Historical Context of Bless Me, Ultima
The historical context of Bless Me, Ultima is significant to the text as a whole because it provides the backdrop of uncertainty, crisis, and flux that contributes to Tony’s emotional and spiritual confusion. Ultimately, Anaya’s implementation of historical data into the story is minimal, and this is probably for the best, as it facilitates the timelessness and universality of the story. Anaya employs enough historical context to render the setting authentic, but not enough to diminish the fable-like quality of the Bless Me, Ultima.
Young Tony’s road to maturation is rent asunder by the competing legacies of his ancestors. He wishes desperately to please both his father and his mother, who place such dissimilar and seemingly incompatible expectations upon him. He is able to perceive the benefits and beauty of the lifestyles of the vaquero and the farmer, and he is torn between his parents’ wishes for him.
It is only through Ultima, who embodies the juncture of these distinct elements, that Tony is able to rectify the many expectations placed upon him. In Ultima, multitudes of dualities co-exist successfully – Roman Catholicism and earth-worship, Curanderisma and witchery. It is this holistic model that eventually allows Tony to quell the clamoring demands of his family and forge his own unique path.
To me, the lasting significance of Bless Me, Ultima is its ability to go beyond the historical, ethnic, and cultural particulars of Tony’s life and resonate on another, more profound level. Although the book is an interesting document of life in World War II-era New Mexico, it is more compelling as an account of one boy’s struggle with his parents’ dueling expectations of him. These expectations are compounded by the troubling tendency children have to view the external, adult world in a series of polar opposites. Eventually, Tony battles the literal and figurative demons that stymie his development and he survives with his sense of self intact.