American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

BLESS ME, ULTIMA (1972). Set in New Mexico during the period of profound social changes following World War II, this novel by Rudolfo Anaya (1937- ) focuses on the coming-of-age of Antonio Marez, a sensitive boy whose parents’ backgrounds pull him in two different directions. Whereas his mother’s family compels him to consider a stable life in the Mexican American community as either priest or farmer, his father urges him to remember his ancestors—men as free and restless as the sea. Mitigating this conflict for Antonio is Ultima, a curandera, herbalist and healer, who teaches him to recognize the connections between all living beings and all places that support life—land, sea, and rivers. Antonio must also come to accept Ultima’s pantheism, which simultaneously endorses a Christian God, Native American religious practices, and folk beliefs concerning mysterious mermaids* and a great golden carp, all committed to the well-being and survival of humanity. [See also AMERICAN INDIAN LITERATURE OF THE SEA; LATINO/A LITERATURE OF THE SEA]

Elizabeth Schultz