Gender Roles in Bless Me, Ultima
In Bless Me, Ultima Antonio understands gender as a very black and white issue. Just as he struggles with the ideas of religion, good and evil, death, and nature. Antonio struggles with how gender affects his life, and how he eventually must become a man. The most obvious example of Antonio’s perspective on gender roles comes with his view of the Virgin and God. “God was not always forgiving. He made laws to follow and if you broke them you were punished. The Virgin always forgave…The Virgin was full of a quiet, peaceful love…she was a woman…Her voice was sweet and gentle…” (44).
Antonio believes firmly that The Virgin is the most pure form of woman. He prays at her feet every night in his living room. At one point, he notices that the paint on the statue is chipping, revealing a layer of white underneath. He uses this to indicate that she is pure in every form. Whenever Antonio thinks about religion, he thinks about the Virgin, and how forgiving she is, and how kind she is. Later on in the book, as he is considering if there can be other types of Gods, Antonia wonders if The Virgin is her own kind of God, and that is better because she is a woman and will understand more easily.
Antonio is constantly reminded of the fact that he must become a man. His mother is worried, and his father is counting down the days. But no one seems to be giving him much of a choice. He will be educated, he will be a priest, he will be a farmer, he will be a Luna, he will be a Marez… “My man of learning!… My baby will be gone today,” she sobbed. “He will be all right,” Ultima said. “The sons must leave the sides of their mothers,” she said almost sternly and pulled my mother gently. ” (53). Antonio is never allowed to be anything but a man of learning.
Even in his times of struggle with the issue of becoming a man, Ultima is there to help him. She has no doubt that he will become a good man in time. At one point in the book, Antonio’s mother tells him it is a sin that he become a man, and yet she is also telling him that he must become a man. Her contradicting statements do not help Antonio with this struggle at all. His older brothers are also a bad influence. All they value is booze, money, and women, and they choose to go wander through foreign cities. Antonio sees the effect this has on everyone, and decides early on that he won’t be like them.
The most important woman in Antonio’s life is Ultima. He holds her to the same standard as he does the Virgin; that she is forgiving, wise and full of love. “Ultima has sympathy for people, and it is so complete that with is she can touch their souls and cure them. ” (248). To Antonio, Ultima’s pure form of sympathy is equivalent to the pure forgiveness of The Virgin. “There isn’t a family she did not help,” she continued, “no road was too long for her to walk to its end to snatch somebody from the jaws of death, and not even the blizzards of the llano could keep her from the appointed place where a baby was to be delivered…” (3).
This is the first time Antonio hears of Ultima, so when he meets her, he is already full of expectations. He is expecting a miracle worker, and he gets one. Antonio learns that his other struggles; religion, life, and death are not so simple. They are more than just black and white. However, he never seems to move beyond the idea of gender role strictness. Women are soft and forgiving, and men are strong. But maybe in his future, he will lean that the roles of men and women are not as black and white as they seem.