Under the Feet of Jesus as Bildungsroman

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

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.

Works Cited

  1. Buckley, Jerome Hamilton. Season of youth: The Bildungsroman from Dickens to Golding. Harvard Univ Pr, 1974.
  2. Lukács, Georg. ‘Wilhelm Meister’s Years of Apprenticeship as an Attempted Synthesis. Theory of the Novel: 132-42.
  3. Viramontes, Helena María. Under the feet of Jesus. Penguin, 1995.
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