Under the Feet of Jesus

Under the Feet of Jesus Literary Elements


Coming of Age

Setting and Context

Rural America in the 1970s

Narrator and Point of View

The novel is dictated by an omniscient narrator who often changes perspectives. The narration follows the thoughts of Estrella, Petra, Perfecto, Alejo, and Estrella's younger siblings at various points. The story also switches time periods, falling back in time to describe a memory as if it was occurring in the present. This complex structure allows readers to understand different viewpoints but can be difficult to track.

Tone and Mood

Viramontes approaches her subject with deep compassion, treating the characters' struggles seriously. Likewise, the tone is serious; Viramontes invites readers to understand a piece of society they have little exposure to.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Estrella is the primary protagonist; the nurse is the most easily identified antagonist

Major Conflict

After being sprayed with pesticides, Alejo becomes severely ill. When the family brings him to a clinic, the nurse informs them he likely has dysentery and should be brought to a hospital. The nurse then charges the family for the visit, taking all their remaining money. Without cash to pay for gas, Estrella knows they won't be able to take Alejo to the hospital. Despite her pleas, the nurse refuses to accept Perfecto's handyman services as payment. Estrella has an epiphany, realizing her labor supports the nurse's comfortable life. She returns to the car for a crowbar. Back in the clinic, she demands the money back, smashing the nurse's desk. Estrella takes back precisely what the family paid.


Estrella climbs a chain to the barn roof, where she stands on the edge. Exhilarated from saving Alejo, Estrella feels empowered to save all those who are oppressed. The text compares her to religious figures, suggesting she is crafting a new, secular religion.


Pesticides play a large role in the novel, acting as a prime example of how corporate interests are placed above the lives of laborers. In Part I, we see how widespread the use of pesticides are. Pesticides spill into the workers’ drinking water (32); Estrella wipes a white, chemical film off a tomato (38); and young Ricky watches a biplane rain pesticides down onto a field (42). All these appearances foreshadow the novel's central tragedy: Alejo is sprayed with pesticides by a passing plane, incapacitating him.




Viramontes alludes throughout the novel to Christian images such as the Holy Spirit (31), Moses (156), and Jesus (175). Such figures are used to further highlight Estrella's growing spiritual power.


'The novel is filled with rich imagery detailing primarily the beautiful landscape and the brutality of field work. These two themes interact, highlighting each other and producing one of the novel's central ironies.


Estrella is both powerless and extremely powerful. As a young migrant laborer with little education, she has few opportunities and struggles to help support her family. As a growing woman and leader, she saves the life of a friend through decisive action. Estrella articulates this paradox when she claims there are "two Estrellas": the obedient worker and the authoritative leader (150).



Metonymy and Synecdoche

In the clinic, the nurse stands in for American society at large, of which she is a part. The novel's critique of her extends to the more amorphous or abstract concept of middle-class America.


As Estrella dances around the room with a Quaker Oats cylinder to entertain her siblings, Viramontes describes the container's "double chins" and "wavy long hair" (19). The container is even referred to as "the Quaker man" (19).