Under the Feet of Jesus

Under the Feet of Jesus Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Compare and contrast Petra and Estrella.

    Throughout the novel, Petra relies on religion and superstition to guide her; she traces circles in the dirt to chase away scorpions and prays to a statue of Jesus for strength. She is also submissive, accepting the authority of the nurse at the clinic, even as she dislikes it. In contrast, Estrella turns not to God, but to herself. Through action, Estrella secures medical treatment for Alejo, challenging the nurse and the worldview she represents. Despite their differences, both characters are deeply dedicated to family.

  2. 2

    Could Under the Feet of Jesus be considered a feminist work?

    A staunch feminist, Viramontes includes many feminist themes in Under the Feet of Jesus. She explores the additional burden women bear in the form of domestic work. Petra is always cleaning and cooking in addition to working in the field. While fathers are absent in the novel, women are saddled with the responsibility inherent in children. Moreover, Estrella is an empowered young woman who fights her own oppression. Inverting the cliche of a damsel in distress, Estrella saves her boyfriend.

  3. 3

    How does Viramontes critique Christianity?

    Both Perfecto and Alejo invoke God to blame themselves for tragedies beyond their control, suggesting religion encourages marginalized groups to accept oppression rather than challenge authority. Instead of raging against a dehumanizing system that forces him to steal, Alejo feels he has sinned and accepts being poisoned as God's punishment. Christianity is seen as a force the facilitates oppression. Petra passively prays for divine help, instead of acting to change circumstances. In the end of the novel, Viramontes suggests religious faith can be replaced by the personal empowerment embodied by Estrella.

  4. 4

    What does the use of pesticides represent in the novel?

    The use of pesticides represents the disregard American society has for migrant laborers. Despite the clearly negative health effects, farmers spray pesticides without thought for how it will affect the workers in their fields. Pesticides trickle into laborer drinking water and cover the fruits they pick without masks or gloves. Farm owners simply don't care enough about the piscadores to curtail their use of pesticides or even adequately warn workers of the risk.

  5. 5

    How are fathers represented in Under the Feet of Jesus?

    Fathers are largely absent in the novel. Estrella's own father left when she was young. Alejo doesn't even mention his. Moreover, by the end, Perfecto, the family's surrogate father, is considering abandoning Petra and the children. It is revealed he abandoned his other children; he has no idea where they are. Unlike Petra, who is an ongoing source of stability, Perfecto threatens to upend his family. It is mothers, not fathers, that hold families together.

  6. 6

    Does Perfecto leave the family at the end of the novel?

    Viramontes leaves his final decision purposefully ambiguous. Perfecto finds himself unable to act; he longs to return to his original home, but some combination of fear and love cement him to Petra. Feeling the weight of his years, Perfecto imagines that this is his last opportunity to visit his home before he dies. The novel ends with Perfecto remaining undecided; both staying and leaving are possible outcomes. His indecision contrasts with Estrella's decisive action at the clinic.

  7. 7

    Why does Alejo tell Estrella he isn’t worthy of all her help?

    On the way to the hospital, Alejo tells Estrella he isn't worthy of the actions she took at the clinic. Alejo believes no one should upend order on his behalf. He has internalized the oppressive message of wider American society: he isn't worthy of basic human rights or dignified treatment. Alejo even believes that he is to blame for his own poisoning, blind to the larger forces that have shaped his life. In contrast, Estrella sees these forces, uses her knowledge to reframe the situation, and takes action to secure medical attention for Alejo.

  8. 8

    Explain the connection between literacy and tools in the novel.

    Estrella connects the unknown tools in Perfecto's box with the mysterious letters of the alphabet. Both literacy and physical tools offer great power, allowing someone to perform feats otherwise outside their reach. With tools Estrella can build and tear down structures; with words she can build and tear down ideas, redefining and reshaping her world. Estrella realizes the importance of knowledge, whether it is knowledge of tool function or of the alphabet, and acts decisively to acquire it.

  9. 9

    How does the novel critique the American middle class?

    In Under the Feet of Jesus, the middle class is best represented by the oblivious nurse, who insists Estrella pay for being told Alejo might have dysentery. Living in a carefully constructed world, the nurse doesn't have the moral imagination to see her own privileges, the family's sacrifices, and the connection between the two. Estrella explains that the family's work allows the nurse to lead the life she does. The nurse benefits from Estrella's labor, while refusing to acknowledge it. Likewise, the American middle class happily eats produce that is the product of brutal labor without a second thought for the workers required to produce it.

  10. 10

    Who is the boy Alejo and Estrella see at the barn?

    Both Alejo and Estrella see a young boy with a harelip by the barn. Later Perfecto insists the boy cannot be real and reveals someone died at the barn. Perhaps the boy is a ghost or vision who represents the indirect violence visited upon laborers. Harelips are strongly associated with pesticide exposure and Alejo sees the boy laboring in the grape fields. This mysterious figure is left ambiguous; he is potentially both real and unreal.