Bless Me, Ultima
By Kenneth Butler,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Lyrical story of young boy questioning religion, morality.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
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.
Violence & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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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."
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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.
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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.
Where to Read
Based on 1 parent review
Cultural Exploration of Fate Vs. Free Will
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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.
Talk to Your Kids 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?
- Author: Rudolfo Anaya
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Great Boy Role Models
- Book type: Fiction
- Publication date: January 12, 1972
- Number of pages: 262
- Last updated: June 24, 2015
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