(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Under the Feet of Jesus is a novella telling a powerful story about California’s migrant farmworkers. Viramontes has dedicated this work to her parents, who met while picking cotton, and to the memory of César Chávez, the revered leader of the United Farm Workers. The work centers on Estrella, a thirteen-year-old girl traveling with her family from job to job in California’s central San Joaquin Valley. Estrella’s father has abandoned the family of five children, and her mother is pregnant again by the seventy-three-year-old Perfecto Flores, who drives them to their new job in his aging car but dreams of getting away himself. The family moves into a dilapidated house near an aging barn, works picking grapes, and befriends two cousins, Alejo and Gumecindo. Estrella and Alejo have an immediate attraction, and the novella’s drama builds when Alejo is sprayed by pesticides one night while he and Gumecindo are stealing apples from a nearby orchard to sell. Alarmed by his worsening illness, the family drives him to a clinic, where a nurse takes their money, only to direct them to a nearby hospital. Knowing they need their money for gas, Estrella takes a crowbar from the car and shatters the nurse’s glass-topped desk. It is Estrella’s symbolic rite of passage; the nurse gives back their money, and Estrella and her family drive Alejo to the hospital. Estrella comes out of the hospital entrance to her waiting family, and Viramontes underlines the...

(The entire section is 535 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Under the Feet of Jesus traces the day-to-day lives of a group of Chicano migrant farmworkers, revealing the struggles they must endure as they attempt to survive on low wages and in poor living conditions. Helena María Viramontes is connected to this group of people in that her parents were migrant workers, and the book is dedicated to them and to the memory of César Chávez, a man who fought for the rights of farmworkers.

The narrative focuses on a large family headed by Perfecto Flores, a man in his seventies, and Petra, a woman who is thirty-seven years younger. Perfecto and Petra travel together with Petra’s children, finding field work wherever they can. Estrella is Petra’s eldest daughter; she is thirteen, and her voice controls much of the narrative. There are two brothers, Ricky and Arnulfo, and twin girls, Perla and Cookie. Estrella works in the fields, as do her brothers and Perfecto.

The story becomes complicated by a young man named Alejo. Alejo and his cousin Gumecindo are also migratory workers employed by the same farms as Estrella and her family. The boys earn extra money by stealing fruit from the orchards at night. One night when they are raiding the orchard, biplanes fly overhead, spraying pesticides. Although Alejo and Gumecindo attempt to run from the orchards to avoid the poisoning pesticides, Alejo is sprayed and eventually becomes very sick. Since Alejo has become friends with Estrella and her family,...

(The entire section is 456 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Suggested Readings

Sobek, María, and Helena María Viramontes, eds. Chicana Creativity and Criticism: Charting New Frontiers in American Literature. Houston, Tex.: Arte Público Press, 1988.