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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 535

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 religious imagery she employs throughout the novella: “she stepped forward and the glass doors split open before her as if obeying her command. . . . Estrella parted the doors like a sea of glass and walked through . . . .”

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When they return to their camp, Estrella climbs onto the roof of the old barn, and, in a continuation of this rich religious imagery, the shingles feel like “the serpent under the feet of Jesus” and Estrella stands on the roof “as immobile as an angel standing on the verge of faith.” In this symbolism that...

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