Study Guide

Bless Me, Ultima Coming-of-Age

By Rudolfo Anaya


But what hurt more was that I had witnessed for the first time the death of a man. (2.355-356)

How does violence define Antonio's journey from boyhood to manhood? Try tracing all the violent scenes throughout the novel.

The day dawned, and already the time of youth was fleeing the house which the three giants of my dreams had built. (3.1-2)

As Antonio grows up, the stories and myth-like quality of his past starts to crumble. He starts to see things for what they really are, which is often very unfun. Sure, while this might be a mark of coming-of-age, it's not necessarily a joyful occasion. In fact, for Antonio, the loss of innocence and youth is a cause for despair at times.

"You leave Antonio alone, please. Last night was hard for many men." (3.130-131)

Ultima is the only one who knows Antonio witnessed the killing of Lupito. More importantly, she is the only one that already considers Antonio a man. Others refer to him as a boy or even as a baby, but she knows better. Why does Ultima have such insight into Antonio even before he truly starts to come of age?

"The little runt actually threw me, he threw me?" (3.385-386)

For all the talk in Bless Me, Ultima of supernatural power and discovering answers to the grand questions in life, sometimes a major step towards growing up comes when you just happen to knock down a kid who is way bigger than you.

For the first time, I would be away from the protection of my mother. (6.5-6)

You know this story well enough to know that this is line hits on a recurring theme in the novel: before a boy can truly start coming of age, he has to leave his poor mom behind. He can't rely on her to protect him from the world anymore. As Antonio says, it's sad, but it's also exciting. And oh so necessary.

The pain and sadness seemed to spread to my soul, and I felt for the first time what the grown-ups call, la tristera de la vida. (6.281-282)

Antonio experiences what could be roughly translated to melancholy, but the emotion here isn't the point. The point is that he recognizes it as an emotion only the adults have a name for. In essence, Antonio has started to feel and respond like an adult. It's not a happy thing, but it's a step in his journey.

You are innocent until you understand. (8.32)

Growth and coming-of-age can only come with knowledge and understanding. But as Antonio's father points out, understanding only comes with growing up and living life. It's like a positive feedback mechanism. The only problem is that with those things comes the loss of innocence, which is a bit of a bummer. It makes sense that a priest says this to Antonio (even if it is in a dream), because clearly this sentiment ties in directly to the story of Adam and Eve.

But there was no sweetness to the victory, instead I felt that something good had ended. (20.45-47)

Antonio beats the Vitamin Kid in a race for the first time, because the Kid is too busy walking with Ida to bother to race (we're left wondering how that even counts, but oh well). As much as Antonio has grown up, there are still things about his youth and innocence that he clings to. The Vitamin Kid passing on a race for a girl is truly the end of an era. The days of just horsing around with the guys are over. Girls and romance have entered the picture, and the truly innocent days of youth are over.

"You are growing, and growth is change. Accept the change, make it part of your strength." (22.89-90)

Again, some wise words from Ultima. Antonio will grow up regardless of whether or not he wants to. It is simply a part of life. However, he has a choice to make. He can embrace the changes that are coming into his life and use them to make him a better man, or he can turn to fear. A lot of people fear change, and it ends up keeping them from a great deal of awesome experiences. Ultima doesn't want Antonio to be one of those people frozen by their fear of change and growth.

"Take them to their room," I said to my mother. It was the first time I had ever spoken to her as a man; she nodded and obeyed. (22.617-619)

Boom! That's it. That is the moment Antonio truly comes of age. He's gone away from his mother as a boy, but he's returned as a man. That's not to say his life journey is complete, but he can longer be seen as just a boy.