“Under the Feet of Jesus” Literary Criticism

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In the story, Under the Feet of Jesus author Helena Maria Viramontes tells the story of a young laborer named Estrella and her family. The settings are in the Western United States and it is connecting through a summer harvest, the novel characterizes the callous working environment that influence Cesar Chavez to unionize farm laborers. Indeed, Under the Feet of Jesus is dedicated to the representative’s memory. In the book, Maria Helena Viramontes tackles themes of marginalization and erasure, listening to the experience of women. The novel is important not only for its content, but for its unique switching perspective and agenda, which allows readers to see events from several perspectives. Estrella and Petra’s statements, actions and attitudes in the story comply with feminist. Feminist is a person who supports feminism. An example of feminist is in the beginning of the twenty-first century, feminist literary theory, criticism, and scholarship were used to form a field in feminism studies with the knowledge of every category. The mother and daughter relationship, Petra believes in God as Estrella believes in herself.

The mother and daughter relationship represent the beliefs and values they both shared. Throughout the novel, Petra is portrayed as someone who relies on religion and superstition to guide her; to chase away scorpions she traces circles in the dirt and prays to a statute of Jesus for health. In accepting the authority of the nurse at the clinic, she is also submissive, even as she dislikes it. In contrast, Estrella is portrayed as someone who turns not to God, but to herself. Through action, Estrella secures medical treatment for Alejo, challenging the nurse and the worldview she represents. Despite their differences, both characters are deeply dedicated to family. The barn in the novel is more than a decrepit building, the barn represents a space where Estrella can complete her transformation and empowerment. The structure is described as a ‘cathedral,’ a place of religious contemplation (9). Estrella continues to use the building as a place for reflection. By the end of the novel, Estrella uses the barn as a platform, realizing her own power and believing herself strong enough to help people. In this way, the barn functions as a sort of secular church, where Estrella launches a new religion of self-empowerment. As oppose to Estrella’s mother, Petra, the Christ Statue in the novel, represents the Christian religion that Petra believes in. Estrella’s mother treats the statue, like Christianity, with great respect and turns to it for guidance. Unfortunately, in her time of need, Petra leans on her altar, causing the statue to fall and break. The decapitated statue mirror’s Estrella’s rejection of religion and Petra’s growing doubt of its power. Christianity has failed the family; Estrella fills this void by relying on herself instead of God or Jesus. Petra has two jobs which is farming on the fields and taking care of her family’s necessities. The second-wave discourse experience by experience and the insight by insight of the system of women’s oppression in the United States including “women as an oppressed sex-class” (302), which later feminists criticized the concept. Petra’s belief in God helped her through her time in need and which then had a negative affect towards Estrella who wants no part of the religion world because she has not seen any positive enlightenment that would affect her decision. The beginning phase of the mother and daughter relationship helped me realized that they share different beliefs and values which causes conflict between them.

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Religion is important to Petra, but she also has criticism of others. Viramontes writes, “She wore too much red lipstick, too much perfume and asked too many questions and seemed too clean, too white just like the imitation” (141). In the passage, Petra is lost in her thought and wrapping her brains of what she thought of the nurse. Petra is comparing her to imitation cotton because of the way it looks and that somehow bothers Petra. The dislike of the nurse of her face which looks unnatural and manufactured. It is like a product gone wrong when you buy it at a store. The beauty that the nurse had, Petra sees it as that the nurse needs cosmetics to look beautiful. Her cleanliness is aggressive; nothing natural is pure white or perfectly clean. All these elements convince Petra the nurse is disingenuous; she is more invested in her facade, than in helping the family. Petra’s criticism of others connects with feminist, “judging the formal aspects of text” (304), the literature reveals about women and men in their socioeconomic contexts.

A resolute feminist, Viramontes includes many feminist themes in Under the Feet of Jesus. She analyzes the additional burden women bear in the form of domestic work. In the novel, Petra is seen always cleaning and cooking in addition to working in the field. While fathers are absent in the novel, women are stuck with the responsibility innate in children. Moreover, Estrella is an empowered young woman who fights her own oppression. Inverting the cliche of a damsel in distress, Estrella saves her boyfriend. Petra and Estrella do not see eye to eye but, they love each other very much despite religion differences. The middle phase of Petra’s belief in god and her criticism towards other helped me realized the oppression Petra has, of not saying how she really feels but because it is wrong for her to say such things of others and thinks it instead.

Estrella believes in herself and the challenges she faces to achieve that goal. In the beginning of novel, Estrella is portrayed as someone who has a wild imagination and we see the narrative of her life throughout the novel. Estrella wants a different life from her mother’s and wants to be able to express herself instead of relying on God to help her through everything. For example, “She felt like two Estrellas” (150). In the passage, Estrella is at the clinic and takes radical action to save Alejo’s life. In that moment Estrella cannot be the dutiful daughter who respects authority with the powerful and direct leader she has become. Briefly disassociating, Estrella feels she contains two separate people. In addition, this feeling speaks to the intensity of her transformation. Estrella is nothing like the girl she is expected to be. The person who saved Alejo feels like a completely different object that exists to her normal identity. Throughout the novel, Estrella has fought the idea of religion, of God itself, and is struggling with the idea that praying will bring a miracle. She believes in herself and along the way she faces the obstacles to get to her goal. For instance, “But the tire resisted, Alejo’s body resisted, and she did not want to think what she was thinking now: God was mean and did not care and she was alone to fend for herself” (139). Th evidence points out that Estrella is challenging traditional religion after a suffering a lifetime of repression. From her perspective, even in her desperate need, Estrella has never received help from the Christian God. She rejects her mother’s religion, instead trusting in herself. Estrella does not pray or wait for miracles; she personally acts to ensure the survival of her friend. It is she, not God, that can be relied on. By the end of the novel, Estrella replaces religion with personal empowerment. Through action, she assures her own salvation. The struggle of liberation, “that up to now they have only interpreted the world and the real point is to change it,” (305), the evidence points that Estrella must now change it because even though she has believed in herself, she must act upon it and prove to her mother that religion is not everything to her. The last phase of Estrella believes in herself and the challenges she faces to achieve that goal helped me realized that Estrella has grown, matured, and wants to make her own choices of religion.

The mother and daughter relationship that impacts the life of Estrella and Petra. Although Estrella does not believe in God, her younger sisters in the other hand has viewed her as magic. They see Estrella as this amazing older sister who can do anything, and they idolize her. For instance, “Then she lifted her arms, her palms up and then spread them wide and the twins watched as she stepped forward and the glass doors split open before her as if obeying her command” (156). The evidence points out that after saving Alejo, Estrella’s younger sisters viewed her as magic. It is as those when she walks through an automatic door and that she is seemingly opening it with her mystical powers. Viramontes’ image recalls the Biblical story of Moses; just as Moses parted the Red Sea, Estrella parts the glass hospital doors. By acting to save Alejo, Estrella has realized the true breadth of her powers. Later she will be compared to both Jesus and an angel. She becomes, like Moses or Jesus, a sort of savior. Throughout the novel, we see changes in Estrella as well as her mother, Petra, in everything they have said and done. Petra and Estrella are feminist in the novel and who believe they can change the world with their beliefs, actions, and statements, “To synthesize the partial and sometimes discordant knowledges, feminists formulated and over arching theories of subject and social formations” (305). The evidence points out the transformation of Estrella and Petra’s relationship throughout the novel. Estrella finds herself and Petra finds herself in God but, they are still connected with each other because they are family. Petra loves Estrella but wishes Estrella had the same beliefs and values as she, oppose to Estrella, she loves her mom, but wishes her mom would understand that she does not believe in God but in herself because only you can make things happen, not religion. Although they have different beliefs and values they care for one another because that is what a family does. For example, “She looked down to see specks of shattered glass just inches away from the lantern, and for a moment she imagined golden flaming eels dangerously nipping at the straw on the ground” (174). The evidence points out that Estrella is looking down at shattered glass from the lantern and she imagines fire consuming the barn. Estrella recalls an earlier passage from a religious tract where “tongues of fire” represent the Holy Spirit (31). Viramontes’ description features both the beauty and danger of such fire. The blaze is ‘golden,’ but ‘dangerous’ (174). This religious fire signifies Estrella’s empowerment and transformation; she has become her own Holy Spirit or God or Jesus. Instead of looking to religion, Estrella relies on herself and her quantity for action. The fire brightens her newfound spiritual strength. The feminist theory and criticism, Groden writes, “Women’s experience as encountered in female fictional characters, the reaction of female readers, and their careers was the focus of the second wave feminist criticism in the United States and Britain starting in the mid-1970s” (306). The evidence points out as feminist criticism how it connects with Under the Feet of Jesus is the female empowerment of Estrella and Petra’s lifestyle of their everyday life. The experience women have encountered in the novel and how things were in the 1970s it was focus in the second wave in the United States and Britain. The way women were viewed in the novel, how Estrella views the world and her mother’s views. Leads back to Estrella believing in herself and following her dreams. For Petra, religion is important to her because that is what she values and hoped Estrella would feel the same way. But Petra learns that she cannot forced her beliefs and values on Estrella because it is up to Estrella on what she wants to do in life. Estrella learns that although she respects her mother her beliefs on God are different to what she thinks, and Estrella decides to believe in herself. The end phase of Petra and Estrella’s relationship helped me realized how much they value each other and their impacts of their actions that made them what they are.

Estrella’s transformation impacts what she thinks of religion and her mother values on God. Towards the end of the novel, we see Estrella and Petra’s relationship straining because Estrella is growing up and Petra is worried that her little girl is growing up too fast. Her relationship with her mother represents the power that Petra has over her daughter. The relationship between them is complicated but no other less they love each other. For instance, “Unborn children lurking in their bodies were in danger of having their lips bitten just like the hare on the moon if nothing was done to protect. Is that what you want, the mother yelled, a child born sin labios? Without a mouth?” (Viramontes 69). Essentially the evidence points out that Estrella’s mother, Petra, is telling Estrella that unborn babies who are rooming around are in danger of having their lips bitten and will have no lips. The protection they need is gone because she wants Estrella inside safely than being outside where anything can happen to her. Petra worries for her daughter, Estrella, because she wants her to listen to her and does what she says. Also, that she loves Estrella very much and doesn’t want anything happening to her. Now she knows that she cannot protect Estrella from anything and wishing for her to believe in Jesus would help her in her time in need, to have faith, but Petra knows its impossible. For Estrella, the form of god is something else instead Jesus itself but believe in herself of the outside world. For instance, “Like the chiming bells of the great cathedrals, she believed her heart powerful enough to summon home all those who strayed” (176). Th evidence points out that Estrella is in her thoughts and this final sentence in the novel expresses Estrella’s transformation. The cathedral bells mention in the quote are called believers to the church where as Estrella’s leadership will call the oppressed and marginalized to her. Estrella has been empowered; her actions to help Alejo have made her a genuine leader and agent of change. Optimistic, Estrella feels she can help all those who need her. In the last passage, she has supplanted Jesus as a source of support and strength. Estrella has replaced a passive religion with active personal empowerment.

Overall, the mother and daughter relationship between Petra and Estrella shows a lot throughout the novel. Their creative differences bring them through stages of figuring for themselves especially Estrella who is growing up and figuring for herself what she wants in life. Unlike her mother who has already experienced her childhood into adulthood and has faith in God. Although Estrella respects her mother, she does not agree what her mother thinks of God because Estrella learned at a young age that she could only believe herself that she will get there herself. Petra loves her daughter and had her at a young age which makes it difficult for her to follow what Estrella is doing. They both love each other and the bond they have will not be broken.

Works Cited

  1. Groden, Michael, Kreiswirth, Martin, and Szeman, Imre. The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism. Second Edition. 1995 The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  2. Viramontes, Maria Helena. Under the Feet of Jesus. Published by the Penguin Group. 1996.

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“Under the Feet of Jesus” Literary Criticism. (2022, Feb 15). Retrieved from


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