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In the excerpt from Helena Viramontes’ Under the Feet of Jesus, the character of young Estrella goes through a positive change in her life and personality, which is portrayed through characterization. In the beginning of the excerpt, Estrella was described as “[hating] when things were kept from her.” (line 12) This established her character as curious to the point of being stubborn. It set an example early in the excerpt for her character. She was also described as dirty and innocent in lines 19 through 24. Estrella viewed these things as commonplace, even when the teachers implied that her mother didn’t love her because she was dirty. The teachers “were more concerned with the dirt under her fingernails” than her education, especially since she was a farmer who would most likely not be in school come the end of harvest. The words of the teachers stung her, but not enough to give up her pursuit of knowledge. Instead of continuing to search for help with those who should embrace their students, she went to Perfecto, an old family friend. He was happy to teach her how to read, which is what she desired most in the world. She “would ask over and over… and point to the diagonal lines written in chalk on the blackboard with a dirty fingernail.” Instead of berating the child, Perfecto used his toolbox to explain the significance of each of those curlycue letters, and that “was when she began to read.”
In Under the Feet of Jesus, Helena Maria Viramontes utilizes symbolism to characterize and develop Estrella. Throughout the excerpt, there are many examples where Viramontes expertly uses symbolism; tools being the most repeated symbol. When the tool chest is first mentioned, the tools were described as “foreign as the alphabet she could not decipher”. Estrella, being one of the “migrant children” is unfamiliar with the English language and the tools, which are locked in the chest, are symbolic of the language that is kept from her. She struggles to unlock the secrets of English, and Viramontes shows her determination while also providing a concrete representation being the toolbox. Transitioning to the social difficulties Estrella faces, Viramontes introduces Mrs. Horn. Mrs. Horn is a clear symbol for a witch or satanic figure when she is described as having the “face of a Kleenex and a nose like a hook.” She is an obstruction for Estrella in that she prevents her learning because of the “dirt under her fingernails.” The fact that Estrella is again prevented from education adds to her frustration and determination. Viramontes adds to Estrella’s character when adding “Words could become as excruciating as rusted nails piercing the heels of her bare feet”. The allusion to Jesus and the crucifixion, noted in the title as well, also connects back to the symbolic tools. The final and possibly most crucial symbol is the handyman, Perfecto Flores. His name literally meaning “perfect flowers” adds to his positive effect on Estrella. Viramontes portrays Perfecto as a symbol of hope and guidance for young Estrella and eventually becomes more of a teacher than any of the actual teachers in the excerpt. Perfecto “opened up the tool chest” figuratively and literally which not only taught Estrella the tools, but also how to read. The symbolism used by Viramontes successfully develops Estrella from a frustrated girl to one eager to learn and further expand her knowledge.
Viramontes employs figurative language in order to develop Estrella’s character. In the excerpt, Viramontes compares Estrella’s education and temperament to tools, “the tool chest… seemed as confusing and foreign as the alphabet she could not decipher.” The use of metaphor initially reveals that Estrella is frustrated and confused because she doesn’t have the information that she wants to learn. Viramontes characterizes Estrella as someone who is hungry for knowledge and doesn’t like when things are kept from her. The large hole in Estrella’s education is exposed as the result of teachers who do not care about teaching her. Viramontes shows that Estrella comes to realize the void in her education through the use of simile, “Estrella realized words could be as excruciating as rusted nails piercing the heels of her bare feet.” The use of simile shows that Estrella understands what words can do but not what they actually mean. However, this is remedied with the appearance of Perfecto Flores, who teaches Estrella what her teachers failed to. The irony employed here further characterizes Estrella as someone who is eager to comprehend but was never given the chance, therefore making her irritated. The metaphor of tools extended throughout the excerpt is concluded with Estrella’s epiphany, “she lifted the pry bar… felt the…power of function, weighed the significance it awarded her, and soon she came to understand how essential it was to know these things.” With this last comparison, Estrella finally learns what she was so eager to understand, and decides to continue her learning through reading.
In the excerpt of Under the Feet of Jesus, Helena Maria Viramontes uses strong figurative language to develop the character of Estrella. Her subtle yet controlling use of allusions portray Estrella as a dedicated and determined young lady. When Viramontes explains that “words could become as excruciating as rusted nails piercing the heels of her bare feet”, the readers develop an association with Jesus and the crucifixion and the dedication he portrayed. Through this association, Viramontes reveals Estrella as an exceptional individual because although these words are hard for Estrella to lean and comprehend, her determination to overcome this barrier is stronger than the harm inflicted on her by such choice words. Through the use of irony in regards to Perfecto, Viramontes portrays Estrella as a witty character. Traditionally, the school teacher, in this case Mrs. Horn, would be the individual responsible for educating Estrella and providing her with everything necessary, as far as knowledge, to succeed in life. However, in a dramatic twist, this school teacher neglects her duties and instead, the maintenance man, Perfecto, is the man who ultimately teaches Estrella about language. After struggling with language for years, its only after Perfecto teaches Estrella about his tools that “she began to read”. This situation develops Estrella as someone who will take an nontraditional route in order to accomplish what she’s put her mind to. Lastly, it is through the use of an extended metaphor that the readers learn that Estrella is intelligent past her years and sharp minded. Throughout the excerpt, there is an extended metaphor between Perfecto’s perplexing tool box and foreign tools and the language Estrella struggles to understand. When Perfecto teaches Estrella about his tools and what he does, he inadvertently teaches her that troublesome language because “Perfecto Flores taught her the names that went with the tools…” By showing that Estrella could apply such seemingly arbitrary knowledge to her life and make so much out of it, Viramontes depicts her as someone who is resourceful and intelligent. Through her use of figurative language, Viramontes is able to mold Estrella into the dynamic character she is throughout the excerpt.
Viramontes uses functional detail to create a triangulated foil that helps to reveal Estrella’s growth and development throughout the excerpt. At first, Viramontes describes Estrella as a frustrated and confused migrant child who “hated when things were kept from her.” Much of this frustration is due to her teacher Mrs. Horn, whose name has the connotation of the devil and has a “nose like a hook” that suggests a similar character of a witch. This visual image that is presented pinpoints Mrs. Horn as having an evil spirit with dark ambitions. One can recognize Estrella as a target of Mrs. Horn’s profane influence and aspirations because of the way Estrella’s mother “believed her a victim of the evil eye.” Instead of being concerned with teaching Estrella the things she is unfamiliar and uncomfortable with, Mrs. Horn is more focused with the “dirt under her fingernails”, depriving Estrella of the knowledge she desires, which only increases her frustration. This result from Mrs. Horn’s teaching can be seen when Viramontes describes Estrella realizing how “words could become as excruciating as rusted nails piercing the heels of her bare feet.” This sensation notes Estrella’s thirst for knowledge and the hardships she is willing to overcome to get there. Estrella’s restless character is described in consideration with Mrs. Horn, who resembles the carelessness of the devil. It is not until the shift in the excerpt when Perfecto Flores is introduced that the reader can see how Viramontes transitions Estrella’s character toward ease with her new cultural surroundings. Perfecto Flores’s name is used “to describe a job well done,” cueing the contrasting image against Mrs. Horn that he is a dedicated, caring man. Perfecto is Mrs. Horn’s foil, as he represents a good hearted maintenance man going out of his way to help teach a confused child, ironically, something her own teacher can’t seem to do. He assures Estrella that “if that doesn’t work, because your manitas aren’t strong yet, fasten the vise pliers.” The use of the word “manitas” to mean little hands is a specific detail the author uses to help characterize Perfecto in a positive manner, which in effect offers Estrella comfort through a simple language connection. This connection continues to act as an anchor for Estrella to still her restlessness and transform it into self-assurance. The author gives the impression that Perfecto Flores is Estrella’s savior in this excerpt because of the foil Mrs. Horn forms with him to transform Estrella’s raw character into a poised individual.
The shift in tone that is communicated by Viramontes plays a prominent role in the development of Estrella’s character. Being a migrant child, Estrella first has a negative perspective of the new culture that she is forced to adapt to. Confused by, “the red tool box that stood guard by the door,” making her, “silent with rage,” she realized that she was conflicted by her ignorance of what was inside. Her frustration is further developed when trying to find a, “point to the diagonal lines written in chalk on the blackboard,” and add a meaning to, “the script A’s.” She associates her confusion with the alphabet to the tools inside the red tool box. This combination of confusion and frustration evolves into a pessimistic attitude towards what she still needs to learn. The height of Estrella’s discouragement came when Mrs. Horn told Estrella she was dirty, “and for the first time Estrella realized words could become as excruciating as rusted nails piercing the heels of her bare feet.” All Estrella had been longing for was an education that would allow her to understand the secrets that a foreign language and foreign tools bore. When Estrella finally gets the chance to meet Perfecto, he takes the time to teach her like no one else has. Perfecto tells her the name of each tool and explains what their main functions are. Perfecto gave Estrella, “a box of reasons,” rather than a mess of self-confliction. The turning point from a negative perspective to a positive perspective came with knowledge. Estrella began to understand and become more willing to learn, rather than act resentful in regards to her education. Estrella’s character over time acquires the insight to realize, “how essential it was to know these things.”
Through the use of detail in the prose, the reader sees the struggle that Estrella endures throughout the majority on her life. Growing as a migrant child, she thirsted to acquire that she had not yet learned, “ But some of the teachers were more concerned about the dirt under her fingeranails. They inspected her head for lice, parting her long hair with ice cream sticks…". The detail Viramontes uses in this quote explains how they were more concerned with how she appeared versus providing them with the education that they so desired. We later see a distinction when Viramontes introduces us to the character of, " Mrs. Horn, who had the face of a crumpled kleenex and a nose like a hook". This use of detail brings out a negative connotation of Mrs. Horn. It shows us that Estrella was not a fan of this teacher in particular. Viramontes later uses detail to allude to the bible when, " Estrella realized that words can become as excruciating as rusted nails piercing the heels of her bare feet". This detail shows what triggered her to begin reading because of the lesson she learned from Mrs. Horn about her outward appearance. This is the information that pierced her feet causing severe emotional pain on Estrella. John Munger
Under the feet of Jesus by Helena Maria Viramontes follows the path of a young immigrant, Estrella, develop from a stonewalled questioning girl to a more understanding, inspired, and curious student of life. Viramontes uses irony between two prominent figures in Estrella’s life, her teacher Miss. Horn who taught her “words could be excruciating as rusted nails piercing the heels of her bare feet” and the handy man Perfecto who taught her about “tools to build, bury, tear down, rearrange, and repair”. The irony Viramontes creates with these foils of characters is meant to show Estella’s growth not only has a student but with her self identity. Miss. Horn was supposed to be her teacher at school, teaching Estrella academics and not “about the dirt under her fingernails”. Not only does this frustrate Estrella but Viramontes adds the teachers general and careless characterization of “migrant children” which Estrella is able to recognize. She is frustrated that no one will teach her how to read or write as “The teachers in the schools did the same, never giving her the information she wanted.”. Perfecto is the opposite of Miss. Horn and helps teach Estrella not only about tools but “to understand how essential it was to know these things.”. He gives her his time as he too is an immigrant which Viramontes uses this to help Estrella have someone to identify with. Upon learning the simple names of tools from an unsuspecting teacher, Estrella’s curiosity finally leads to “when she began to read” and she no longer “hated when things were kept from her”.
Through meticulously crafted diction, Viramontes creates a deep understanding of the character of Estrella and how she perceives her surroundings, including the people who impact her. The very beginning of the passage is a question told from Estrella's point of view, encouraging the reader to ask along with her, "So what is this?" By employing this forced perspective technique, Viramontes is able to convey the same sense of bewilderment to the reader that Estrella is feeling at the start of the passage. Describing the tools as “jumbled steel,” Viramontes is able to establish them as being “confusing and foreign” to Estrella. Estrella also perceives these implements as being off-limits, “boxed away… and kept to themselves.” She is triggered to not only feel perplexed, but also extremely frustrated, as she “hated when things were kept from her.” Viramontes applies this frustration to Estrella’s education by introducing Mrs. Horn, whom Estrella feels is consciously withholding the information within the English letters she is supposed to teach, creating a parallel between the unknown alien tools and these puzzling letters in Estrella’s mind. Estrella’s struggle to learn English is described by Viramontes as being "as excruciating as rusted nails piercing the heels of her bare feet," alluding to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and complimenting the devilish Mrs. Horn, whose very name connotes demonic evil, whose appearance is witch-like and sinister, and whose unpleasant actions contradict her profession as a teacher, instead making Estrella’s path to understanding more difficult and treacherous. Mrs. Horn’s satanic influence is made noticeable before she is even introduced, when Viramontes mentions that Estrella’s mother briefly believes her to be “a victim of the evil eye,” as she becomes mute with frustration in her attempts to grasp the English language. By contrast, Viramontes’ inclusion of occasional brief phrases such as "aqui, pergarle aqui," in Estrella's native language of Spanish, create a far more comfortable environment for Estrella as she is introduced to Perfecto Flores. Perfecto is the owner of the red toolbox, which is the symbol of Estrella’s unfulfilled attempts at grasping her school lessons, and is a hard working handyman who is known for his appropriate name, which is used to “describe a job well done.” Not only is he able to teach “her the names that went with the tools,” but also help her to realize that it was “a box of reasons,” not just twisted metal pieces, but instruments that could be used to create or destroy. In addition, he encourages Estrella to not give up, using the tools to demonstrate that if her effort “doesn't work, because your manitas aren’t strong yet, fasten the vise pliers;” giving her a physical tool to aid in the use of the other tools, and the inspiration to find alternative methods of problem solving if she faces a hindrance in any other area. Perfecto was created by Viramontes as the perfect opposite to Mrs. Horn, being gentle and understanding towards Estrella, and even his name contrasts her teacher’s, translating to “Perfect Flowers,” which connotes peacefulness and kindness, and especially the season of Spring. Viramontes chose this specific connotation because Perfecto’s lessons allow Estrella’s knowledge to begin to bloom as she finally discovers the “power of function” behind the tools, and therefore, the letters and words she so strongly associated them with. The language that Viramontes chooses to utilize is precisely woven in order to convey Estrella’s perceptions, and also simultaneously infuses symbolic meaning to the passage as Estrella forms new cognitive skills drawn from overcoming the obstacle of the toolbox and reaching the meanings of the tools within, teaching her “how essential it was to know these things.”
Ariana BrunoViramontes makes use of indirect characterization to give the reader a better understanding of Estrella’s determination to break the language barrier. The indirect characterization is used to describe Estrella’s feelings towards how she learns and the way she is treated. The constant judgment and carelessness from her teachers fuels the fire for Estrella to want to learn. Various uses of imagery are portrayed to give a more broad idea of specific scenarios and establish Estrella's ethnicity and how it separates her from others, “But some of the teachers were more concerned about the dirt under her finger nails. They inspected her head for lice, parting her long hair with ice cream sticks.” She doesn't like to feel confused or forgotten and takes pride when Perfecto teaches her. Viramontes makes it clear that Estrella is discouraged and frustrated but doesn't give up on trying to learn. A comparison is drawn between the tools she is learning and the mysterious letters she can’t seem to grasp. By comparing these two means of education the reader is able to see how she reacts to frustration. Estrella’s character is determined but needs guidance in order to learn, “The curves and tails of the tools made no sense and the shapes were as foreign and meaningless to her as chalky lines on the blackboard. But Perfecto Flores was a man who came with his tool chest and stayed.” The difference between how Perfecto Flores teaches Estrella compared to Ms. Horn, makes the transition and understanding easier and more desirable. Viramontes successfully establishes a solid idea that Estrella is as a determined and positive person, through the indirect characterization, mood, imagery and the description of others.
In the beginning of the excerpt, Viramontes uses a shift in tone to depict the change in Estrella’s attitude in regards to language. The author introduces the reader to this sense of frustration in the beginning of the excerpt by asking the question “So what is this?” When Estrella sees Perfecto’s tool chest by the front door, she “became very angry. So what was this about? She had opened the tool chest and all that jumbled steel inside the box…seemed as confusing and foreign as the alphabet she could not decipher…she slammed the lid closed” (3-9). Much like with language, Estrella cannot understand the purpose of Perfecto’s tools and begins to direct her aggression towards them, given how she “slammed the lid closed”. When she looks in the tool chest, Estrella only sees the tools as “jumbled steel” because she has never learned their purpose and therefore cannot decipher them. She has the same problem with words, given how no one has taught her their function or how to use them to her advantage. Estrella begins to associate words with tools in school because of their physical similarities. When looking at the letters on a chalk board, she notices that “The script A’s had the curlicue of a pry bar, a hammerhead split like a V. The small i’s resembled nails” (17-19). This forms a negative correlation between words and tools, the two things that cannot be comprehended. Instead of keeping a pessimistic tone, Viramontes then shifts Estrella from a state of agitation to one of understanding. The young girl’s attitude begins to change when Perfecto Flores introduces her to the tools in his tool box and shows her how they work. By showing the girl how to use each tool, Perfecto is teaching Estrella to appreciate the activity of learning as well as satisfying her need for understanding. At the end of the passage, she “came to understand how essential it was to know these things. That was when she began to read” (72-74). Finally someone in Estrella’s life has invested their time into her education, which helps kick start her desire to learn. Viramontes uses Perfecto’s guidance to influence not only a shift in the tone, but also to depict the development of Estrella’s character from an agitated child to a young girl who is fueled by a hunger for knowledge.
Beyond simple detail, Viramontes scatters symbolism throughout the passage as a means of subtly conveying the extent of Estrella’s hardships. The initial simile that draws a comparison between tools and letters of the alphabet serves to compare the educational subject of Estrella’s frustration to something tangible and physical- the “jumbled steel” that carries its own cold, unfeeling hardness- while using the red of the toolbox itself to color her heated emotions. Viramontes’s inclusion of imagery in the description of how Estrella is treated by her teachers characterizes her as underprivileged; the “dirt under her fingernails” indicates the presence of physical labor in the girl’s life, which parallels the socioeconomic and emotional struggles that come with the life of a migrant child. Ironically, Estrella’s teachers check her hair for lice with ice cream sticks; remnants of an indulgence that is implied to be beyond her means are employed solely to further isolate her from other children. In brave protest against the dark thoughts with which Estrella’s young mind must be plagued, Viramontes gifts the girl with a name that repeatedly evokes the concept of starlight as unfaltering as her will to struggle on. Viramontes’s use of the phrase “as excruciating as rusted nails piercing the heels of her bare feet” is not just an allusion to the feet of Jesus; the emphasis on rust reflects the outdated stereotypes and prejudices that have hurt Estrella time and time again. Her novel, published in 1995, develops Estrella’s character in a way that criticizes common views of migrant workers in the mid-1900s setting of her story- a criticism further communicated by Viramontes’s tone throughout the excerpt.
Viramontes uses selective figurative language, such as diction, to depict Estrella’s character. Estrella strives to learn but is not receiving any of the answers to her questions. She becomes frustrated and “For days she was silent with rage.” Viramontes selects certain words such as “silent” and “rage” to show that she is beyond just angry. She is frustrated that no one is teaching her. Instead of teaching Estrella, Mrs. Horan fussed over the fact that Estrella is “dirty”. Estrella never thought of herself as dirty, “that the wet towel wiped on her resistant face each morning, the vigorous brushing and tight braids her mother neatly weaved were not enough for Mrs. Horan.” This quote depicts the thoughts of Estrella by using words such as “tight braids” and “vigorous brushing.” This was a normal start of the day for Estrella. She never thought that there were certain standards that were needed to be reached in society. Estrellas determination was emphasized through the quote “Tools to build, tools to bury, tear down, rearrange and repair.” Words such as “build” and “tear down” show her motivation to build up her knowledge. All Viramontes words are purposefully to display Estrellas character.
Adam Marcon AP EnglishThe sympathetic tone of this piece, utilized by Viramontes, is crucial in the demonstration of Estrella’s frustration and determination while she sets out on her challenging journey for knowledge. Viramontes is able to capture your attention through the tone of her writing by using a very emotional tone to allow you to feel the determination of Estrella. The tone used brings about feelings of frustration and allows the reader to feel for Estrella and support her in her efforts. Viramontes even uses this tool to allow you to develop the same feelings of contempt towards the characters who pose as obstacles for Estrella, much like Estrella’s own contempt. The tone also allows for the almost humorous attitude that Estrella feels towards the teacher, Mrs. Horn. The childlike perception and description enforced by the tone allows for vicious irony in the comparison of a would be dispenser of knowledge to a demonic and satanic figure with distasteful features of the physical and emotional variety. Tone is an incredibly strong tool when used creatively and Viramontes allows it to serve a dual purpose. While the tone evokes feelings of sympathy in the reader it is also is an outlet Viramontes uses to speak from the perspective of her lead character Estrella. Speaking vicariously through Estrella, Viramontes is able to give personal input on the subject of unfair educational treatment. This is masterfully done and does not go too far in its delivery of this message and infringe on the development Estrella’s character but rather works to add further development in showing the profound maturity and strive that exsists within Estrella’s young mind. Through the use of this very strategic tone Viramontes accomplishes both the goal of sending a societal message and the goal of developing her character rapidly and admirably.
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