Under the Feet of Jesus

Under the Feet of Jesus Summary and Analysis of Part 3


Gumecindo visits Petra and Perfecto, explaining Alejo’s illness. Alejo has been too sick to work for several days. Deeply troubled, Gumecindo barely hears the couple’s advice to allow Alejo to rest. After arguing with Perfecto, Petra invites Alejo to stay with the family, so she can try to heal him. Perfecto tries to prevent this, fearing the family cannot support another person.

Gumecindo and Perfecto carry Alejo to the bungalow, where Petra arranges bedding for him. Petra uses indigenous healing techniques to try and cure the increasingly sick Alejo. At night Alejo wakes momentarily and senses Estrella lying next to him. He moves closer, taking in her smell. He spends his days falling in and out of consciousness.

Perfecto watches Petra staring out the window and wonders if she knows about his impending departure. He grows increasingly restless, dreaming of past days and places. His desire to return home continues growing. He inspects the car battery, which is corroded past the point of working.

In the past, Petra and her children rush across a busy highway to a gas station. Ricky and Arnulfo are terrified and Petra is forced to scream at them to cross. They spot a wealthy man in an expensive car and Estrella wonders what his life must be like.

Still in the past, Petra and the children walk to the corner store. On their way they come across a provocatively dressed woman and barking dog. When they arrive, Petra leaves her younger children outside and enters the store with Estrella. Petra carefully checks prices before selecting a few cans of spam and some wilting produce. Meanwhile, a man fixes a motor for the proprietor. The man, who is a younger Perfecto, helps Petra select a few cloves of garlic. As he is walking out, Perfecto gives a few chips of ice to the younger children outside the store. Overheated and thirsty, they are grateful. Petra and Estrella pay before leaving the store. Outside, Petra looks for the man but he has disappeared down the highway.

In the present, Petra awakes and presses herself against Perfecto. She overhears Alejo and Estrella in the next room flirting. She worries for her daughter, sensing that her feelings for Alejo could be the beginning of a hard life, much like her own. She wonder if she is healing Alejo so he will take Estrella. She reflects that loyalty is more important than love. She can feel Perfecto’s love for her fading but is confident that if she wakes it will resurge. Petra reveals she is pregnant; her old clothes barely fit over her expanding stomach. She wonders if the baby in her stomach will be affected by the pesticides in the fields.

Petra cooks breakfast and packs lunches for her family. She works frying tortillas on her comal. Petra thinks of her eldest daughter and her transition into womanhood. She wonders when Estrella will finally begin menstruating. Estrella prepares for work in the morning. Sitting at the table, she drinks a cup of coffee. Her mother chastises her for talking loudly with Alejo. As she talks, Petra burns herself on the comal.

Petra pulls Alejo outside, hoping the sun will heal him. Alejo is growing weaker, only perking up when around Estrella. All of Petra’s remedies have failed to make Alejo strong again. She feels guilty for being unable to help him. Outside, Petra vomits her breakfast, feeling weaker.

Perfecto and Estrella discuss Alejo’s worsening condition. Estrella offers to help tear down the barn if Perfecto will agree to take her friend to a clinic. Perfecto warns her that she will have to choose between helping Alejo and helping Petra. Later the family attempts to take Alejo to a clinic but the car becomes stuck in the mud. Estrella places stones under the wheels, but the car remains bogged down.


Though compassionate, Petra’s response to Alejo’s illness is ultimately ineffectual. She mutters prayers and rubs a “hen’s egg” over his stomach (98). Later she reveals that she has attempted everything from boiling ash to placing a glass of water over his head (124). Her attempts at healing are derived from superstition, not knowledge. Fittingly, Petra is associated with religion; several times she is subtly compared to the long-suffering Virgin of Guadalupe (101, 110). Likewise, throughout the novel she is shown clinging to rosary beads. These images reflect Viramontes’ claim that religion is ineffectual. Petra’s approach to healing Alejo will contrast vividly with Estrella’s approach in Part IV.

Petra’s compassion is contrasted with Perfecto’s increasing alienation from the family. In Part II and III, Perfecto dreams of returning home. He reveals he hasn’t spoken to Petra about his desire to leave (100), implying he will abandon the family without notice. Perfecto also admits that he has no contact with his kids from his first marriage (102). This echoes the theme of paternal absence found in Part I; neither Estrella nor Alejo know where their fathers are, much like Perfecto’s children. In many of her works Viramontes critiques men for failing to shoulder the true responsibility of having families. Though Perfecto is sympathetic, he embodies many of the qualities found in the author’s more sinister male figures.

Given the actions of men in the novel, it is unsurprising that Petra is worried for her eldest daughter. She is disturbed when she overhears Alejo and Estrella flirting (117). Later she claims that “asi comienza todo,” or ‘this is how it all begins’ (123). The possibility of Estrella becoming pregnant looms over her thoughts; Petra hopes Estrella has an easier life than she has had. She traces back the burdens life to falling in love and having children. Indeed Petra has a far from romantic view of partnership. She understands that Perfecto no longer loves her, but prizes loyalty over love (118). Watching her daughter fall in love, Petra is uneasy.

In Part III Viramontes repeatedly describes family members competently performing tasks, revealing her regard for their ingenuity and knowledge. She shows Perfecto fixing a motor (113). Later the novel details the precise and exacting steps involved as Petra cooks (119), Estrella sharpens a knife (125), and Perfecto treats a boil (127). The characters in Under the Feet of Jesus are survivors; above all they adapt, learning to care for themselves and others in an uncaring world. Viramontes draws attention to their competencies, highlighting this aspect of their nature. This contrasts with depictions of migrants that imply ignorance or naïveté.

Part III is a foreboding section of the novel. The condition involving Petra’s veins worsens (97); Alejo is described as nearing death (101); and Petra becomes pregnant just as Perfecto intends to leave the family (120). At the end of Part III, the family’s car spins its wheels in the mud, unable to progress (130). Estrella, her mother, and Perfecto must identify with the car; no matter how hard they work, they cannot dig themselves out of a deepening whole. The car symbolizes their place in society. In Part IV many of the incidents introduced in this section will be resolved.