Under the Feet of Jesus
Under the Feet of Jesus as Bildungsroman
The Bildungsroman literary genre convention dwells on the growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood morally and psychologically. Works that have employed the literary genre can also be referred to as coming of age genres. The novel by Viramontes entitled Under the Feet of Jesus gives an account of the plight of a family that lives as migrants. It has aspects that indicate similarities with the theories of the Bildungsroman. The essay evaluates how and to what extent the events of the novel fit the genre conventions in the Bildungsroman. Furthermore, the essay will delve into the justification behind the choice to use or not to use the genre conventions to enhance the theme of struggle as Estrella and her family experience hardships, focusing on migration and adolescence which characterize the life of the protagonist Estrella and her family.
Estrella and her family are traveling on the road heading to another destination. The illustration above paints the picture of a struggling family. The seven members are squeezed into a car described by the author as old. They bear the tough conditions as they move from one place to another, in agreement with the Bildungsroman genre convention that describes a problematic start that has a desired end (Barkley 16). The journey is just the start of struggles that face the characters as they develop in the buildup of the plot.
During the journey, Estrella is curious to know their destination. Despite the tough conditions in the old car, she raises her head trying to see their destination (Viramontes 59). The interest she shows make her exceptional in the crowded vehicle setting her apart from the rest pitting her as the protagonist according to the theory of Bildungsroman. The theory of the Bildungsroman stipulates that the protagonist stands out from the rest and puts herself or himself in a position to address a common problem (Lukacs 132). The individuals in the car are faced by a similar problem but the curiosity of Estrella shows her interest to know where they are going, unlike her siblings who also do not know their destination but manage to ignore it.
On arrival to their destination, Petra and her Husband Perfecto start inspecting the Cabin. Petra is Estrella’s mother while Perfecto is Petra’s boyfriend. Perfecto finds a dead bird and a scorpion in the Cabin and chooses to hide the dead bird from Petra (Viramontes 67). This reveals Perfecto’s nature, he prefers to be silent to avoid causing a problem. Perfecto is similar to the majority as expressed in the Bildungsroman who would prefer getting used to a problem rather than face the risks associated with trying to solve the problem (Lukacs 132).
Petra, on the other hand, warns her children immediately not to walk barefoot because of the presence of scorpions (Viramontes 68). Petra knows through her struggle that scorpions are dangerous and walking barefoot isn’t advisory in such an environment. In the Bildungsroman, personalities who have learned a phenomenon through experience are resourceful and act as a light to the rest who end up believing in a certain way of life as illustrated by the learned individual (Lukacs 133). Petra uses her knowledge to help the children during their struggle as migrants.
As the narrative develops we encounter Alejo and his cousin Gumecindo who are migrants. They have adapted to the hard life imminent to Petra and her family. Alejo and Gumecindo are illustrated stealing fruits hastily being cautious of the owner (Viramontes 96). This depicts a harsh environment from where the protagonist is supposed to rise from as defined by the Bildungsroman standard. According to the theory of the Bildungsroman, a protagonist will only rise in the midst of hardships (Buckley 17). Alejo and his cousin have been used to paint a picture of the hardships that await the protagonist.
Life for Petra, her daughter Estrella and the rest of the family has been difficult since. Initially, Petra was married to Estrella’s real father. Estrella’s father left them alone and never came back. Estrella’s mother was distraught but remembered how hard her father toiled and how her daughter Estrella tries her best to Keep the Boys happy (Viramontes 109). Petra’s interior change was affected by external social factors, he thought of her father and daughter and decided to fight. The theories of the Bildungsroman express that the theme a story is further developed through interior change experienced as a consequence of facing reality. (Buckley 17) This shows similarity with Petra’s decision to change her cause of action.
After Estrella’s father left Estrella had to learn to live without her father. The struggle to overcome the trauma of being walked out on by her biological father defines her character throughout the narrative. In the Bildungsroman, the struggle is overcome and the protagonist rises (Lukacs 134). For Estrella, the author chooses that the character will not overcome the predicament but uses it instead to facilitate the rise of the protagonist. At some point, later in their new destination, Estrella refutes instructions from Perfecto claiming that he is not her biological father. We also see Estrella gaining strength through Education. He was pushed to pursue education by the toolbox her father left (Viramontes 206). The author goes contrary to the theories of the Bildungsroman to depict the influence of Estrella’s Biological father on her life.
After the departure of Estrella’s father, the family was forced to work in Tomato plantations. In one of the tomato farms, Estrella met Maxine, a character who has been described as stubborn. Estrella and Maxine are age mates and they at first get along well. However, Estrella becomes upset when Maxine tells her that her mother is having sex with Perfecto (Viramontes 207). Estrella’s reaction shows that she has grown and understands the implication of what Maxine is saying. She starts a tussle with Maxine over the issue forcing the foreman to fire their family. The genre conventions in the theory of Bildungsroman express that growth is influenced by social life (Barkley 18). In the narrative, Estrella’s growth into the age of adolescence has been influenced by her hard life as the scene with Maxine reflects.
Furthermore, as Estrella washes a watermelon it accidentally falls into the river, this forces Estrella to undress and swim towards the watermelon (Viramontes 112). The author describes Estrella’s appearance at that moment vividly using expressions that imply beauty. Alejo looks on from a distance dazed by Estrella’s beauty. This builds on the theme of love amidst the struggle. In the Bildungsroman framework, the protagonist goes through intimate relationships that build or destroy them (Buckley 18). The attraction of Alejo towards Estrella indicates that they are adolescents and farther conforms to the Bildungsroman.
As they live their migrant lives, Petra’s family has deeply sought desires. The life of a migrant is tough to the family including Estrella who is going through the problems associated with being a migrant and an adolescent. Estrella beliefs that education is her salvation and tries to change the situation her and her family are going through by enlightening herself. However, most of the family members are trying to cope with their problems by adapting to them. The plot of the novel employs the conventions of the Bildungsroman where the hero decides to address a common problem after experiencing life through a difficult perspective. The conventions of the genre help bring out the theme of struggle depicted through the experiences of a migrant family and the life an adolescent in the novel.
- Buckley, Jerome Hamilton. Season of youth: The Bildungsroman from Dickens to Golding. Harvard Univ Pr, 1974.
- Lukács, Georg. ‘Wilhelm Meister’s Years of Apprenticeship as an Attempted Synthesis. Theory of the Novel: 132-42.
- Viramontes, Helena María. Under the feet of Jesus. Penguin, 1995.
Pandora’s Box in Under the Feet of Jesus
Pandoa’s Box was said to contain all the evils in the world, upon opening spreading sins around the Earth. In the excerpt from Viramontes’s Under the Feet of Jesus, the toolbox is similar to Pandora ’s Box as it contains Estrella’s future knowledge. Although the toolbox is a reoccurring theme throughout the passage, it is not the only thing that develops Estrella’s character. While developing the complexity of the piece that Estrella once hated the thing that brought her knowledge, Viramontes also creates the protagonist through selection of detail and tone, producing at least three main traits of Estrella: she was questioning and unintelligent until opening the toolbox, her mother tried but she did not have good hygiene, and her real educator was Perfecto Flores with the toolbox.
An author can use selection of detail to impose a negative or positive image of a character or setting upon the reader by withholding or adding information. In this piece, Viramontes utilizes selection of detail to create a visual image of the character both in her mental and physical aspect. First of all, Viramontes uses selection of detail to put forth the details that make Estrella seem dirty first and clueless first. Starting with line four the author tells the reader she is not very bright, stating “She had opened the tool chest and all that jumbled steel inside the box, the iron bars and things with handles, the funny-shaped objects, seemed as confusing and foreign as the alphabet she could not decipher.” (4-8) This states that, first off, Estrella does not yet know what the tools are and therefore what they do, also stating that she cannot read. Then, the passage shifts to school, where Estrella would “point to the diagonal lines written in chalk on the blackboard with a dirty fingernail.” (15-17) Using selection of detail, the author mixes Estrella’s lack of knowledge with a hit about her physical appearance, then leading on to a discussion of her braids (36) and lack of hygiene though her mom tried. (36-37) Selection of detail also brings forth some complexity in the piece. The tool box was hated by Estrella and Viramontes selected to portray this hatred as being “silent with rage” (10) yet immediately follow it with references to tools in comparison to letters, revealing that she hates the toolbox, yet it gives her knowledge.
Also used was tone to show how the classroom teacher was not the real educator and develop Estrella’s character as who she learns from. When discussing Estrella’s teachers, the narrator uses a somewhat upset tone that they “were more concerned about the dirt under her fingernails” (19-20) than the knowledge she was trying to acquire. This tone can be seen as the narrator discusses how they “inspected her head for lice” (21) not because they were concerned about her health, but how her health would affect them and the other children. However, when talking about Perfecto, the narrator adapts a more adoring tone, one that might be used when speaking about a father. The narrator shows that he cares for her when saying “your manitas aren’t strong yet” (58), suggesting that he has taken time to know her and what she has difficulty with and that he cares for her. Because he adapts this calm and caring tone, Estrella finds it essential to learn how to read rather than after her careless teachers scrub her head because she does not like them. Also, this shift in tone develops the complexity of the tool chest being hated and loved by Estrella. The piece is started off with a hateful tone towards it because it “kept [things] from her” (12) but in the 5th and 6th paragraphs the narrator seems to adore it because of the knowledge it has.
In this passage both tone and selection of detail are literary elements used by Viramontes to develop the character of Estrella and the complexity of the tool chest as a hated and loved object.
Motherhood, the Value of Labor, Marginalization, and Race in Under the Feet of Jesus
“Under the Feet of Jesus” shows the history of a Latino family’s struggle to flee poverty and to seek a secure life. Above all, the novel focuses on the challenges of family relationships among the awful operating conditions that exist for migrant employees. The story portrays many ideas throughout the book such as motherhood, the value of labor, marginalization, and race. These topics can be processed as themes of the novel overall, but they all play a contribution in the character of Estrella. The most centralized idea throughout the narrative is the idea of race and marginalization. An example of this is when Estrella visited the clinic. She had interactions with somebody outside of her own socio economic standing. With the scene of the nurse, the nurses look and behavior can trigger her of her own poverty and therefore shows the gulf between her and the conservative society the girl represents. This scene shows the difference between Estrella and the nurses social life in terms of the privileges Estrella doesn’t have. In addition to privilege, in Estrella’s family, it contributes to a bigger problem for them as a whole because of their race in such a conservative location.
Estrella relies deeply on the crowbar. For example, she uses the tool as a dominance of power. In one of the scenes while Estrella was at the hospital, she walks out of the clinic towards the car, where Rocky and Arnulfo are playing. She then proceeds to open the trunk and grab the crowbar. She went back inside and demanded to take back the money. She then threatens the nurse that she’ll “…smash these windows first, then all these glass jars if you don’t give us back our money” (Viramontes, 149). Once the nurse tries to protest, she sets the crowbar down, breaking the picture frame of the nurses kids. The nurse begins to cry and Estrella holds her hand out, waiting until she hands her the money. This scene shows the significance of the tool such as in one in all her early flashbacks, Estrella holds Perfecto’s crowbar and explains the “significance it awarded her”. Some time past, she thought the tools were a path to a meaningful existence within the American society. She then realized how the crowbar provided her with power, but its a certain power that builds a picture of a criminal in the eyes of society and cements her marginalization. This connection has a similarity to Audre Lorde’s poem “Who Said It Was Simple”, in terms of white privileged women. Their voices are easily heard and their rights are more effective in use compared to women of color and of their citizen status. In this case, Estrella is categorized as a woman of color and the majority of her family are not citizens of the U.S. Another conflict that occured with the nurse and Estrella was when Alejo asked if she hurt the nurse in any way. At this point, Alejo knew about the situation but didn’t know the full details because he wasn’t present during the crowbar situation. Near the clinic, Perfecto buys 5 dollars of gas. Estrella peers outside the window where she sees a valley full of grapes and harvesters. Alejo proceeded to ask Estrella if she hurt the nurse. Estrella then says “they make you that way…” by refusing to concentrate until “you pick up a crowbar” (Viramontes, 151). She then gets mad and thinks that Alejo is being impractical. He then tells her to not “make it so easy for them”. With this portion of the scene, Estrella’s remak implicitly argues that criminal behavior is usually caused by desperation, outstanding character. Alejo’s encouragement to not “make it easy for them” expresses his continuous hope to succeed within American society, but Estrella is currently convinced that she will solely move with that society as a helpless migrant or a forbidding figure with a crowbar. The tool is a symbolism for communication and power.
The value of labor also plays in a contribution in the race and marginalization. A moment during part four that shows this was when Estrella thought back to the tar pits. It looks that her family’s bones produce the oil within the pits, the oil that creates the nurse’s car to run and permits her to pick up her children. Within Estrella’s mind, she emphasizes how because of this statement, the nurse owes them more than they owe her. With this scene, the nurse sees Estrella and her family as those that depend upon her for charity. However, in the company by her deep information of her own labor, Estrella rethinks the situation to indicate that it’s actually the center category that’s deeply indebted to the migrants on whom it depends. She starts to realize how she’s not the only one impacted by this, but instead it’s quite a common action with other migrants. Another position that signifies on the value of labor and race and marginalization is when Perfecto heads to the hospital. He exits the main road and follow the signs of the hospital. Once he pulls into the parking zone, Perfecto keeps the car running and as a result of that, he’s distressed that the battery can die. He instructs Estrella to take a hold of Alejo inside and leave him; the nurses could take care of it from there. Estrella thanks him and hauls Alejo out of the car. Watching them leave, Perfecto reflects that though he’s “given this country his all”, nobody has ever thanked him as sincerely as the young girl did. Like Estrella, Perfecto has despaired of finding a meaningful place to locate society, that essentially ignore his contributions. The sole ease of his oppression are the non-public connections he forms with people who share his troubles, even as one in every of Estrella’s few comforts in her seperation.
Estrella also shows a sense of motherhood towards Alejo when he was taken to the hospital. At the hospital, the nurse concludes that Alejo has an infectious disease. However, she has no way to check her theory of why he’s ill. To check, he must attend the hospital in Corazon before he becomes too dehydrated. Petra and Perfecto are annoyed once Estrella translates his judgment, saying that it’s not their responsibility to take him to the hospital. Estrella reminds her mother that Gumecindo has gone back to Texas; there’s nobody except them to take him. Petra points out that Alejo doesn;t have papers with him, or cash to get medical aid. The twins question if Alejo is going to die, and Petra sends them outside. With this statement, the nurse is unable to supply relevant care and is clearly incurious with Alejo’s difficulty. It’s showing that even once the family manages to urge to the clinic, they don’t get pleasure from the quality of care accorded to a lot of privileged patients. McIntosh mentions how “white privilege is like an invisible weightless backpack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas,…” (McIntosh, 3). This has a connection with Estrella and her family in general because they lack some of these attributes because they’re not citizens. It’ s difficult for Estrella to roll through her everyday life because of not being of the same properties as a white woman. Estrella’s loyal obtaining of the new responsibility of taking Alejo to the hospital shows that she’s growing into her mother’s shoes. With the idea of race and marginalization, she couldn’t help but to care for her friend like a mother because of the mistreatment they have received at the clinic.
The novel “Under the Feet of Jesus” captures many ideas of mistreatment towards Estrella and her family because of their race, class and poverty. She’s a young woman who is a citizens in the States. Her and her family are migrant laborers, continuously moving to follow harvest season. Estrella, soon enough, has become the pacemaker among her family. With more of a privilege compared to her parents, she’s able to use her power to fight for what she stands for in terms of her rights and for her family. Even when she faces fears and dificulties such as facing discrimination and being in poverty, she uses her power to resolve it for the sake of her and for the protection of her family.
Postcolonial Literature and Its Depiction of Love and Relationships
In the works we have read this semester, we have learned that due to their identity crises, these characters suffer immensely in their lives. They have suffered in their relationships, falling in love in peculiar ways. In The God of Small Things, Ammu and her children show the love they have for each other is damaging as well as uncontrollable. Roy is accentuating the interdependence of private desire to bigger premises of history and social occurrences by writing about several dramatic love triangles. This story encompasses concerns of human relationships, violence, the convoluted feelings and consequences of the caste system, and the capability to endure through the trials and tribulations of life. The novel shows us the importance of stories and the effect they can have on people. Roy tries to depict how strong love is and the overpowering force it has on people. The romantic love described in these books convey carefully to the rules of the politics and history. The Magistrate in Waiting for The Barbarians, finds emotional support in the blind barbarian girl while fighting with the tough rules of his empire. Estrella in “Under the Feet of Jesus” grows up with a negative of men, and falls in love with Alejo who in the end dies after she tried to save him. The characters cannot find true love due to their societies and the strict rules they enforce.
The Magistrate in Waiting for The Barbarians struggles with the poverty and harsh conditions in this colonial town in which he watches. He is drawn to the Barbarian Girl, who is blind. Perhaps this curiosity and the unknown was the fuel that took his desire over the edge. As he uncovers the reason as to why she is blind, he becomes more and more invested in her and the treatment of the Barbarians. The Magistrate is very ignorant about his situation, and he admits it when he first meets the Barbarian Girl. Here he acknowledges his lack of knowledge on Barbarians: “But what do I know of barbarian upbringings? What I call submission may be nothing but indifference” (56). An important point to acknowledge is when the Magistrate never calls the girl by a name. She is broken and damaged as well as he is, emotionally and they find solace in each other. Their relationship can be volatile. He is a hesitant, self-righteous and capricious man; whereas the girl’s fast perceptiveness goes against his total opposite traits. She even goes as far as telling him he talks too much, which shows that she does have something to say, there is a voice there. The Girl “dislikes fancy, speculations, and questions” (40). It is more possible that the Barbarian Girl is just tired of feeling only pain, and is seeking pleasure by being intimate with the Magistrate. It is her release, the only way she can feel pleasure and be protected. The Magistrate shows his confusion about his relationship in the next quote, bringing his passion to a negative light. “I have hitherto liked to think that she cannot fail to see me as a man in the grip of a passion, however perverted and obscure that passion may be, that in the bated silences which make up so much of our intercourse she cannot but feel my gaze pressing in upon her with the weight of a body” (56). This relationship becomes sexual, with both parties becoming invested in each other. He shows he cares for the Barbarian Girl, because in the next quote he explains how he believes he could find out information from her: “Tying her to a chair and beating her would be no less intimate” (49). He had the choice to beat her for information, but he chose to gain her trust and respect.
It is probable that The Magistrate in Waiting for the Barbarians wants to take on a more independent role for the girl, by showing her that he is her protector, when he is looking down upon the Colonel and the Empire: “No, No, No! I cry to myself… there is nothing to link me to the torturers, people who sit waiting like beetles in dark cellars… I must assert my distance from Colonel Joll! I will not suffer for his crimes!” (44). This following quote by the Magistrate shows how no amount of torture can be erased, this girl cannot be saved. “However kindly she may be treated by her own people, she will never be courted and married in the normal way: she is marked for life as the property of a stranger, and no one will approach her save in the spirit of lugubrious sensual pity that she detected and rejected in me (135). He sees that he is her only hope, that he can help her because nothing good will ever happen to her. His conscience is shown as well as his need to disconnect himself from the torturers. He “disowns” his society and attacks the Empire for its crimes of torture and imperialism. Yet, he overpowers her to feel more in control. Perhaps this relationship mirrors a relationship between an imperializing nation and a weaker nation. To gain information, land, money— an imperializing nation, or The Magistrate will likely terrorize the less strong nation by using power and exploitation, it will show the weaker nation finally overpowering the stronger nation. Yet, it can make the weaker nation feel it is safe and protected—when he touches the Barbarian Girl. If the stronger nation succeeds, they can preserve their mortality, and therefore not be seen as evil by the weaker nation. The relationship between the Magistrate and The Barbarian Girl shine light on the relationship between an intimate and a torturous relationship. A torturer looks at the victim as a delicate, fraught, simple individual. The victim is sensitive and bare, just as they would be in a sexual relationship. This could possibly relate to a relationship between a weaker and stronger nation. The weaker nation could be living in fear that the stronger nation might overpower them. The lack of trust is absent in the torture relationship because the torturer has the power to take control in any second. The Empire was responsible for torturing the girl and bringing her down to her fragile state. This leads to the magistrate taking advantage of her sexually. The magistrate does all these things to the young girl because he is trying to better understand how she has been tortured. In a way, he might want to connect to the girl because in his eyes; he has been tortured by the empire as well. Yet, nothing good will ever come out of it because she will always be seen as a barbarian in the eyes of the empire, with the marks of torture on her body. The Magistrate is not truly in love with the Girl, he is only using her for his emotional benefit, whereas she uses his to feel something other than pain. The relationship with the Barbarian Girl shows his need to dominate like the British in The God of Small Things. We can compare Ammu’s relationship with Velutha as well as The Magistrate and the Barbarian Girl— Ammu and The Magistrate gravitate towards the forbidden and the danger because they are tired of living their lives by someone else’s rules.
In The God of Small Things, we have the relationship between Estha and Rahel, which is incestuous, and we have Ammu and Velutha who are forbidden to be together due to the love laws. At first, it is heartwarming to read about Estha and Rahel’s made up language that they speak together. It is very common for twins to “escape” and find their own outlet of communication. And with these twins, it isn’t different. Even though they face separation and trials, they always manage to find themselves together again. This bond that they share is built on a relationship of language with authority. This can mean different things to different people. One can find it aggressive— maybe they lack the confidence and respect for themselves that the authority figure is trying to enforce. But if someone, for the better, wants to change or help themselves, they might see the authority as a saint or role model. In the next quote, we get more of a sense of the love that the twins share and why they feel it. “If was the first time they had seen their mother cry,” “She wasn’t sobbing,” “Her face was set in stone” (10). This passage is trying to show us words do not matter, it is people’s actions. For people can fake words and it can be forced, but our body language and expressions are true to what we are feeling deep inside.
Ammu was the daughter of a bitter mother and an abusive father with a temper, and she had no way to secure her freedom. She had no college education, because her father thought it was “an unnecessary expense for a girl” and a “suitable dowry”(38-9). Because of her desperation for freedom, she marries the first man because to her, anything would be better than returning to Ayemenem. Because she fights for injustice and has a reckless streak, she finds herself in love with Velutha, an untouchable, thus going against both moral and caste boundaries, which are claimed, by society and history. Velutha, like Ammu goes against the rage of society and history because he tests social beliefs concerning the caste system. By being an Untouchable, Velutha has received an education and is a trained and accomplished carpenter, which creates some tension between the other workers in the Pickle Factory. Velutha rebels and is also a member of the Communist party, “a Naxalite”(77). Where Untouchables used to be looked as replaceable; Velutha’s talents and intelligence have killed that assumption. Velutha contravenes the social boundaries by his “lack of hesitation” and “unwarranted assurance” which shows his “sureness” that brings him to his friendship with Estha and Rahel and later outlawed relationship with Ammu (78). Ammu and Velutha’s relationship is only seen as them rebelling against “the smug, ordered world”, because this is the only way they both have any power (167). Loomba said “Colonialism was not an identical process in different parts of the world but everywhere it locked the original inhabitants and the newcomers into the most complex and traumatic relationships.” In this novel, you can see that a complex and very traumatic relationship is with the Untouchables, more specifically Ammu and Velutha. They have to face these “love laws” yet they are so drawn to each other that they find their way back. In the following passage, Velutha and Ammu grow closer, and the acknowledgment of the love laws is also mentioned. “Standing in the shade of the rubber tree with coins of sunshine dancing on his body, holding her daughter in his arms, glanced up and caught Ammu’s gaze. Centuries telescoped into one evanescent moment. History was off-footed, caught off-guard. This knowing slid into him cleanly, like the sharp edge of a knife. Cold and hot at once. It only took a moment. Ammu saw that he saw. She looked away. He did too. History’s fiends returned to claim them. To rewrap them in its old, scarred pelt and drag them back to where they really lived. Where the love laws lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much”(214). Roy describes the moment when Ammu and Velutha realize their desire for each other.
The lack of attention and love from their mother affects both twins in their lives. The scene of Estha and Rahel’s love making uses imagery to illustrate this quiet and empty state they both reside in, and to share their “hideous grief.” It also broke the Love Laws. Also, Rahel running into the hands of a man who claims her eyes weren’t her eyes. The lack of communication and emphasis on her language caused her marriage to fail resulting in her return. While there is an economic class struggle, there is also religious discrimination. These two go hand in hand with the way love is exhibited throughout the novel. These “love laws” affect the childhood experiences of the fraternal twins, Estha and Rahel. The love laws put limitations on whom and how people can love. Roy’s depiction of forbidden love shows that the strength of social code can never break it. Even though the novel has themes of sadness, loss, and tragic death, love is associated to how these characters deal with their grief. Love is the illicit connection between two people and their cultural upbringings and identities. The reader can have mixed feelings when reading this novel. They encounter the many types of love: You pity, you judge the love between exes, a mother’s love, and the love of twins. These types of love come from the desire of the society to demolish real love.
Estrella in “Under the Feet of Jesus” is a young Latina that battles with the different parts of her life. She is an affectionate character, and she beautifully shows her strength in times that illustrate weakness. Estrella is the strong base for her fragile family and as the audience we see her grow in her social, political, economical, and cultural knowledge. Women living under patriarchy strategize to maximize security and optimize their life options (Kandiyoti). Because of her mother, Petra, being abandoned by her father, Estrella has been raised thinking men can never be trusted or depended on. Her family experiences frequent abandonment when after her father leaves, Perfecto, who has never married her mother, mentally leaves the family. Perfecto getting the girls out of the barn reveals his role as a father figure, mindful of the perils in their life. He also shows that he is knowledgeable about being a migrant worker and the hardships it faces. The world of a Mexican migrant worker is very tough and reading the strength that she had throughout it was very inspiring. Her family is essentially Undocumented workers. The following quote shows the hardships they face. “The silence and the barn and the clouds meant many things. It was always a question of work, and work depended on the harvest, the car running, their health, the conditions of the road, how long the money held out, and the weather, which meant they could depend on nothing” (4). They make up a very indispensible part of the U.S. landscape. Their well-being was affected immensely because of their harsh conditions. They are estranged from a capitalist union by being required to complete hard jobs under disgraceful conditions just to live a negligible life. What makes it worse is that Estrella has to deal with the abandonment of her father. What quote really touched me was when she said: “I wonder if the spectators could see me from where I stood” (10). Estrella finds herself also being abandoned by Alejo, which shows again how a female is left behind to care for themselves and their family. It is demonstrated in the next quote when Alejo falls ill, she says she “was alone to fend for herself” (139). I admired Estrella and the courage she had. She was “on the verge of faith,” and did not let herself fall. Instead of choosing “blindly” she chose to “trust the soles of her feet, her hands, the shovel of her back, and the pounding bells of her heart.” She is a loving young woman and you can tell immediately when she chooses to save her dying boyfriend. Estrella only knows how to communicate with Alejo is by describing the importance and grandness of the barn. She tries to connect to Alejo and tell him more about her life. Yet, she has trouble putting her emotions into words because she is fully contained in her labor. She explains that “she wanted to tell him how good she felt, but didn’t know how to build the house of words she could invite him into…Build rooms as big as barns” (70). Estrella’s romantic relationship with Alejo illustrates the wicked system which cheats poor workers for increased profits for the rich landowners and agroindustry corporations. The evil done by those capitalist forces are illustrated in the authentic suffering of the workers and the sad fate of Alejo, who was poisoned by the pesticides of the corporate agribusinesses. Estrella acquires the dissimilarity between love without security and security without love. When Estrella makes her concluding choice, it is with the prosperity of experiences of her family.
The works we have read throughout this semester show characters dealing with painful situations because of the rules and regulations that have been set up for them. This shows having an honest loving relationship is out of reach because of the harsh treatment they experience at the hands of their superiors.
Depiction of American Dream in Love in Under the Feet of Jesus
In Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena Maria Viramontes, the fruit that gives the field workers life, refreshment, and hope is the peach. Peaches, although abundant, are the delicacy of the fields desired by many and savored by few. Peaches are the price you have to pay to make a better living for yourself and to appreciate the little things in life. Viramontes uses the peach to portray the immigrant worker’s desire to escape field work and become citizens of the U.S. where they will be able to live a life where they don’t have to work sun up to sun down just to get by and do it all over again the next day. The peach is the American dream, a luxury desired by many and savored by few and everyone is trying to obtain it and enjoy a peach of their own.
Alejo and Gumecindo risk their lives and their jobs sneaking into the fields to steal peaches and sell them in the market. Gumecindo was not worried about being caught and losing his job. Gumecindo was more afraid of the spirit of La Llorona than risking his life stealing peaches (Viramontes 39). Gumecindo also promised “he would work scrubbing the Hamburger King floor with a toothbrush before accepting another fruit-picking job again.” Here, any job in America even as degrading as scrubbing a restaurant floor is better than struggling in the blazing heat of the orchards picking rows and rows of fruit. In one instance, Alejo says, “Nobody buys fruits with bruises” and Gumecindo responds, “Ask me if I care. (Viramontes 11)” This furthers the point that any dream in America is worth pursuing. The bruised peach is a tainted dream, one people normally don’t have but when you’re desperate, you’ll eat any peach because it’s better than no peach at all.
One day on the way home, Estrella makes a stop at a baseball diamond to watch a Little League game (Viramontes 58). Estrella sees the players converging on a pop fly and compares it to mouths waiting to catch a peach and she expresses her excitement with which one will catch it. Baseball is an American sport and is referred to as America’s greatest pastime. Catching the ball is good to help the team win as picking the peaches is good to help support the families. Contrary to the baseball field, Estrella is a player in the fruit fields. She is one of the players along with her family, Alejo, Gumecindo, and the other Pescadores trying to catch the peach and support their family. Catching the ball is the way to secure an out. Catching the peach is the way to get out.
On the night that Alejo meets Estrella, Alejo gives her a sack of peaches as a gift (Viramontes 44). Estrella tells Alejo, “Don’t let them see you take the fruit.” This is reflective of America’s desire to keep immigrants out and deny them the American dream. Here they are, surrounded by all of the peach trees but they aren’t allowed to take any which is comparable to them being in the U.S. but living brutal lives because they are illegal citizens and are not supposed to be where there without legal documentation. There are some who sneak and take the peaches anyway just as there are those who illegally cross the border to experience the American dream.
When Alejo is poisoned by the pesticides, he came to the realization that the Lord did not want him to chase the dream and take the peaches (Viramontes 76). The plane’s shadow had “crossed over him like a crucifix” and he questions if this was “his punishment for his thievery.” As Alejo was attacked by the poison, he held on as best he could so he would not fall like the peaches (Viramontes 77). As the peaches fell, so did his desire take them and Alejo and Gumecindo never take any peaches for the rest of the novel due to Alejo’s illness. Here, the idea of chasing the dream in an illegitimate way and being punished is presented and emphasizes the fact that “nobody buys fruit with bruises.” Alejo’s peach has now been bruised and he is suffering the consequences of eating it.
While under the shade of a truck, Estrella presents the idea of them being “stuck. (Viramontes 86)” By “stuck” she is referring to being stuck in the fields, in the hot sun, working day to day and then Alejo brings up the story of the animals who were found stuck in the La
Brea Tar Pits. Estrella tells Alejo she has heard of peach pits but not tar pits. Alejo says that one time while picking peaches, he heard screams that “reminded [him] of the animals stuck in the tar pits. This exchange shows how everyone outside of America hears about the American dream and how great it is to live in America. However, once they come to America, they have to pick up low paying jobs and try to avoid deportation. The animals were lead to the pits by water for their survival but once they got what they came for they were stuck and could not leave. The Pescadores are stuck because they cannot go back to nothing and at least have a chance at living picking fruit.
The final mention of peaches come when Perfecto is paranoid about being deported and wants to pack up all of his belongings and “some peaches (Viramontes 162).” Perfecto contemplates leaving right at that moment so that he may have a “second chance.” His second chance is the chance at the dream again. Packing the peaches represents his last bit of hope as he had nothing left but four dollars to his name. Perfecto thought of what the nurse would say to her husband about her day and then “imagined people who had couches and living rooms and television sets and who drank coffee even at night.” Perfecto wants a life like that but all he has for now is the peaches, the hope of obtaining that life.
The American dream is embodied in those peaches. The hope to one day live in security, health, and luxury. These Pescadores had the peaches as a taste of what they could have. The idea of a sweet, lush, meaty peach is all that it takes to get someone anxious to have it. Alejo’s “good peach” was the one that he shared with Estrella and Petra. The lesson is that if we can learn to share the peach, all of the peaches will be good. If we share the dream with others, we will not bruise other people’s dreams of wanting a good peach of their own.
Analysis Of Literary Devices In Under The Feet Of Jesus By Helena Maria Viramontes
In Viramontes novel, “Under the Feet of Jesus”, Estrella’s, or the main character’s, nature of resilience comes as result of her prior life experiences and the trials and tribulations she has endured over her lifetime. Viramontes reveals this through the use of selective details, figurative language, and tone.
In the beginning of the passage, a question is posed to the reader by Viramontes. The question is “So what is this?” This question is significant because it signifies how thirsty Estrella is for knowledge and not much she wants to discover. The scene begins with Estrella looking through Perfecto’s tool box. She is trying to figure out what all the tools are and what they all do. She describes them as “foreign” and “funny-shaped.” The tone is immediately set as confusion. It becomes increasingly clear that Estrella is frustrated by her own lack of knowledge and this confusion turns into anger. Her lack of knowledge overwhelms her and therefore she is unable to control her emotions.
The selective details that the author adds to the work also further Estrella’s appearance to the reader of being resilient. The narrator adds and additional story that happened earlier in Estrella’s life. This story is to give us insight into her character and why she is so easily frustrated and confused. The verb that is being used in this is “hate” that gives the story the impression that it is a strong, passionate situation. This tone is the tone that will follow the story for the remainder of the time. Estrella honestly states that one of her teacher “never gave her the information that she wanted.” As a result of this, Estrella is left to be ignorant to certain things, to no fault of her own. This is also the reason she is so curious.
Figurative language also gives characters a look to her resilient nature. An example of this is her calling her teachers “crumpled kleenex”, this shows her blunt personality, she is willing to say what needs to be said. When Perfecto enters Estrella’s life she begins to develop further. For example, she beings asking questions about his tools, this may be a seemingly insignificant detail but it shows Estrella’s thirst for knowledge. This thirst is helped to be kept alive by Perfecto.
Selective details also establish a firm foundation that is needed to realize the context of Estrella’s life. Figurative language is able to provide the emotional background we need, and want, for the story. The selective details are structured so that we are able to learn just enough about Estrella’s life but not know too much.
Finally, the tone and dialogue in the passage are vital tools that we need to fully understand the story. This helps the author have the character perceived as they were intended to be perceived. She is a strong and resilient woman and that is made very clear throughout the passage.
One Identity, Two Parts
The emotional heart of Helena Maria Viramontes’ novel, Under the Feet of Jesus, revolves around the mental, physical, and spiritual coming-of-age of Estrella, a 13-year-old Latina girl living with her family on a migrant labor farm. As a foil to Estrella’s transformation, Viramontes presents us with another character—Petra, Estrella’s mother, who demonstrates immense courage in the face of the same oppression as Estrella, but who processes her frustrations in the opposite way of her daughter, contrasting the externalized, action-based feistiness of Estrella with the internal, faith-based perseverance of her mother.
In the grand scheme of the novel, Estrella’s agency is not distillable to one single moment or action—it is built up over the course of Under the Feet of Jesus, resulting in a turning point that represents the infinite moments, realizations, and frustrations that she experiences before it. This gradual coming of age process mirrors, and is intertwined with, Estrella’s recovery from the loss of her father, which is first example of emotional growth we see in Estrella. Early in chapter one, we are introduced to the character of the father through flashbacks, a character whose absence distinguishes his role in the story more than his actions themselves. At the beginning of the novel, Estrella still struggles with her father’s abandonment: “[Is] he waiting like I am?” (22). With no possibility of an answer, Estrella considers her own process of realization, mimicking the emotional growth and coming-of-age that she undergoes later in the novel;“It didn’t happen so fast, the realization that he was not coming back. Estrella didn’t wake up one day knowing what she knew now. It came upon her as it did her mother. Like morning light, passing, the absence of night, just there, his not returning” (22).
Not only does she struggle with past childhood emotional trauma and the reconciliation of newfound knowledge—Estrella also begins to subconsciously question her current paradigm. In the first and second chapters, it is subtle, seemingly insignificant thoughts that foreshadow the heavier emotional growth that occurs in future chapters. While walking home one night, Estrella can’t “remember which side she was on and which side of the wire mesh she was safe in” (54). The mental clarity that oblivion allows children begins to fade as Estrella is forced to accept more responsibility on behalf of her family; she struggles to remember the black-and-white, good-vs-evil paradigm of her youth. Her perception of her reality begins to shift. Even in the baseball game she passes, Estrella can’t help but question what’s really going on— “the floodlights aimed at the phantoms in the field. Or were the lights directed at her? Could the spectators see her from where she stood?” This prompts her to ask, among a seemingly unrelated flurry of questions, “Where was home?” (54). It is the subconscious examination of roles in the baseball game that connects this question to the ones before it—we see the seeds of Estrella’s coming of age process starting to grow.
In processing her frustration with the realities of her circumstances, Estrella externalizes her emotions—she literally forms a ‘second self’ as part of her identity, and refers to it when acting upon her newfound consciousness. In chapter four, we first see the formation of this second self, when Estrella uses a crowbar to demand her family’s money back from the nurse, highlighting the separation between her childhood obedience and newly-awoken adolescent consciousness; “one was a silent phantom who obediently marked a circle with a stick around the bungalow as the mother had requested, while the other held the crowbar and the money” (123). Viramontes explicitly relates this mental separation to a moment of extreme clarity—the moment when Estrella realizes that “the nurse owed them as much as they owed her”. (121) This mental clarity is indivisible from Estrella’s subsequent actions. It is her recognition of her oppression that spearheads her emotional growth, and brings into focus her ‘second self.’
If chapter four shows us the turning point, the moment of separation, chapter five shows us a more seamless integration of this second self: “Okay, she said to her other self” (139). This casual inclusion of the second self illustrates the initial shock of a split identity being replaced with acceptance, cooperation, a willingness to embrace her mental awakening. “There was no turning back now,” Estrella remarks, illustrating a change in perspective, and a forward progression in the coming of age process (139). No longer does Estrella “stumble blindly,” neither while physically climbing the old barn on her land nor while facing the facets and frustrations of her reality as the daughter of an immigrant family at a labor camp (141).
Petra, on the other hand, internalizes these frustrations. Faced with the glaring reality of her circumstances, she remains aware of her oppression, but unlike her daughter, she avoids confrontation with her oppressors. In the first chapter, we learn though a flashback that Petra originally lied about her ex-husband’s abandonment to Estrella because Petra knew that “the truth was only a lesser degree of lies”; this quote allows us insight into the perspective with which Petra examines her reality (24). As a mother of 5, Petra has obviously had her own coming-of-age. Ironically, even though Estrella is the one who must create a ‘second self’ to deal with the mental upheaval that accompanies coming-of-age, it is Petra who is literally carrying a ‘second self’—the unborn baby inside of her, which likely informs the internalization of her anger for the sake of protecting her baby’s future.
Because of her age and experience, Petra is able to paint a more nuanced, informed picture of her reality than Estrella is, which then affects how she teaches her children about the world. When Estrella expresses her fears about the border patrol, Petra tells her, “Don’t let them make you feel you did a crime for picking the vegetables they’ll be eating for dinner,” knowledge that progresses Estrella’s own coming-of-age narrative (57). Petra and Estrella begin to share the same frustrations and realizations about their circumstances, though their mechanisms for processing this knowledge differ, with Estrella’s action-based externalization and Petra’s faith-based internalization. When faced with this difference, Petra acknowledges, once again, that there is nothing she can do to stop another force—Estrella—from acting out how she deems fit: if Petra had “learned anything in her thirty-five years,” it was that “her two hands couldn’t hold anything back, including time” (100).
The difference between Estrella and Petra’s own methods for dealing with their respective “conscience awakenings” allows the novel to maintain a character dynamic that supports the idea of a nuanced reality, without obvious heroes or villains or a simplification of complex issues. In Under the Feet of Jesus, Estrella and Petra might influence each other, and carry similar experiences, but how they react to these experiences demonstrates much more about their characters than their age or knowledge alone. Petra offers us a reserved, internalized perspective, one that practices confrontation through radical devotion rather than action. Estrella, on the other hand, embraces what is outside of herself, and through her coming-of-age transformation, steps boldly up to the plate, armed with newfound agency, ready to practice radical action in defense of her integrity instead.
Adversity Shapes Morale in Under the Feet of Jesus
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.
Stones, Bones, and Tar: The Legacy of Migrant Workers
The images of stones, bones, and tar form a motif in Helena Maria Viramontes’s Under the Feet of Jesus. From Alejo’s sickness to the encounter with the nurse, these images are continually linked to each other to depict a wide range of the experiences, dreams, and sufferings of migrant workers. Stones, symbolic of the migrant workers’ history and tie to the earth, are ancient like the bones that ache, provide the labor, and eventually become the tar oil that supplies fuel and energy for America. This relationship between stones, bones, and tar is similar to the community of the migrant workers: all the members are connected and provide for one another. Through their prevalence in the novel, these images leave a trail the way migrant workers leave behind a trail of their lives as they move from place to place; the reoccurring images represent the continual sacrifices of migrant workers and portray their hope to leave a legacy that will remain long on this earth like the stones, bones, and tar. Alejo’s interest in stones exemplifies the desire of the migrant worker to earn a name for himself in the land where he must struggle to survive. His interest, evident in his plan to major in geology, is equated with his goal to obtain an education. His plans also include “buy[ing] a canvas backpack to carry his books, a pencil sharpener, and Bobcat bookcovers” as well as graduating high school (52). Although his plans are simple, they exhibit ambition and reveal his dream to progress in life. Plus, stones symbolize permanence and durability, traits that Alejo hopes to attain. “He loved stones and the history of stones because he believed himself to be a solid mass of boulder thrust out of the earth and not some particle lost in infinite space” (52). The contrast between the presence of a boulder “thrust out of the earth” and an essentially invisible particle is applied to Alejo’s wish to become a bold, noticeable and distinct being on the earth. He does not want to end up like a lost particle, something lacking direction and purpose. In addition, he wishes to become “a part of the earth’s history” and “exist as the boulders did, for eternity” (52). He hopes that his memory and his life struggles will not just die out and be forgotten; instead, he longs to be remembered and to leave part of himself on earth that will remind the world of his existence and his accomplishments. Complete erasure of one’s existence is a fear of the migrant worker in the novel. The scene in which Alejo falls from the tree as he desperately tries to escape the shower of pesticide depicts this fear. Images of bones and tar prevail in this scene and foreshadow death, a force that causes one to vanish from the face of this earth. Sepulchral images, such as the “thousands of bones, the bleached white marrow of bones” and the “splintered bone pierced together by wire to make a whole, surfaced bone” describe a setting appropriate for a burial site or a death camp (78). Although they symbolize death, the bones also represent the memory of a person, for they are his remains and are typically the only things that his body leaves behind. Yet, if these cannot even be preserved, then it seems as if truly nothing is left to remind others of that person, as if he never lived; this is what Alejo fears. As the biplane spraying the pesticide approaches, Alejo imagines “sinking into the tar pits” (78). This is where he sees his bones vanishing, leaving behind “no fingerprint or history, bone. No lava stone. No story or family, bone” (78). Death is so inevitable that even lava stone, a formation that has been on this earth for millions of years, cannot withstand disappearance. Language used to depict this scene is repetitive and employs many commas to make the pace slow. This makes Alejo more helpless and powerless to save himself, regardless of his determination to fight the oncoming force. “He thought first of his feet sinking, sinking to his knee joints, swallowing his waist and torso, the pressure of tar squeezing his chest and crushing his ribs” (78). Like a slow, painful death, Alejo envisions himself gradually sinking into darkness and blankness forever. This feared entrapment extends to preventing migrant workers from progressing; in addition to not being able to escape the approach of death and disappearance, migrant workers must face another struggle if they become “stuck”. Since they rely on migrating from place to place to earn their living, getting stuck, particularly being stranded in one place, poses a threat to their livelihood. Images of people getting stuck in tar pits, such as Alejo’s vision of sinking into tar, relate to this dilemma. The horror of this type of incidence is also portrayed in the conversation between Alejo and Estrella while they are lying under the truck. Here, Alejo introduces the topic of tar oil: Once, when I picked peaches, I heard screams. It reminded me of the animals stuck in the tar pits. Did people? Did people ever get stuck? Only one, Alejo replied, in the La Brea tar pits, they found some human bones. A young girl. (88)This brings back the chilling images of bones and tar that death accompanies. Evidently, the girl stuck in the tar pits became erased for a period of time until her bones were discovered. Another instance of getting stuck occurs in the following excerpt from the conversation between Alejo and Estrella regarding oil: You know where that oil comes from? . . . Why you asking me? If we don’t have oil, we don’t have gasoline. Good. We’d stay put then. Stuck, more like it. Stuck. (86)At first, the possibility of staying in one place is appealing, especially to Estrella who perceives it as having to stay put. After years of constant packing up and moving, sometimes having no destination, remaining stationary seems like a pleasant idea. However, Alejo’s response differs in diction from Estrella’s, implying a negative side to this immobility, for he calls it being “stuck.” The word implies a sense of being trapped and unable to get out of a place or situation, as if one is imprisoned for a long time. It also connotes helplessness for it makes one think of the possibility of being abandoned and forgotten. Through its language and imagery, the conversation between Alejo and Estrella demonstrates how the inability to move forward can make one disappear without a legacy. Ironically, the bones of the migrant workers provide the fuel and energy that allow the rest of the people to progress while they are prevented from doing so. After Perfecto pays the nurse the family’s last nine dollars, Estrella becomes enraged because she feels that they have paid much more than they deserved to pay. They have lost more than money, for they have paid with their lives, with their sweat, and with their bones. The oil was made from their bones, and it was their bones that kept the nurse’s car from not halting on some highway, kept her on her way to Daisyfield to pick up her boys at six. It was their bones that kept the air conditioning in the cars humming, that kept them moving on the long dotted line on the map. Their bones. (148)This metaphor describes the bones of the migrant workers as if they were fossil fuels, thus giving their bones ancient attributes. It symbolizes not only the consumption of human lives, but also the exploitation of these bones that make up a part of the earth’s history and natural resources, all for the sake of progress. Eventually, all these lives and resources will be used up, leaving no more for future generations. Because this is part of the legacy that the migrant workers leave behind, the loss of these bones, figuratively speaking, is analogous to erasing the remnants of the migrant workers from the face of the earth.Despite their numerous sacrifices for America, the migrant workers receive nothing in compensation and are essentially forgotten by those who benefit from their sufferings. One example is the ignorance of the nurse when she does not realize that nine dollars is still extremely valuable to Estrella and her family. Even though she lets them pay nine dollars instead of fifteen for the visit, she still lacks compassion for the family’s situation. The nurse exhibits this as she takes the money with indifference from Estrella’s hands and drops it into the metal box. Also, after Estrella pleads with the nurse to let her baby-sit and to let Perfecto fix something in the office instead of paying the last of their money, the nurse does not feel the least bit of pity; all she can worry about is picking up her kids in Daisyfield by six. Lastly, the nurse’s ignorance is manifested when Estrella thinks, “The nurse owed them as much as they owed her” (148). Estrella’s comment refers to the metaphor relating their bones to the fossil fuels that make the nurse’s car run so she can pick up her kids. Considering this, their payment is in fact an unfair trade-off. Unfortunately, the encounter with the nurse is only one of many cases that refuse the migrant workers what is rightfully theirs; even gratitude is denied them. A significant moment in the novel occurs when Estrella gives Perfecto his first “Thank you” in America. He had given this country his all, and in this land that used his bones for kindling, in this land that never once in the thirty years he lived and worked, never once said thank you, this young woman . . . had said the words with such honest gratitude, he was struck by how deeply these words touched him. (155)Again, the image of the migrant worker’s bones providing the country with energy is associated with exploitation. Despite all his offerings and sacrifices for America, Perfecto, like other migrant workers, has never received anything beneficial in return, has never encountered a thankful expression, until Estrella said “Thank you.” By not receiving the thanks that they deserve, the migrant workers’ efforts and struggles are left unnoticed, unacknowledged, and forgotten. The images of stones, bones, and tar emphasize the great extent to which the migrant workers sacrifice not just to survive, but to have something on this earth that they can leave behind to remind others of their experiences, their contributions, and their existence. Although the rest of the world passes them by, the stories and determined spirits of the migrant workers will not die out. Through their sufferings, the migrant workers are all connected collectively and share this legacy.