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A bildungsroman is an elaborate technique that shapes a novel as a whole, presenting the reader with a way to relate and grow closely involved with events surrounding the protagonist. Rudolfo Anaya leads the audience in Bless Me, Ultima towards the development of a young hero, Antonio, who needs to gain the wisdom of his cultural and religious predicament. Anaya initiates a cultural assertion, otherwise known as Chicano, throughout this novel as a way to connect Mexican-American Heritage to Antonio’s understanding of the world around him. The connection between coming of age and spiritual expansion is blurred during the battle of man versus society.

Antonio struggles with barriers that interfere with his development within himself and the influence of outside groups. As a renowned healer called Ultima visits the protagonist and his family, we can see the immediate psychological expansion presented through a series of dreams that Antonio endures, “I could not make out the face of the mother who rested from the pains of birth, but I could see the old woman in black who tended the just-arrived, steaming baby. She nimbly tied a knot on the cord that had connected the baby to its mother’s blood. then quickly she bent and with her teeth she bit off the loose end” (Anaya 5). Ultima witnessed the birth of Antonio and his destiny, immediately establishing a mentorship between the two of them. Becoming interested in the life and existence of such a mystifying woman, Antonio helps her to collect herbs for remedies and to speak with nature that surrounds them. The wise woman helps young Antonio to begin his first lesson; the river’s purpose, “I learned from her that there was a beauty in the time of day and in the time of night, and that there was peace in the river and in the hills. She taught me to listen to the mystery of the groaning earth and to feel complete in the fulfillment of its time. My soul grew under her careful guidance” (Anaya 15). Ultima then uses her influence positively and guides Antonio so that he may be able to reach his full potential, to become his own person rather than to live by the instruction of someone else. Instilling the firm belief in Antonio that one must make decisions based on their true morals before blindly obeying the instructions of an authority Thus beginning Antonio’s growth journey.

Antonio began the process to his monumental self change along with tragedy. Once Antonio starts his path through childhood, he trudges into a river and abruptly witnesses a violent death. A man by the name of Chavez comes to the door with severe news- his brother had been shot dead, killed by a veteran named Lupito. In response to this event, search parties are formed to investigate the area for the suspect on the run. Antonio, however, makes the crucial mistake of following the search parties to the destination, as he lurks in the shadows to avert attention from his contiguity. Lupito eventually notices Antonio’s presence, shooting his hidden pistol into the air, which warrants the investigators to open fire, “ A low, sad mournful cry tore itself from his throat and mixed into the lapping sound of the waters of the river. His head shook slowly, and I guess he must have been thinking and fighting between surrendering or remaining free, and hunted. Then like a coiled spring he jumped up, his pistol aimed straight up. There was a flash of fire and the loud report of the pistol” (Anaya 21-22). Desperate to revise his life, he begs for a blessing to lead his spirit home. Lupito dies in the river at the frail eyes of Antonio, furthering the growth of a child into adolescence. Anaya shows the audience symbolism through water’s appearance, this creates imagery of not only a baptism, but washing away the sins of the past.

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Conflict arises within Antonio’s soul once more when faced with a dilemma in his own family. Antonio’s father, an outdoorsman, toughened by years of farm labor believes his son will also find a true calling in the vastness of the wild open plains he roams. Antonio’s spirit’s flow is interrupted by this constant tugging, as he is tormented by the obligation he feels to both parents to follow the path they choose for him. Antonio’s mother wishes for her son to pursue a life in the church and find God by returning to work and live in his family’s homeland. Evidently these two forces interfering with Antonio’s spirit cause him great discomfort and stress, but with this comes growth. Antonio’s internal and external struggles create a pathway for him to ask more of himself and what his future may hold.

During a time of uncertainty in the life of Antonio, he is introduced to the concept of the ‘golden carp’ god by Samuel. Samuel explains to Antonio the legend surrounding The River of The Carp, ensuring that Antonio is aware of the holy Golden Carp that inhabits the river. This tale, similar in fact to that of The Bible strikes discord in Antonio’s soul as he begins to question the very foundations of his Christian faith. How could there be another benevolent, more forgiving God? Is it possible these two Gods coexist? Who really is God? The uncertainty this brought to Antonio’s psyche rattles the very roots of what he holds so dearly. Antonio begins to consistently visit the river, hoping dearly in his heart to see a glimpse of the Carp that has troubled him so greatly. Antonio seeks to find the truth about the Golden Carp in an attempt to quell the burning hunger for knowledge of the spiritual world he sees and hears of. Unable to assess his doubts properly, Antonio’s mind is thrown into a constant whirlwind of obsession over the existence of the Golden Carp and the astonishing possibility that his faith may be one amongst many stories that tell of a God figure. Deeply inside Antonio wants nothing more than to uncover his true purpose and to find the truth of the faith he holds so dearly.

During harsh times one must always have faith in order to stay true to oneself and remain steady. With that being said there are those who deny adamantly the existence of faith, or a higher power. Florence, a friend of Antonio’s, is one of those people. Plagued by doubt Florence denies even the slightest possibility of the existence of God, symbolically vacating his soul of any faith or hope there once was. On a trip to the lake, Antonio walks with Cico as they realize Florence’s dive into the water was fatal. In an instant, his friend was gone, forever. with no hope of reprisal in an afterlife due to his complete lack of faith. Stricken by tragedy, Antonio is overcome with guilt and sadness and runs home to grieve for his lost friend. Florence never had faith during his time on Earth and the opportunity to witness the Golden Carp was lost once he lost his life. This tragic passing riddles Antonio’s mind with a slew of confusion and guilt and causes him to go into a state of panic and depression, not having a single clue of why his friend passed in such a cruel unnecessary fashion.

Constantly pulling Antonio in two directions, Antonio’s parents both attempt to guide Antonio along the path each of them want him to take. as true as this may be, Antonio feels inside of him that he is more of a Luna, and as such he is equipped with a moral compass that enables him to make the right decisions in life. Throughout his life’s events Antonio will often run into a fork in the road where he calls upon his faith and his Luna ancestry to guide him to righteousness. However, Antonio still feels locked in an everlasting battle between both his mother and his father’s wishes. 

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