Adversity Shapes Morale in Under the Feet of Jesus

June 7, 2019 by Essay Writer

In the novel Under the Feet of Jesus, author Helena María Viramontes introduces the protagonist Estrella as a poor and uneducated girl. Estrella is a migrant, and therefore her teachers do not treat her well. Her inability to speak or write English deprives her of the necessary skills to make due in society. In the excerpt, society is a place where the values of morality, such as benevolence, are ignored by the majority and practiced by the few. Additionally, Viramontes contrasts positions of power throughout the excerpt to represent the ability to affect others through actions and words. Due to the fact that the excerpt takes place during the 20th century in the United States, tension between migrants and whites is high. The third-person omniscient point-of-view that Viramontes employs allows the reader to understand the sentiments of multiple characters, thus creating a more personal connection to the excerpt. Viramontes reveals Estrella as a girl with an ardent passion to learn, but who is initially frustrated with the lack of information she receives from her teachers. With the help of a handyman named Perfecto Flores; however, Estrella is able to convert her negative emotions towards the lack of education she receives into positive energy. Perfecto’s faith in Estrella’s ability transforms Estrella into a student who meets social academic standards despite her initial frustration. Perfecto gives Estrella the necessary tools—both literal and symbolic—to help her overcome the challenge of adapting to society. In a sense, Perfecto creates a new world for Estrella. In this world, Estrella is free to entertain her curiosity in any way that she wishes without having to worry about the negative influence of others. Through the character of Estrella, Viramontes shows that adversity—commonly a negative obstacle—can be seen as the impetus behind people achieving their goals. Viramontes opens the excerpt with an interrogative to characterize Estrella’s uncertainty: “So what is this?” (Viramontes line 1). Viramontes refers to Perfecto’s red tool chest at the beginning of the excerpt to inform the reader of Estrella’s confusion. When Estrella comes across the tool chest she does not know what to make of it. To her, the contents of the tool chest represent foreign objects; she feels as if she will never know the meaning behind these objects. Viramontes also uses the interrogative to foreshadow the tone. Estrella will be hesitant in her thoughts and actions throughout the excerpt. In addition, Viramontes goes on to say that “[…] [Estrella] became very angry [after coming upon Perfecto’s tool chest]” (lines 3 and 4). Here, Viramontes establishes Estrella’s character. Estrella is the type of girl who succumbs to adversity rather than overcome it. She is angered by her inability to understand the contents of the tool chest. Although Estrella is eager to learn, her negative attitude toward overcoming hardship shows that she lacks maturity. To further emphasize Estrella’s negative attitude, Viramontes also describes Estrella as easily frustrated: “Estrella hated when things were kept from her. The teachers in the schools did the same, never giving her the information she wanted” (line 13-15). In this instance, Viramontes specifically describes Estrella’s hunger for knowledge. Estrella is incensed when her teachers do not give her the information she wants. Instead, they are more concerned about her hygiene rather than her education. This prevalent thought amongst her teachers annoys Estrella. Estrella’s teacher, Mrs. Horn, epitomizes this idea of hygiene before education. “Mrs. Horn […] asked how come her mama never gave her a bath” (lines 32-35). Estrella realizes the power of words after Mrs. Horn asks Estrella why her mother never bathes her. It takes a rude comment such as Mrs. Horn’s to make Estrella recognize that words have power. Mrs. Horn’s comments hurt Estrella psychologically in that they make her self-conscious of her appearance, but they also make Estrella understand that if said with enough spite, words have the power to inflict the deepest pain. Mrs. Horn’s harsh words cause Estrella to come to a realization, and a direct result of that realization is that Estrella becomes even more determined to learn. Additionally, Viramontes uses similes and metaphors throughout the excerpt to further accentuate Estrella’s lack of knowledge: “The curves of the tools made no sense and the shapes were as foreign and meaningless to her as chalky lines on the blackboard” (lines 43-45). Although Estrella has an immense hunger to learn, she has trouble understanding the symbols on the blackboard. Viramontes uses a simile to describe Estrella’s inability to grasp the meaning behind the figures in order to further convey her message. She implies that although it may seem like Estrella’s struggles are slowing her down, in reality they are actually inadvertently making Estrella reach her goal of being educated by forcing her to adapt to society. As the excerpt progresses, Estrella learns to channel her displeasure in a more positive manner with the help of Perfecto Flores. Perfecto does what Estrella’s teachers do not: give her the opportunity to learn. “He opened up the tool chest, as if bartering for her voice, lifted a chisel and hammer; aquí, pegarle aquí […]” (lines 53-54). Perfecto opening the tool chest for Estrella can be interpreted in two different ways. First, it can be interpreted literally, as Perfecto shows Estrella the physical contents of the tool chest. Second, and more importantly, it can be perceived as metaphoric. By opening the tool chest, Perfecto opens the door to an unknown world for Estrella—a world full of knowledge. Estrella has never entered the world of knowledge, but with the helping hand of Perfecto, she is able to enter this world and learn beyond measure. Perfecto nurtures Estrella’s curiosity by giving her the necessary tools to satisfy her inquisitive mind. Unlike Estrella’s teachers at school, Perfecto cares enough about Estrella to take the time to teach her. Moreover, it is also important to note that Perfecto transitions from speaking English to Spanish with Estrella when he says “aquí, pegarle aquí” (here, hit here). This change in language during one of the most critical parts of the excerpt indicates that Perfecto actually cares about Estrella and her education. By speaking Spanish to Estrella Perfecto sympathizes with Estrella’s struggles and shows that he is willing to help her overcome them. It is also important to note that the excerpt changes point-of-view from third-person to second-person when Perfecto teaches Estrella how to open the tool chest: “If that doesn’t work, because your manitas aren’t strong yet, fasten the vise pliers, these, then twist the pliers with your hammer” (lines 60-62). The change in point-of-view signifies the extent to which Perfecto cares about Estrella. As Viramontes did when switching the language from English to Spanish, changing the point-of-view from third to second-person reveals Perfecto as a man who truly cares about Estrella and her education. He wants more than anything for Estrella to learn and to be successful. In addition to teaching Estrella how to open the tool chest and showing her the contents of the tool chest, Perfecto also takes time to explain the significance of each tool: “Perfecto Flores taught her the names that went with the tools: a claw hammer, he said with authority, miming its function; screwdrivers, see, holding up various heads and pointing to them […] names that gave meaning to the tools” (lines 63-70). When showing Estrella the contents of the tool chest, Perfecto takes time to indicate the importance of each tool. Perfecto teaches Estrella—something that her teachers refuse to do. Perfecto’s actions suggest that he values education much more than Estrella’s teachers. By taking the time to teach Estrella, Perfecto refocuses Estrella’s anger and turns it into a newfound desire to learn. Now more than ever, Estrella develops an endless hunger for knowledge. In concluding her excerpt, Viramontes thereby leaves the reader with a sense of how much Estrella’s character develops. She is no longer stubborn and naïve, rather a girl who has matured to the fullest degree. Viramontes concludes: “She lifted the pry bar in her hand […] weighed the significance it awarded her, and soon she came to understand how essential it was to know these things. That was when she began to read” (lines 71-76). The fact that Viramontes ends her excerpt on an optimistic note suggests that Estrella is ultimately successful in overcoming adversity. Through the help of Perfecto and his tools, Estrella is able to adjust to the standards of society by learning how to read. When contrasted, the first paragraph and last paragraph of the excerpt represent two different ideas, yet these ideas are of vital importance to the development of the excerpt. The first paragraph reveals Estrella’s uncertainty and frustration; the last exposes Estrella in a more positive light. Viramontes brings Estrella’s character into full circle. Estrella has undergone the most dramatic of character transformations. Viramontes uses Estrella’s situation to depict that a negative emotion such as anger or frustration can actually be used as motivation to achieve one’s goals. Estrella’s transformation from a spiteful girl to a mature child with a hunger to learn signifies the extent to which the obstacles Estrella faces have helped her. At first, Estrella must deal with the challenge of overcoming a language barrier that impedes her ability to clearly articulate her emotions. As a result, Estrella is consistently frustrated with her inability to adapt to society. Yet, through the guidance of Perfecto Flores and a newfound ambition to learn, Estrella is able to change her outlook and conform to society by learning how to read. Perfecto’s patience and dedication towards Estrella’s education contributes greatly to Estrella’s success. With the help of Perfecto, Estrella turns her frustration into motivation. Through her excerpt, Viramontes suggests that although adversity is commonly seen as a hurdle in overcoming obstacles, in some cases, such as Estrella’s, it can actually be seen as positive, inspiring people to achieve the impossible.

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