In Bless Me, Ultima, Antonio leaves his childhood behind and seeks to reconcile his conflicting cultural and religious identities. Although Antonio is only six years old at the start of the narrative, he already possesses a keenly questioning mind, a great deal of moral curiosity, and a solemn appreciation for the seriousness of life. Some of his traits are typical of children his age, such as his anxiety at leaving his mother to start school. In other ways, Antonio is extraordinary.
He is much more serious than other children, particularly compared to his rowdy and vulgar group of young friends. He is also acutely sensitive to his ambiguous place in the world, as he is trapped between two competing cultural visions. His father is a vaquero who wants Antonio to ride the llano and appreciate the open prairie; his mother is a daughter of farmers who wants Antonio to become a priest. Antonio is deeply troubled about his own uncertain destiny, but Ultima, a folk healer, guides him in his efforts to understand the world.After Antonio witnesses the death of Lupito, one of the town’s residents, his moral searching becomes even more intense, as he suddenly plunges into a crisis of faith. He becomes unsure for the first time about the validity of the Catholic faith. His intense desire to know the truth, one of the major components of his character, leads him into a spiral of questioning and uncertainty regarding sin, innocence, death, the afterlife, forgiveness, and the nature of God.
For the rest of the novel, Antonio develops from childhood to maturity, as Ultima teaches him to make his own moral choices, to live in harmony with nature, to draw from all the traditions available to him, and to refrain from judging others when their beliefs differ from his own. Ultima’s guidance leads Antonio to resolve many of the conflicts within and around him. He realizes that he can determine his future and that he alone will decide what he becomes.Though the novel is narrated by the adult Antonio looking back over his childhood, we never learn what Antonio does decide to do with his life, whether he becomes a priest, a vaquero or something entirely different.
Ultima remarks sadly to Maria that Antonio’s destiny is to become “a man of learning,” and in the most general sense, this idea is probably more important than the question of Antonio’s career. Antonio is a man of learning because he understands that his experiences are lessons about life and because he knows that he must take life’s lessons to heart, even when they are difficult, painful, or disappointing.