Bless Me, Ultima is a stellar choice of novel for any educator looking to deeply enrich their curriculum, for introducing your students to other cultures is imperative to a well-rounded education.

Author Rudolfo Anaya's depiction of 1940s Chicano culture will provide your students with a greater understanding of and appreciation for this culture. Throughout Bless Me, Ultima, Anaya details changes in the culture of the American Southwest and shows how these changes affect the life of Antonio, the young protagonist of the novel.

Antonio must reconcile these changes, the struggle between traditional and modern practices (especially religious practices), while at the same time handling the myriad changes that come with adolescence. This grounds Bless Me, Ultima in the tradition of the Bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel. 

Bless Me, Ultima also deals with themes like good versus evil and nature versus nurture, timeless themes that resonate with everyone.


Key Facts:

  • Length: 262 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 840
  • Publication Date: 1972
  • Recommended Grade Band: 7 – 9

When Ultima, the old healer, comes to stay with Antonio and his family, her visit sparks an important set of changes in Antonio’s life. Antonio begins to contemplate death, evil, and other mature topics as his eyes are opened to a spiritual realm that was once so unfamiliar. The novel follows Antonio as he progresses from a boy to a young man.

Content warning: Bless Me, Ultima contains sexual references, swearing, and violence.

Your students will love:

  • Antonio, a very relatable character
  • Ultima's magical, mystical nature
  • Discussions of good and evil

Students may have problems with:

  • The swearing and violence in the book
  • Remembering key Spanish words, especially if they don't have a background in the language

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Bildungsroman
  • Contradiction
  • Frame Narrative
  • Metaphor
  • Myth
  • Setting
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

Coming of Age/Loss of Innocence — Throughout the course of the story, Antonio faces challenges and contemplates topics meant for someone much older than he.

Related Works:

Revenge — The plot of Bless Me, Ultima is fraught with revenge and feuding.

Related Works:

Fear — In the novel, fear is protective; it is what keeps Antonio alive. However, the plot demonstrates that overcoming fear yields personal and spiritual growth.

Related Works:


  • 1972 Premio Quinto Sol award
  • One of 12 classic American novels selected for The Big Read in 2008
  • Selected novel of the United States Academic Decathlon in 2009


A film adaptation of the novel debuted in 2013. The movie received a rating of 71% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 34 reviews and shares more similarities than differences with the novel. It is important to note, however, that the golden carp, a significant symbol from the novel, is noticeably less emphasized in the film.

External Resources

Essay about teaching Chicano literature with a historical approach (

Rudolfo Anaya discussing the movie adaptation of his novel (

Bless Me, Ultima movie trailer (

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