The Theme of Motherhood in "Under the Feet of Jesus" by Helena Maria Viramontes

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The Theme of Motherhood in "Under the Feet of Jesus" by Helena Maria Viramontes essay
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Under the Feet of Jesus, a novel written by Helena Maria Viramontes tells the story of a young migrant worker and her family. In the book, Viramontes highlights the unequal burdens faced by females. Each family member works in the fields, but women also bare the additional responsibility of domestic work. The mother, Petra, bares the majority of her family’s stresses while harvesting grapes during the day, cooking, cleaning, and caring for the children (Viramontes 60). Petra’s daughter, Estrella, continues to take on more adult responsibility throughout the novel, learning to support her family as her mother does. Despite being subjected to prolonged oppression, Petra persists as a caring, gentle, and protective mother. Through Petra, migrant motherhood is praised and argued to be a harrowing and oppressive experience. Petra’s perception of Estrella’s growth exposes motherhood as an isolating experience suffered by migrant women, unique within marginalized communities. By detailing ordinary tasks, the novel projects motherhood as heroic, and at times as an act of defiance towards the demeaning circumstance.

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The adaptive techniques utilized by Petra in these degrading circumstances are illustrations of the survival strategies mentioned in the introduction to the book Women and Migration in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, a book consisting of twenty-three essays that illuminate women’s engagement with diverse social and cultural challenges. In the introductory chapter, Denise Segura and Patricia Zavella describe how Mexican women construct these survival strategies by “[confronting] the conditions of poverty through organized resistance […] within their communities” (Segura and Zavella 13). Petra represents the bravery and determination of mothers living within harsh conditions.

Viramontes brings attention to the heroism of motherhood by depicting it within harsh conditions while criticizing the refusal of men and social institutions to provide desperately needed support and resources. Petra bears this burden as head of her impoverished household, an example of the “feminization of poverty” (Zegura and Zavella 14). Chapter three of Under the Feet of Jesus emphasizes the tendency of women to take on obligations that men can’t or won’t fulfill, exemplified in the tragedy of Alejo’s illness. Alejo’s illness is specifically connected to the fields, suggesting that it’s not just the pesticides making him sick but the entire system of exploitative labor in which he lives, a structural form of violence (Segura and Zavella 3). As Gumecindo relinquishes responsibility for his cousin, Estrella steps in to care for him: an act of heroism. Perfecto refuses to “allow” the family to care for Alejo (Viramontes 97). Petra defies Perfecto’s order in a moment of female empowerment and agency. However, her worsening physical state and the difficulty of caring for the children she already has hint at how ill-equipped she is to take on additional responsibility.

Seen here, motherhood is both a source of strength and a limiting factor in Petra’s life; one of Petra’s best qualities is her generosity, even when she has nothing to give besides tenderness and care. Her attitude clearly contrasts with the broad social indifference to the welfare of migrant workers. Her continued support for kin, fictive or genuine, can be seen as an act of resistance within a migrant community where no support is received from the outside.

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The essay grapples with the intricate portrayal of motherhood in Helena Maria Viramontes' novel "Under the Feet of Jesus," showcasing an insightful exploration of gender dynamics within migrant communities. The narrative evokes the resilience of Petra, a mother enduring immense hardships, while exposing societal inequalities. The analysis deftly connects the novel's themes to broader academic discourse, citing Segura and Zavella's insights on survival strategies. The essay accentuates the dichotomy of motherhood as both a wellspring of strength and a constraint. It deftly navigates the complexities of female empowerment in a milieu of adversity, mirroring the novel's themes.
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What can be improved
Cohesiveness: Enhance the flow between paragraphs to establish a more coherent trajectory of argumentation. This will strengthen the essay's overall narrative and make it more reader-friendly. Contextualization: Provide additional contextual information about the novel itself, its setting, and its significance within the broader literary landscape. This will aid readers who might not be familiar with the text. Language Precision: Strive for clarity in sentence structure, avoiding overly complex phrasing that could obscure the essay's points.
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The Theme of Motherhood in "Under the Feet of Jesus" by Helena Maria Viramontes essay

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