Helena Viramontes’ novel “Under the Feet of Jesus” is a story concentrated with imagery and symbolism. I really connected with the way that Viramontes presents her characters and their setting. The quality of the images and symbolism she uses is what pulled me into the story immediately. I feel that the place she is writing about is real, and that the people really exist. I care a lot about Estrella as a character because she has realistic emotions. Estrella is a young woman who is forced to grow up and think about things she shouldn’t have to worry about. I really feel connected with her because she takes on a sort of motherly role in her home. I also have a lot of respect for Estrella’s mother because her world was shattered when her husband left her and she has done nothing but work to support her children the best that she can. I understand the mother’s decision to bring Perfecto into the picture and the resentment Estrella feels towards anyone who is not her father interfering with the family.
If I were to analyze the story I would look at the symbolic nature of many of the scenes as well as the imagery Viramontes utilizes so effectively to convey mood. The barn, the baseball game and the moments Estrella is alone are filled with complex and haunting images. The words that Viramontes chooses are so perfect and at times they completely describe Estrella’s feelings of isolation and alienation. Alienation would be one major theme I would associate with this text. The migrant workers in the text are alienated from a capitalist society by being forced to perform difficult jobs under deplorable conditions just to live a minimal existence. They are outsiders because of their work but also because of the things they eat and what they wear. Estrella’s family is alienated even within the small community of migrant workers because of the abandonment of Estrella’s father. Instead of feeling relatively secure when she is working Estrella fears that something will happen to her at the hands of one of the other workers. The family’s lack of a father leaves Estrella with no choices, because she has to work to support her family. Estrella is herself and alienated character even within her own family. I believe that the mother does love Estrella but she lacks understanding for Estrella’s condition because she is also in pain. Estrella has no one she can talk to and constantly fears humiliation and abandonment.
I want to deconstruct one of my favorite moments in the story so far and relate it to Estrella’s position of vulnerability and alienation. The moment occurs right after Estrella ponders the railroad tracks and the lights of the baseball field turn on. She immediately thinks of the border patrol and is concerned for her safety. I found it significant that the lights were “sharp, white lights” that she imagined being aimed directly at her. She begins describing what happens in a baseball game but I believe it is an extended metaphor for what has or will happen to Estrella in the story. She wonders if “the spectators” could “see her from where she stood.” This suggests her paranoia and her fear of being humiliated and degraded in front of people. She asks “Where was home” and further into the paragraph she states, “Destination: home plate.” These are baseball references but they also tell the reader where Estrella wants to be. She wants to be in the safety of her home which doesn’t necessarily mean where her family is staying but where she belongs. She constructs an idea of home that encapsulates her memories of her father and the safety and security that means her family doesn’t have to move around. At the beginning of the book Viramontes describes Estrella’s feelings when she says “It was always a question of work, and work depended on harvest, the car running, their health, the conditions of the road, how long the money held out, and the weather, which meant they could depend on nothing.” The same kind of feelings are implied when Estrella asks where home is. Another interesting line is when Estrella is describing what she may or may not be seeing down on the field. She sees “a ball hit, a blunt instrument against a skull” which conjures up images of violence and force. She mentions the peach again which before represented the baseball. The peach is also symbolic of Estrella. She asks “who would catch the peach, [and] who was hungry enough to run the field in all that light.” She breaks her thoughts into incomplete sentences about “the perfect target,” “the lushest peach,” an “element of surprise,” and “a stunned deer waiting for the bullet.” All of these images apply to Estrella and the danger she senses due to the imagined presence of the border patrol. They also act as representations of broader concerns for her livelihood and innocence in a corrupt world. It is evident that Estrella is paranoid and imagining quite a bit of what we are seeing in the story because “a few of the spectators applauded” and she runs off into the darkness away from the blinding lights.
This is just a basic interpretation of one scene, and that is what I love so much about Viramontes’ style. It is an easy read on the surface but it is packed with more in depth meanings and connotations. I really enjoy the story so far and am interested in finding out even more about the characters and the real life migrant workers who deal with many of the same struggles and feelings of alienation.