Metaphors and Symbols in Bless Me Ultima

There are three principle symbols in Bless Me, Ultima. First, the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. She represents divine forgiveness. The town of Guadalupe, where the Marez family lives, is named after her.  Antonio’s mother has a two-foot high statue of the Virgin in her home, to whom she and the rest of the family pray. Tony loves the Virgin more than any of the saints because of what she represents.

The second symbol is Ultima’s owl. Antonio notices it for the first time when Ultima comes to stay with them. It is in the juniper tree outside Ultima’s window, and is obviously special because no other owl comes that close to the house. The owl is Ultima’s guardian spirit, and Antonio often hears it again in moments of crisis.

The third symbol is the golden carp. It represents an alternative religion to the Catholicism that Antonio is raised in. The golden carp is a god who rules over his realm. The carp is also destined, according to the pagan myth, to rule the entire area when the humans are destroyed because of their sin. Antonio is at first scared of acknowledging any god other than the one approved by Catholicism, but when he sees the golden carp, he is enthralled by its sheer beauty. He feels as if he really has seen a god.

The golden carp is contrasted to the black bass, which appears in the water immediately after the golden carp disappears. The bass is described as “monstrous,” with an “evil” mouth, and eyes “glazed with hate” (p. 114). Here the theme of good versus evil is transposed from the human and metaphysical realms to the realm of fish. It suggests that the battle between good and evil is to be found at all levels of life.

Much of the imagery reinforces the theme of the interconnectedness of all things. This applies especially to the instinctual connections that humans feel between themselves, nature and the cosmos. This connection feeds the mysticism in Antonio’s soul, and it is expressed in highly lyrical language. In the very first paragraph, for example, Antonio tells of the summer that Ultima first came to stay: “The magical time of childhood stood still, and the pulse of the living earth pressed its mystery into my living blood.”

The imagery used to describe Antonio’s family also links the human world to the wider cosmos. The family name Marez means “sea,” so Antonio’s forefathers, the men of the llano, are known as men of the sea, because they are wild like the ocean. They are also referred to as men of the sun, and Antonio’s father says that they thought of themselves as brothers of the wind, because the wind is free. In contrast, the men from the farms along the river, where Antonio’s mother comes from, are associated with the moon. This can be seen in their name, Lunas, and the village where they live, El Puerto de la Luna, which means the door of the moon (Ultima explains that the river valley is the door through which the moon passes each month on its east-west journey). The Lunas live all aspects of their lives in harmony with the changing phases of the moon.

The imagery brings out the interplay of opposites in creation-wind and earth, sun and moon-that is also embodied in the interactions of people.

The poetic imagery finds fullest expression in Antonio’s dreams, with their lush romantic visions. For example, this is how Ultima speaks to Antonio in his dream about his brothers and his own innocence: “There in the land of the dancing plains and rolling hills, there in the land which is the eagle’s by day and the owl’s by night is innocence. There where the lonely wind of the llano sang to the lovers’ feat of your birth, there in those hills is your innocence” (p. 71).