Study Guide

Bless Me, Ultima Memory and the Past

By Rudolfo Anaya

Memory and the Past

Time stood still, and it shared with me all that had been, and all that was to come. (1.10-11)

This book is about the connection of the past to the future. Antonio acknowledges this in the opening paragraph, so right off the bat we're primed and ready for what's to come (and how the past has affected it).

A long time ago the house belonged to a very respectable family (3.263-264)

What seems like a simple remark about a house actually gives pretty good insight into the setting of the novel. As time has progressed, the "respectable" families have moved away, so who is left?

"Long ago," she would smile, "long before you were a dream, long before the train came to Las Pasturas, before the Luna came to their valley, before the great Coronado built his bridge." (4.35-38)

Do you ever think back to a time when you were little and everything seems just perfect? Most of us have a great capacity for romanticizing the past. We like to leave out the bad stuff (or we make the bad stuff seem like the most horrible stuff ever just to up the drama factor). The past functions a lot like that in the novel. Often, when people talk about the past, you can almost picture the winsome look on their face. The past is like a dream or a fairy tale, and it seems as if it were ten times better than the crappy present.

"It was the Lunas who carried the charter from the Mexican government to settle the valley. That took courage." (6.46-48)

How do the characters in the novel draw on the past as a source of pride for themselves?

"Ay, but those were beautiful years […] and then the tejano came and built his fences, the railroad came, the roads—it was like a bad wave of the ocean covering all that was good." (6.120-120-124)

The past of Antonio's father (and the entire family) connects directly to the past of the American Southwest. They see their culture growing more and more fractured, just as they witnessed their lands cut by railroad tracks, highways, and barbed wire.

I remembered when they built our house. They were like giants then. (8.150-151)

Here the past borders on mythology. Antonio once saw his brothers as colossal figures, full of strength and power. After growing up a little, though, he realizes that they are just men who are deeply flawed like all of the other dudes around him. What a bummer.

"A long time ago, when the earth was young […] a strange people came to this land." (9.349-351)

Remember, a lot of this story is about Antonio coming to discover the Native American culture of his land and his people. This story, which leads into the story about the golden carp, helps him take a big old step towards discovery.

The meeting of the people from Texas with my forefathers was full of blood, murder, and tragedy. (12.127-129)

Again, Anaya delves into the history of the Southwest. It's not all John Wayne movies and cowboy heroes. The Southwest rose out of great conflict and bloodshed, and while that's not Anaya's focus in the book, he doesn't shy away from mentioning it now and then. After all, it's hugely important in shaping these characters' lives.

They understood that I had to be away from the places that held the memories of my friend. (22.69-70)

Memory is a powerful thing, and it can be triggered by smells or sights or sounds. Those around Antonio know that, and they know for him to heal, he needs to step away from the things that will constantly remind him of Florence's death.

"Ay, every generation, every man is a part of his past." (22.154)

How does the past come back to haunt some of the characters in the novel? How do others use lessons from the past to move forward with their lives?