The Importance of Moral IndependenceAn emphasis on thinking independently about moral decisionspervades Bless Me, Ultima. Antonio’s progress towardmoral independence is the main marker of his maturity and development throughoutthe novel. Antonio’s struggle to reconcile the complexities of hisexperience with his religion leads him to conclude that he mustmake his own decisions. He becomes increasingly frustrated by thefailure of the church to explain the most pressing questions aboutmorality and human experience.
Ultima acts as Antonio’s guide as he learns the importanceof moral independence. Ultima teaches him that the most difficult questionsabout life can never be answered entirely by a single religion orcultural tradition. Antonio has questions about evil, forgiveness,truth, and the soul, questions he can answer only for himself. Antonioonce believed that the Communion ritual would answer all his questions,but Ultima teaches him that he must think for himself and arriveat his own conclusions.
The Influence of Culture on Identity
Bless Me, Ultima explores the difficultyof reconciling conflicting cultural traditions. In the end, Anayasuggests that a person can draw from several cultural traditionsto forge a more complex and adaptable identity. Antonio is so eagerto find a single, definitive answer to the questions that haunthim because he has been influenced by many conflicting cultures.The first major conflict involves his parents. His Luna mother wishesfor him to become a priest, while his vaquero father wishes forhim to ride the llano. Each parent has deeply rooted cultural convictions.Next is the conflict within his town between its Spanish and indigenouscultures. We see evidence of this conflict in the pronounced tensionbetween Ultima’s mystical folklore and the Catholic church. Anotherconflict takes place at Antonio’s school between Spanish and Englishspeakers.
Anaya uses these conflicts to explore the influence ofculture on identity. Many characters in the book are limited bytheir cultural prejudices and never learn to look beyond their ownassumptions. For example, the townspeople condemn Narciso for beinga drunk and refuse to acknowledge that his traumatic experiencein the war might play a part in his psychological state. Ultimateaches Antonio to avoid the limitations inherent in abiding byone culture, one religion, or one creed. Instead, Ultima encouragesAntonio to embrace all of the cultural influences in his life tobecome a better person.
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