Under the Feet of Jesus

Under the Feet of Jesus

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by Helena Maria Viramontes
     
 

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With the same audacity with which John Steinbeck wrote about migrant worker conditions in The Grapes of Wrath and T.C. Boyle in The Tortilla Curtain, Viramontes (The Moths and Other Stories) presents a moving and powerful vision of the lives of the men, women, and children who endure a second-class existence and labor under dangerous conditions in

Overview

With the same audacity with which John Steinbeck wrote about migrant worker conditions in The Grapes of Wrath and T.C. Boyle in The Tortilla Curtain, Viramontes (The Moths and Other Stories) presents a moving and powerful vision of the lives of the men, women, and children who endure a second-class existence and labor under dangerous conditions in California's fields.   This first novel tells the story a young girl, Estrella, and her Latino family as they struggle with arduous farm labor during the summer months, and still manage to latch onto the hope of a liberating future.  Viramontes graces the page with poetic touch, artfully describing poverty conditions and bringing to the reader a panoramic view of social consciousness and unforgettable characters.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Stunning… blends lyricism, harsh realism and concern for social justice.”—Newsweek

“The best literary fiction makes its villains out of situations rather than people, and finds its heroes not in noble victors but in the spirit of ordinary men and women. In this lyrical tale of a fruit-picking family in some nameless weedy place, there is no sadistic overseer, unless it is the pitiless sun, which sucks sweat and hope from laboring bodies. Viramontes's novel comes the closest of any yet to universalizing this appalling life.”—Joanne Omang, The Washington Post

“A nationally acclaimed author… one of the country's premier Latina writers.”—Jeff Kass, Los Angeles Times

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This first novel adds another important chapter to the existing body of literature about the Mexican-American experience. Viramontes (The Moths and Other Stories), who teaches at Cornell, does not offer deep characterization or psychological complexity here. Instead, working firmly in the social-realist vein of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, she paints a harrowing ensemble portrait of migrant laborers in California's fruit fields. The family of 13-year-old Estrella, and the others with whom they travel and work, burn under 109-degree heat until the backs of their necks sting; women nurse their babies in the backs of pickups. Viramontes depicts this world with a sensuous physicality, as when Petra, Estrella's mother, digs a fingernail into the melting tar of a blacktop highway. And the close quarters in which her characters are forced to live promotes a collective intimacy that Viramontes evokes with a sure hand, conveying the solace to be found in solidarity while never losing sight of the fact that these people enjoy absolutely no privacy. Slow and wandering at the outset, the novel picks up after a small plane releases a white shower of deadly pesticide, which washes over the face of Alejo, a teenager who is perched in a peach tree, busy stealing the soft, ripe fruit. Alejo is drenched with poison, much to the horror of Estrella, who has fallen in love with him. Alejo becomes sick with what the migrants call ``dao of the fields''-so sick that the de facto leader of the workers wants to leave him behind. But Estrella makes it her mission to help save him, and she is driven to great sacrifice in order to do so. Into this unforgiving world, Viramontes pours archetypal themes of the passage of time, young love, the bonds and tensions between generations and, above all, the straining of the spirit to transcend miserable material conditions. (Apr.)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780452273870
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/28/1996
Pages:
192
Sales rank:
115,643
Product dimensions:
5.03(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.49(d)
Lexile:
1000L (what's this?)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Helena Maria Viramontes is the author of the novel Under the Feet of Jesus and the story collection The Moths. Born and raised in East Los Angeles, California, Ms. Viramontes currently lives in Ithaca, New York, where she is a creative writing professor at Cornell University.

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Under the Feet of Jesus 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The focus of the novel Under the Feet of Jesus is around the plight of the migrant worker¿s life. A girl named Estrella is the protagonist. She and her family are poor Mexican immigrants, struggling to keep a few dollars in their pockets and keep themselves from being totally destitute. There are several cyclical symbols in this novel, most notably the cycle of poverty among the migrant workers, Estrella¿s family in particular. The migrant workers¿ lives depend on the seasons, the constant cycle of the year. They also move homes often, depending on the harvests in need at certain times of the year. Their lives are a cycle of work as well as the generational cycle of poverty. Estrella and her step-father Perfecto are so different in their personalities and ages, but are both bound by the same fate. Perfecto is very old, past seventy and has lived as a migrant worker and is nearing the end of his life. Estrella is young, only thirteen and is just beginning her life. The cycle of their lives, generation after generation continue to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors by becoming migrant workers, because they cannot rise above poverty. For the migrant workers, life forces children like Estrella to mature faster than they would ordinarily. She must help her mother care for the four other children. Estrella is very young and has to take on the burden of many responsibilities to help her mother and Perfecto. Perfecto is from another generation and had a previous marriage many years earlier. He is getting old and does not want the burden of all these extra children who are not even his. ¿Perfecto wanted to load up his tools, a few blankets, some peaches. He couldn¿t tell whether it was love or simply fear that held him back¿ (162). He contemplates leaving Petra and her family to escape the burden that they have placed on him. Perfecto has never gotten out of the migrant worker cycle in his lifetime and he sees a pregnant Petra with her five children and knows the cycle will continue. The multiple generations between Perfecto and Estrella has had no difference on their financial status. Perfecto is as poor now as he was when he was young, and Estrella and her family are as poor as he is, and probably always will be. Though many years have gone by with these three generations, there does not seem to be any change in their financial situation. ¿Morning, noon, or night, four or fourteen or forty it was all the same¿ (53). Estrella thinks about how at any age this cycle of work will continue until she dies, and then start all over again with a new generation. Symbolism abounds within this novel and the reader is not told whether or not Estrella¿s family escapes this poverty, although the conclusion has a double meaning, one of sadness or hope depending on how you perceive it. The cycle of the migrant worker¿s difficult life is vividly displayed by Viramontes using poignant, descriptive language.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Adolescence is a perplexing period of a child¿s life. Estrella, a 13 year old migrant worker, experiences this unexpected time of maturation while managing the complications life has bestowed upon her family. Through Viramontes¿ use of vivid imagery there is an urgency portrayed in these settings and emotions; the reader becomes instantly sympathetic towards each character¿s struggles and triumphs. Petra, Estrella¿s mother, attempts to raise five children alone after her husband abandons their family in a time of despair. Eventually she is aided by an older man who secretly has a burning desire to return home, but feels Petra¿s need for companionship and assistance. With the lack of a stationary home and financial instability, the odds are against Petra¿s family to survive, but her compassion and strength cease to relent, ¿Tell me to go to the devil, Petra replied, tell me I¿m crazy. But don¿t tell me that. Don¿t tell me I can¿t.¿ (Viramontes 98). Petra and Estrella continue to illustrate self-assertion of identity throughout the novella. Estrella grows to appreciate her mother¿s struggles, but realizes the need to change the outcome. Estrella¿s admiration for her mother becomes more pronounced as she recognizes the trouble she has been through to provide for her family. Petra¿s surviving qualities are reflected in her daughter as Estrella discovers her new found self-identity and determination to discontinue the cycle of constraints she so often encounters. Estrella¿s passion, curiosity, and growth arise from her mother¿s characteristics and triumphs. Petra has significant influences on Estrella¿s developing independence through her role as a daughter, sister, lover, and worker. After reading this novella, I examined multiple reviews¿editorial and public opinion. It became apparent that editorial reviews strictly analyze the writing style, and do not attempt to delve into what the author may be trying to convey. A review from Publishers Weekly states that, ¿Viramontes does not offer deep characterization or psychological complexity¿, but had previously stated within the review that Under the Feet of Jesus ¿adds another important chapter¿about the Mexican-American experience¿. It is true that this piece of literature discusses the hardships that many migrant families were forced to endure, but there is so much more to the book than the timeline of their lives. Viramontes uses a multitude of structural devices (metaphors, vivid imagery, symbolism) to reveal larger issues circulating within the Chicano community, such as resentment toward white people, economic hardships, inferiority, and the monotonous feeling of a cyclical lifestyle. By investigating various passages it becomes apparent that Viramontes definitely shapes deep characterization and psychological complexity. Throughout the book, Viramontes follows the thought processes of multiple characters. Perfecto is seen as a psychologically complex character through his many reflections, ¿Perfecto lived in a travesty of laws. He knew nothing of their source, but it seemed his very existence contradicted the lives of others, so that everything he did like eat, sleep, work, and love was prohibited¿ (Viramontes 83). There are so many other passages involving the mental states of characters, depicting the characters as very developed. I think it is through these deep characterizations that the Mexican-American experience is actually illustrated. It has also been suggested that this novella will ¿hit home in Latin literature collections¿ by Gilbert Taylor from Booklist; this statement underestimates the power of Under the Feet of Jesus. Although it is a quick read, it colorfully illustrates endless issues that any individual may grapple with. For this reason, this novella will be of great value to any literature collection. Although the Latin community will appreciate it, this work deserves recognition beyond those parameters. It is inevitabl
Guest More than 1 year ago
Adolescence is a perplexing period of a child¿s life. Estrella, a 13 year old migrant worker, experiences this unexpected time of maturation while managing the complications life has bestowed upon her family. Through Viramontes¿ use of vivid imagery there is an urgency portrayed in these settings and emotions; the reader becomes instantly sympathetic towards each character¿s struggles and triumphs. Petra, Estrella¿s mother, attempts to raise five children alone after her husband abandons their family in a time of despair. Eventually she is aided by an older man who secretly has a burning desire to return home, but feels Petra¿s need for companionship and assistance. With the lack of a stationary home and financial instability, the odds are against Petra¿s family to survive, but her compassion and strength cease to relent. Estrella¿s admiration for her mother becomes more pronounced as she recognizes the trouble she has been through to provide for her family. Petra¿s surviving qualities are reflected in her daughter as she discovers her new found self-identity and determination to discontinue the cycle of constraints she so often encounters. Other reviews discuss Estrella¿s passion, curiosity, and growth, but it is necessary to emphasize her mother¿s characteristics and triumphs as significant influences on Estrella¿s developing independence through her role as a daughter, sister, lover, and worker. It has also been suggested that this novella will ¿hit home in Latin literature collections¿ by Gilbert Taylor from Booklist; this statement underestimates the power of Under the Feet of Jesus. Although it is a quick read, it colorfully illustrates endless issues that any individual may grapple with. For this reason, this novella will be of great value to any literature collection. Although the Latin community will appreciate it, this work deserves recognition beyond those parameters. It is inevitable that any reader will identify with the many facets portrayed. Estrella¿s family is part of this culture, but their story is applicable to a multitude of others, and is essential in illustrating past and present experiences in America. To deny this piece as important to other literature collections is ignorant of the issues it so brilliantly exposes. This novella depicts how love will prevail in the absence of material possessions. It displays a longing for love, a dependence on love, a new recognition of love, and the guiding love for a family throughout this ill-fated situation. Beyond the depiction of love, hope is consistently rising within the characters. Anyone will appreciate the vulnerable relationships that are imperative in revealing the prominent symbolism Viramontes has to offer. Through each character¿s lens, different interpretations of emotions are exhibited, and all are aligned with common desires and questions of the human soul.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The first time I read this book I was a little confused and didn't quite pick up on all of the symbolism. The second time I read it, I was amazed at how one person could intertwine so many symbolic references and still have a great story. You really have to pay attention when you are reading it, but you get out of it exactly what you put in.