that neither his family nor friends can shield him from being forced to make hard decisions.

Positive role models

These thoroughly realistic characters, drawn from the author's childhood experience, are decent and laudable people. Antonio is serious and respectful, but not above questioning the doctrines of his church. His hardworking father is in love with the earth and wants his son to be a farmer, while his mother encourages him to become a priest. The title character, Ultima, is a wise practitioner of pagan magic and a model of tolerance and insight.


There are two murders by shooting and an attempted murder. While not graphic, the scenes are realistic and intense. In two out of three instances, the killer pays for his crime. A bird is killed, as well.


There is no sexual content per se, but Antonio's mother expresses a deep-rooted conviction that sex is essentially sinful and leads to trouble. This fuels much of her desire for her son to enter the priesthood.


There are a few scenes of swearing among the rural folk and townspeople: "hell," "damn," a couple of instances of "f--k" and frequent use of the Spanish word "chingada," which roughly translates to the same thing. The kids in the story often address one another as "cabrón," which colloquially means "a--shole."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Narciso, one of the main characters, is clearly an alcoholic, but is also presented as a kind and respectful man. Conversely, drinking by some of the other characters is shown to inflame tempers and instill violence.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Bless Me, Ultima makes it quite explicit that morals are subjective and not absolute. Catholicism is treated reverently, but its long-held and sometimes contradictory beliefs are constantly questioned. At the same time, pagan magic is depicted more as a Native American passion for and connection to the earth and its elements than as witchcraft.

Kids say

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What's the story?

Six-year-old Antonio is the son of farmer parents in rural New Mexico during World War II. His mother is passionate about the Catholic Church, and wants him to be a priest; his father is connected spiritually to the Ilano, the great plains of their state. A friend of the family is Ultima, a midwife and practitioner of magical healing and spells. Although greatly respected by Antonio and his parents, Ultima encourages his constant questions on the meaning of life and religion. Narciso, the town drunk, also seems to possess a mystical connection to the supernatural. A feud erupts between the mean-spirited Tenorio and several characters that ends in violence and death. Antonio comes of age very quickly in terms of moral conviction.

Is it any good?


This marvelous book sold more than 300,000 copies essentially on word-of-mouth recommendation after it was published in 1972, and is now often required reading in school. It would be a mistake to call it an "ethnic" novel -- one of interest primarily to Latino readers. Like To Kill a Mockingbird, it has universal appeal as a story that brings to life a time, place, and customs chiefly from the point of view of a child. BLESS ME, ULTIMA is both lyrical and realistic, has many positive messages, and deals with extremely weighty and important issues.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the differences and similarities found in our prevailing ideas of spirituality and religion. How much is your own identity influenced by your family and cultural upbringing?

  • Why do you think Bless Me, Ultima is often required reading in school?


  • Why is understanding so crucial between people, and what's the difference between tolerance and acceptance?

Book details

Author:Rudolfo Anaya
Genre:Coming of Age
Topics:Great boy role models
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:January 12, 1972
Number of pages:262

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Educator and Parent Written bycountrygurl4now November 8, 2013

Questionable! Please educate yourself before allowing children to read this book.

Admittedly, I have only read parts of the book. I read to page 100 and just wasn't interested, however I did skim through the rest of the book. I was very concerned by the language and adult content. There is frequent use of the f word, including in a sexual context. There is masturbation and explicit magical (satanic?) rituals. I seriously question why this site rates this book as appropriate for age 12. On language alone, it is not appropriate for anyone under the age of 18. This should not be required reading in our schools. I'm not advocating that all literature should be squeaky clean but there is a difference between a few scattered profanities and over 18 just on one page. If we wouldn't want our children to talk this way in the halls of their school why would we want them to read it out loud, or silently in a classroom?
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing