Under the Feet of Jesus

Under the Feet of Jesus Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Helena María Viramontes's Under the Feet of Jesus. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Helena María Viramontes

Helena María Viramontes was born in Los Angeles to Mexican-American parents. She attended high school during the famous “Chicano Blowouts,” a series of protests over the quality of education in schools serving Mexican-Americans. Viramontes went on to study English at Immaculate Heart College and obtain an MFA from the University of California Irvine. She published several short stories in literary journals before writing her first novel, Under the Feet of Jesus. She followed this book with Their Dogs Came with Them. Viramontes is currently an English professor at Cornell University.
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Historical Context of Under the Feet of Jesus

America has long relied on migrant workers, often from Latin America, to perform difficult and poorly-paid agricultural work. However, these farm laborers were largely excluded from union organizing efforts and the labor protections that were gradually extended to most workers over the course of the 20th century; for example, the 1936 National Labor Relations Act guaranteed the right to join unions and bargain collectively to most Americans, but specifically excluded agricultural laborers. In the 1960s, activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta fought to improve rights and quality of life for Latino agricultural workers, eventually forming the United Farm Workers union and compelling commercial growers to bargain with their employees. Today, around three million migrant or temporary farmworkers labor on American farms.

Other Books Related to Under the Feet of Jesus

Viramontes is one of the foremost Chicana (or Mexican-American) writers. Her works tend to highlight the effects of labor exploitation and environmental degradation on Mexican-American communities: her second novel, Their Dogs Came with Them, chronicles the construction of a Los Angeles freeway and the harm this project causes to the people living around it. These themes recall the work of John Steinbeck, who famously chronicled the plight of Great Depression-era migrant laborers in his novel The Grapes of Wrath; in fact, Viramontes has been compared to Steinbeck both for her subject matter and her brusque, unembellished tone. She also focuses on the specific challenges Chicana women and children face within those communities. In this concern she’s similar to fellow Chicana author Sandra Cisneros, whose novels—such as The House on Mango Street—celebrate the strength and resilience of Chicana women while critiquing the unjust circumstances in which they live.
Key Facts about Under the Feet of Jesus
  • Full Title: Under the Feet of Jesus
  • When Written: 1995
  • Where Written: California
  • When Published: 1995
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Chicano Literature
  • Genre: Novel
  • Setting: California
  • Climax: Estrella and Alejo’s visit to the medical clinic
  • Antagonist: Labor exploitation, the commercial farming industry
  • Point of View: Third-person limited (following several characters)

Extra Credit for Under the Feet of Jesus

Community Leader. As well as writing, Viramontes has led the Los Angeles Latino Writers Association, an important incubator for Latino creative voices.

Writing From Life. Like her protagonists, Viramontes’s parents, Serafin and Mary Louise, were farmworkers. In her dedication of Under the Feet of Jesus, Viramontes mentions that they met while “picking cotton.”