Under the Feet of Jesus

Under the Feet of Jesus Summary and Analysis of Part 5


The family returns home after leaving Alejo at the hospital. Petra, Perfecto, and Estrella carry the sleeping younger children into the bungalow. As Petra renews the circle in the dirt around the house, Perfecto leans on his truck thinking of leaving. He is scared the nurse will call the police and convinces himself he cannot delay his departure any longer. Checking his pockets reveals he has four dollars left. He begins to cry silently. Perfecto imagines that perhaps the nurse simply returned home to tell her husband about her stressful day. As he thinks, Perfecto yearns for a cigarette. The pull of the road seems insurmountable.

As she puts the children to bed, Petra wonders why she didn’t attempt to stop Estrella. She realizes that her daughter cannot be stopped. Nervously she notes that the circle around the house has been trampled. Disturbed by Perfecto’s silence and apparent crying, Petra enters the bungalow to pray.

Petra kneels before her statue of Jesus, which features the Son of God standing on a green snake. Underneath the statue, Petra keeps a delicate doily crocheted by her grandmother and the family’s paperwork. Petra remembers how her grandmother used crocheting to distract herself from her burdens; she wishes she could crochet. She glances through all the family’s documents: birth certificates, an ID card, a marriage license, and even a writing award given to Estrella for a school essay. As she stands, Petra unsteadily braces herself against her makeshift altar, her legs weak. She accidentally knocks her statue to the floor, where Jesus’ head breaks off. Hearing the something fall, Estrella asks her mother what happened. Petra responds curtly, palming the statue head and blowing out the candles. She would like to leave them burning but fears a fire.

Outside, Petra watches Perfecto lean silently against the car and thinks of the child growing in her stomach. Looking at the broken circle in the dirt, she wonders if she has failed to protect her children from the roaming scorpions. She questions if the circle is even effective. Petra feels her entire world is falling apart.

Estrella wakes and opens a window, seeing Perfecto crying by the truck. She is reminded of how scared Alejo was in the hospital; he had begged her to stay with him. It occurs to her that she may “never see him alive again” (170). Feeling dirty and beaten down, Estrella puts on a set of fresh clothes. She hears something shatter across the room and asks her mother if she is okay. As Estrella walks outside, Petra asks her where she is going and hugs her fiercely.

Estrella grabs a lantern and runs to the barn. Noticing a trapdoor to the roof, Estrella slowly climbs the hanging chain to the hayloft. She accidentally knocks a glass bottle to the floor below and has a vision of her fallen lantern setting the barn on fire. With great effort, Estrella pushes open the barn door and climbs onto the roof.

She steps out into a beautiful night, noting the stars shining in the sky. Birds whirl in the sky above her. She walks slowly to the edge of the roof, feeling the unstable structure shake beneath her. Unafraid, Estrella enjoys the cool wind on her face. She stands still at the edge of the barn, like an angel “on the verge of faith” (176). Estrella believes in her own power, confident she can “summon home all those who strayed” (176).


In Part V, Petra’s worldview begins to crumble. The dirt ring she has drawn and re-drawn faithfully around the cabin to protect her children from scorpions has been trampled (164). Worse, Petra questions her superstitions, wondering if the ring ever provided any real protection (168). She resolves to place all her trust in Jesus (164). Yet when Petra, weak from illness, braces herself against the altar, the statue falls and breaks (167). In this scene she is literally seeking support from her religion, using the altar to help her steady herself. In this moment of need, her religious idol falls and shatters, failing her. Overwhelmed, Petra is left without any clear system of support: neither her superstitions nor her religion can protect her. She wishes that she, like her grandmother, could simply crochet doilies until she forgets her problems (166). Her desire illustrates female helplessness; feeling incapable of addressing overwhelming challenges, Petra and her grandmother simply resign themselves to a perceived fate and attempt to distract themselves from suffering. Doilies, though beautiful, are useless. Estrella breaks this familial pattern of female inaction.

Another key piece of Petra’s world, Perfecto is also in danger of crumbling. Afraid of the repercussions of Estrella’s actions, he becomes hopeless; he claims there will be “no tomorrow” (160). As he contemplates leaving, he imagines himself drowning in quicksand (161). Depressed, Perfecto is too tired to even crush an insect underneath his boot (162). Like Petra, he faces life’s challenges through inaction. Though he stands by the car throughout the entirety Part V attempting to make a decision, Perfecto never actually chooses a course of action or follows through. Though he longs to, he never leaves; nor does he commit to staying. He is too afraid to act decisively.

If Petra and Perfecto seem powerless in Part V, Estrella gains new, potentially religious, powers. Petra describes her daughter as unstoppable; a young girl, Estrella saved a friend’s life through sheer will (164). Though her parents, and even Alejo himself, were too disoriented or afraid to act, Estrella insisted on bringing him, first, to the clinic and then the hospital. At the end of the novel, when she climbs the barn roof, Estrella is compared to her mother’s statue of Jesus; she stands over the barn like the figure stood over a green serpent (175). A paragraph later, she is compared to an angel (176). If religion has failed Petra and other characters in the novel, Viramontes offers a replacement: Estrella. Unlike a religion that has only reinforced the characters’ helplessness, at the novel’s end, Estrella is “powerful enough to summon home all those who have strayed” (176). The protagonist embodies not only compassion, but also action; Estrella’s power derives from her willingness to act decisively. Viramontes suggests that instead of praying, migrants and other marginalized groups should invest in political action.

Religious signs accompany Estrella’s empowerment. In Part I, Viramontes quotes a religious tract in which the Holy Spirit “came in the form of tongues of fire to show His love” (31). Later, fire is again associated with religion when Petra lights candles at the family altar (168). After the Jesus statue shatters, Estrella runs with a lit lantern to the barn, effectively carrying on the religious torch (171). In the barn she imagines the structure coming alive with fire, before climbing on the roof and realizing her power (174). Viramontes uses fire to indicate Estrella’s power and its almost religious nature. Likewise, the author uses images of bells to highlight Estrella’s spiritual leadership. The chain she climbs in the barn is compared to a cathedral bell (173); once she stands on the roof, it is Estrella’s heart that is compared to “pounding bells” (175). Then, in one of the novel’s most important passages, Viramontes likens Estrella’s leadership to “the chiming bells of great cathedrals” (176). Bells call parishioners to church, as Estrella is calling the wounded and oppressed to her. Estrella has become a sort of new church.

Despite the repeated indications of Estrella’s power in Part V, Viramontes acknowledges her tenuous position. Estrella remains an impoverished migrant laborer, with little opportunities or resources. The author reminds readers that Alejo may well die despite the protagonist’s best efforts (170). After her tremendous act, Estrella feels as if “her body had been beaten into a pulp of ligaments and cartilage” (170); she lives a brutal life. Even on the roof, Estrella’s position is insecure. The barn is decrepit. On the roof she feels “termite-softened shakes” under her feet, even loosening a few rotten pieces as she walks (175). For all her abilities, Estrella still exists on the edge, standing on a platform on the verge of collapse.