Image of Migrant Workers in Novel Under The Feet of Jesus

April 28, 2022 by Essay Writer

The published novel Under The Feet of Jesus by Helena Viramontes depicts the protagonist Estrella and her family moving to America for better opportunities to survive. The vividly brutal descriptions of the poor living conditions of immigrants raise awareness for the lack of immigrant rights by creating sympathy through immersive, detail-rich writing. The author successfully uses imagery, diction, and symbolism to emphasize the inhumane conditions these immigrants had to suffer through in order to provide for their families.

The author employs imagery to illustrate the abhorrent setting Estrella and her family lived in. They temporarily live in an abandoned bungalow have not been cared for many years. It is so dirty that “the stink of despair shot through the misty sunlight, and he knocked a fist against the window to loosen the swollen pane to get some fresh air” (8). Perfecto even found cobwebs and a dead bird. None of the furniture was suitable for one to live comfortably. Imagery further develops as Viramontes portrays the shocking working conditions of immigrant workers. A pretty girl with a fluffy bonnet on raisin boxes is contrasted nicely with Estrella sweating under “a white sun so mighty, it toasted the green grapes to black raisins” (50). The author uses various descriptive words to describe the not-so-enjoyable work process of making raisins. Workers had to repeatedly strain their backs to gently pour baskets of grapes onto a sheet of newsprint paper “row after row, sun after sun” (50). These horrific living and working conditions lead to Estrella being viewed more maturely than a regular normal young child. “That the wet towel wiped on her resistance face each morning, the vigorous brushing and tight braids her mother neatly weaved were not enough”(25). This provokes an image of a messy girl trying to clean herself up, but the situation does not allow it. To a family struggling to get food every single day, sanitation and aesthetic looks are not their main concerns.

Viramontes effectively uses symbolism to highlight the hard life migrant workers suffered. Alejo compares animal bones in tar pits to human bones. He said to Estrella, “Once when I picked peaches, I heard screams. It reminded me of the animals stuck in the tar pits” (88). Estrella, after realizing her family’s distressing situation, later compares her family to a “tar pit made of bones” (148). This tar pit represents the insignificant role migrant workers play in society; their work is largely overlooked and unappreciated. The animals fall down the pit to produce oil, similar to how migrant workers sacrifice their health and blood to produce fruit and vegetables; both are forever erased and forgotten. This symbolism is very powerful because migrant workers are treated like animals in the United States. They have no voice in the public and hide whenever they see border security officials. Furthermore, Perfecto’s toolbox is a symbol of the improper education offered to migrant children. All the tools in the chest are not explained to Estrella, despite her desperate need to know. “The tool chest stood guard by the door and she slammed the lid closed on the secret. For days she was silent with rage” (24). A thirteen-year-old Estrella and her siblings did not have the chance to go to school, but instead, they had to work.

Readers of Under the Feet of Jesus understand the pain of migrant workers through Viramontes’s impressive diction. The words and phrases convey not only the physical aspect of the description but also an emotional one. On Page 57, the author writes about a working condition of migrant Pescadores. The heat was so extreme and the air was so dirty that “their salt-and-pepper hair dusted brown.” Salt-and-pepper describes the hair color of “brittle women” who are brave and hard-working, but also very easy to break. Additionally, salt signifies the taste of the soaking sweat from workers under the sun. The phrase “their bones” is repeated four times on page 148. This diction links perfectly to the tar pit symbolism. Bones are important organs of the body. The word bones trigger a horrifying image of the corpses of migrant laborers. Alejo is dying because of chemicals due to an unprotected working environment. Estrella and her family are facing a similar fate because they threatened the nurse.

The book Under The Feet Of Jesus highlights the poor living conditions for immigrants working in America during the 1900s. Their hard work is unappreciated, and their lives disposable. Besides, they are in a marginal position in society. Viramontes utilizes symbolism, diction, and imagery to underscore these social issues.


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