Under the Feet of Jesus

Under the Feet of Jesus Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Tar Pits (Symbol)

The tar pits symbolize migrants' marginal position in American society, where they are largely unseen and unheard. Drowning in a tar pit echoes the erasure of migrant labor: a creature's life is sacrificed, but never acknowledged. Animals are simply swallowed by blackness. Migrant workers in Under the Feet of Jesus are the drowning animals; their pain is erased in order to produce a commodity, in this instance vegetables and fruit. Just as animals suffered silently to produce petroleum, picadores suffer silently to produce food.

Baby with No Mouth (Symbol)

The recurring image of a baby with no mouth represents the silenced speech of migrant laborers. The images reaffirm the characters' place at the margins of society. As migrant workers, Estrella and her family aren’t given a voice or treated like true citizens; nobody listens to their words. Viramontes reflects this truth symbolically by invoking the image of an infant without a mouth. Both Petra and Estrella worry their future children won't have a voice.

The Barn (Symbol)

More than a decrepit building, the barn represents a space where Estrella can complete her transformation and empowerment. The structure is described as a "cathedral," a place of religious contemplation (9). Estrella continues to use the building as a place for reflection. By the end of the novel, Estrella uses the barn as a platform, realizing her own power and believing herself strong enough to help people. In this way, the barn functions as a sort of secular church, where Estrella launches a new religion of self-empowerment.

Christ Statue (Symbol)

Petra's statue represents the Christian religion. Estrella's mother treats the statue, like Christianity, with great respect and turns to it for guidance. Unfortunately, in her time of need, Petra leans on her altar, causing the statue to fall and break. The decapitated statue mirror's Estrella's rejection of religion and Petra's growing doubt of its power. Christianity has failed the family; Estrella fills this void by relying on herself instead of God or Jesus.

Natural Beauty (Motif)

Despite the brutal stories being recounted, Viramontes focuses on the lush, beautiful landscape. In one passage she describes how “wisps of wind ruffled the orange and avocado and peach trees which rolled and tumbled as far back as the etched horizon of the mountain range” (3). Throughout the novel she returns to the stunning pastoral landscapes of the South and Western United States. The contrast between the characters' experiences and the scenery highlights both the desperation of Estrella’s life and the beauty of the land.