WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?
Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.
HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?
Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!
(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)
THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:
Recommend a Diverse Classic
PBS’s The Great American Read, an eight-part television series celebrating and discussing America’s top 100 novels as chosen by a survey of approximately 7,200 people, introduced me to the Chicano classic Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya back in 2018. Although I learned that the book has made it onto some regional school lists, I had never even heard the title before. I was in for a treat.
Bless Me, Ultima recounts the story of Antonio, a boy growing up on the edge of the llano. Torn between his mother’s love for the earth and his father’s love of freedom, his belief in the Catholic church and the miracles he has seen performed by Ultima the curandera, Antonio struggles to find his place in the world.
I often feel drawn to books that explore the struggles characters have with faith. For some people, faith is such a clear-cut thing, a solid truth they can rely on throughout life. Others, however, may find tension in how faith seems to conflict with reason, or how one faith contradicts another. Antonio is confused because he has been raised Catholic, but he sees that Ultima relies on wisdom from her ancestors that the church rejects–and consequently, seems to have great power. How can he reconcile the two worldviews?
Bless Me, Ultima is a coming-of-age story because Antonio must come to the realization that not everything authority figures have told him may be true. He has to work through disillusionment and determine what he believes in, and what kind of life he wants to lead. He no longer has to capacity to accept whatever he is told, because he knows now that the world is full of contradictions. He has to resolve those contradictions within himself.
Some have found Bless Me, Ultima controversial, but I enjoyed the honest look Rudolfo Anaya provides of one boy’s interior life. Antonio is not perfect, it is true. He is human. And so he should be expected to have questions, to make mistakes, to wonder what is true, and to long for more certainty than the world can ever give. Antonio’s story is beautiful because it is real.