Magic or Reality in One Hundred Years of Solitude and Bless Me Ultima
In the South American storytelling tradition it is said that humans are possessed of a hearing that goes beyond the ordinary. This special form is the soul’s way of paying attention and learning. The story makers or cantadoras of old spun tales of mystery and symbolism in order to wake the sleeping soul. They wished to cause it to prick up its ears and listen to the wisdom contained within the telling. These ancient methods evolved naturally into the writings of contemporary Latin American authors. The blending of fantasy with reality to evoke a mood or emphasize elements of importance became known as magical realism, and was employed to great effect by Latin authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Rudolfo Anaya, in his work, Bless Me Ultima.
Bless Me Ultima introduces Antonio, a young boy caught between differing worlds, ultimately having to make a decision as to where he stands in relation to them. Throughout the story of his coming of age, Antonio is pulled between the stability of his mother’s family and the wandering spirit of his father’s people. Spanning the distance between the two universes is his grandmother, Ultima, a healer of great depth and power. Through her gentle influence and instruction, Antonio is guided to the realization of who he is and his place in the world. Anaya’s use of magic realism gives Antonio’s story a depth that would have been lacking without its inherent symbolism. An often-repeated mystical component is the image of the owl. Not an ordinary bird, this is a magical creature that follows Ultima, acting as her messenger and intermediary. Antonio establishes his relationship with the owl when Ultima first arrives at his family’s home. At the outset he is apprehensive as he has heard that brujas, or witches, often go about in owl disguise, but his worry soon turns to trust as both his nights and his days are filled with the owl’s positive influence. By the time of Ultima’s death at the end of the story, the owl has taken on great significance in Antonio’s life and consequently in the progression of his understanding. "It was true" states Antonio "that the owl was Ultima’s spirit. It had come with Ultima, and as men brought evil to our hills the owl had hovered over us, protecting us." (Anaya, 256).
Other animals play a magical part in Antonio's story. There is the golden carp, an enchanted fish that Antonio sets out to find. He is inexplicably drawn toward finding the carp, and communing with it. The golden carp is a representation of the pagan gods that the Catholic Church had set its edicts against. This prohibition causes Antonio great consternation and internal debate. He wonders if his desire to find the fish is a lessening of his worthiness in the eyes of the church and in the eyes of God. None the less, he embarks on his quest. He takes a companion with him as his guide....