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Helena Maria Viramontes' first novel Under the Feet of Jesus was released in the United States by Plume. This story follows a Mexican-American family as they work in California's grape fields. Viramontes uses symbols to tell her story. Below are some of my favorite moments from this novel. Aside from the love story between Estrella and Alejo, I also enjoyed the plot twists and symbolism.
Estrella's birth certificate
The story opens with Estrella discovering that her birth certificate is buried under the feet of Jesus. She is conscious of her social standing and is frightened by the upcoming baseball game. Despite her fears, Estrella tries to stay calm by telling herself that she has the legal paperwork proving that she is a citizen of both the United States and Mexico.
As the story unfolds, we learn about the life of an immigrant woman and her struggle to obtain citizenship in the United States. Petra, a neighbor of Estrella, tells her daughter that her birth certificate is "under the feet of Jesus," which means under the feet of Jesus. The birth certificate is irrelevant, but it still serves as a reminder of Estrella's identity and where she came from.
Petra's relationship with Alejo
In this novel, Petra has been nurturing the sick Alejo since he was born. The illness is a test from God. Petra's concern for him contrasts with Perfecto's passive acceptance of his lot in life. Petra is not interested in curing him; instead, she sees caring for him as a way to help him.
After Alejo is taken to the hospital, Petra looks under the statue to see the birth certificates of her five children and a marriage certificate from when she married her husband in Santa Ana. The documents serve as proof against immigration. Petra contemplates her life and the future, not wanting her daughter to fall in love with another man but rather with someone similar to her first husband. She also worries that Estrella will start having her first period in a few weeks, but despite her health problems, she is unwilling to give up on her beloved son.
Gumecindo's refusal to allow the family to care for Alejo
Despite Perfecto's refusal to let the family take care of Alejo, Petra refuses to give up the child, and they continue to nurse him back to health. Perfecto, however, does not agree, and Petra begins to develop morning sickness. Petra's feelings of failure and despair are palpable. Petra's fear for the unborn child's health and deformity make her feel as though she has failed the test.
Gumecindo's refusal to let the family take care of Alejo leads to many unpleasant incidents. During an illicit peach picking session, Alejo encounters Estrella. She becomes fascinated with Estrella and her family, and begins to beg for food. Alejo, however, is born into a poor Latino family and lives with his grandmother, who works several jobs to support him. This means he has lived in one location his entire life and has attended regular school.
Viramonte's use of symbolism
The novel, Under the feet of Jesus, by Helena Maria Viramontes, explores migration as an ongoing process for immigrants. Through different imagery and symbolism, Viramontes shows how life in the West can be harsh, and yet it is possible for someone to break out of this cycle of poverty and misery. For example, Estrella's migrant status leads her to feel oppressed, but she takes action to change her circumstances.
The novel's focus on migrant workers is complicated, but Viramontes is able to convey the reality of this situation with her symbolic representations. The barn serves as a symbol of a church, while a statue of Jesus represents a Christian faith. Similarly, Petra's baby doll symbolizes her views on silence. All of these symbols suggest a more complex reality for migrant workers, namely that of a lack of a voice.
Viramonte's development of Estrella's character
The use of figurative language and indirect characterization by Helena Maria Viramontes reveals Estrella's frustration with her mediocre education. Through comparing Estrella's temperament and tools to the foreign alphabet, Viramontes demonstrates Estrella's hunger for knowledge. The novel also highlights Estrella's resentment at her teachers' inability to teach her.
In Under the feet of Jesus Book, Helena Maria Viramontes uses figurative language to develop Estrella's character. Through her characterization, Estrella is portrayed as a sensitive and intelligent young woman who tries to do well but is frustrated by her parents' unhelpful attitudes. Her characterization of the teacher resembles a demonic or satanic figure, and her tone serves a dual purpose: to make Estrella's perspective clear, while also highlighting her frustration.
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