SYMBOLISM OF ANIMALS
Bless Me Ultima, a book by Rudolfo A. Anaya, is about a young boy named Antonio
who comes of age through troubling ordeals throughout the book. He is aided in this journey by
a curandera named Ultima, who teaches Tony many life lessons. Anaya uses animals to symbolize
intangible attributes such as good and evil. Representing Ultima, he uses the owl, which serves as
the good character, while the coyote represents evil, portrayed by Tenorio. The Golden Carp is a
symbol of Tony’s uncertainty toward religion and morality. Anaya’s portrayal of these mystical
characteristics shapes Tony’s ascent into manhood.
The need for good is represented by the owl, which symbolizes Ultima. The symbolic
value of the owl is seen early in the story when Tony calls it “Ultima’s owl” (12). Tony is aware
of the presence of the owl because he “heard the owl cry its warning” before the death of Lupito
(14). This foreshadowing of events occurs throughout the book, and shows the magical powers
Tony believed to belong to the owl / Ultima. Because of these powers Tony’s life is very
confusing and unstable. The owl also proves to be a savior to Antonio’s family when it “pounced
on the coyotes” while Ultima and Tony are helping Uncle Lucas (92). Tony realizes that in order
to be successful, he must heed the warnings that come to him through nature, and his dreams. He
learns that he must put himself in vulnerable positions, like the owl who risks it’s life, to help
others.
Evil, on the other hand, is symbolized by coyotes and the character of Tenorio. Before
Tenorio is involved in the story, there is no mention of the wickedness of the coyotes, but once he
shows up, they’re constantly on the side of evil. Tony refers to Tenorio’s friends as a “ring of
coyotes around him” (83). A unique perspective differentiates Tony from the other characters in
the story. Once an idea is implanted into his mind, it remains there in his subconscious. Later in
the story he even calls the coyotes Tenorio’s -- “He ran to find refuge behind two of his coyotes”
(124). In times of death Tony also mentions the “circling” of hawks (104, 231). Even if this is
just coincidence, Tony finds it important that scavengers be associated to the evil deeds
committed. The connection that Tony makes between animals that live off the misfortune of
others, and Tenorio, who holds vengeance toward others, is another step towards his realization
of the world.
The Golden Carp represents all the questions Tony has about religion and morality.
Tony’s confusion is due to conflicting forces in both these aspects of life. When Cico first
introduces the Carp to Tony, he is forced to make a tough decision -- “Do you believe the Golden
Carp is a god?” -- which he skillfully evades until he has the information he wants to make his
decision (99). After the emergence of the Carp, Tony begins to question his Catholic upbringing,
and he wonders why God punishes people. Florence, his atheist friend, explains his philosophy
toward religion, and this pulls Tony even farther away from priesthood, which he desired at the
outset of the story. Tony’s exclamation “Seeing him made questions and worries evaporate...” is
a good example of how his beliefs shifted drastically in this short period due to his coming of age
(227). By the end of the book Tony is interested in not which is the right god, rather how he
must live his life to satisfy his own beliefs.
Anaya uses animals to help Tony ease through the process of maturing, which Tony is
forced to do in a short period. The animals help young Tony express his feelings through a
medium that relates to both the reader and Tony. Because of all the violence and death, Tony’s
perspective is different, as a young child, then other children his age. Symbolism is the key to
understanding the thoughts occurring in Tony’s mind, while he is experiencing things for the first
time in his own unique way.