The Bildungsroman literary genre
convention dwells on the growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood morally
and psychologically. Works that have employed the literary genre can also be
referred to as coming of age genres. The novel by Viramontes entitled Under the Feet of Jesus gives an account
of the plight of a family that lives as migrants. It has aspects that indicate
similarities with the theories of the Bildungsroman. The essay evaluates how
and to what extent the events of the novel fit the genre conventions in the
Bildungsroman. Furthermore, the essay will delve into the justification behind
the choice to use or not to use the genre conventions to enhance the theme of
struggle as Estrella and her family experience hardships, focusing on migration
and adolescence which characterize the life of the protagonist Estrella and her
Estrella and her family are traveling on
the road heading to another destination. The illustration above paints the
picture of a struggling family. The seven members are squeezed into a car
described by the author as old. They bear the tough conditions as they move
from one place to another, in agreement with the Bildungsroman genre convention
that describes a problematic start that has a desired end (Barkley 16). The journey
is just the start of struggles that face the characters as they develop in the
buildup of the plot.
During the journey, Estrella is curious to
know their destination. Despite the tough conditions in the old car, she raises
her head trying to see their destination (Viramontes 59). The interest she
shows make her exceptional in the crowded vehicle setting her apart from the
rest pitting her as the protagonist according to the theory of Bildungsroman.
The theory of the Bildungsroman stipulates that the protagonist stands out from
the rest and puts herself or himself in a position to address a common problem
(Lukacs 132). The individuals in the car are faced by a similar problem but the
curiosity of Estrella shows her interest to know where they are going, unlike
her siblings who also do not know their destination but manage to ignore it.
On arrival to their destination, Petra and
her Husband Perfecto start inspecting the Cabin. Petra is Estrella’s mother
while Perfecto is Petra’s boyfriend. Perfecto finds a dead bird and a scorpion
in the Cabin and chooses to hide the dead bird from Petra (Viramontes 67). This
reveals Perfecto’s nature, he prefers to be silent to avoid causing a problem.
Perfecto is similar to the majority as expressed in the Bildungsroman who would
prefer getting used to a problem rather than face the risks associated with
trying to solve the problem (Lukacs 132).
Petra, on the other hand, warns her
children immediately not to walk barefoot because of the presence of scorpions
(Viramontes 68). Petra knows through her struggle that scorpions are dangerous
and walking barefoot isn’t advisory in such an environment. In the
Bildungsroman, personalities who have learned a phenomenon through experience
are resourceful and act as a light to the rest who end up believing in a
certain way of life as illustrated by the learned individual (Lukacs 133).
Petra uses her knowledge to help the children during their struggle as
As the narrative develops we encounter
Alejo and his cousin Gumecindo who are migrants. They have adapted to the hard
life imminent to Petra and her family. Alejo and Gumecindo are illustrated
stealing fruits hastily being cautious of the owner (Viramontes 96). This
depicts a harsh environment from where the protagonist is supposed to rise from
as defined by the Bildungsroman standard. According to the theory of the
Bildungsroman, a protagonist will only rise in the midst of hardships (Buckley
17). Alejo and his cousin have been used to paint a picture of the hardships
that await the protagonist.
Life for Petra, her daughter Estrella and
the rest of the family has been difficult since. Initially, Petra was married
to Estrella’s real father. Estrella’s father left them alone and never came
back. Estrella’s mother was distraught but remembered how hard her father
toiled and how her daughter Estrella tries her best to Keep the Boys happy
(Viramontes 109). Petra’s interior change was affected by external social
factors, he thought of her father and daughter and decided to fight. The
theories of the Bildungsroman express that the theme a story is further
developed through interior change experienced as a consequence of facing
reality. (Buckley 17) This shows similarity with Petra’s decision to change her
cause of action.
After Estrella’s father left Estrella had
to learn to live without her father. The struggle to overcome the trauma of
being walked out on by her biological father defines her character throughout
the narrative. In the Bildungsroman, the struggle is overcome and the
protagonist rises (Lukacs 134). For Estrella, the author chooses that the
character will not overcome the predicament but uses it instead to facilitate
the rise of the protagonist. At some point, later in their new destination,
Estrella refutes instructions from Perfecto claiming that he is not her
biological father. We also see Estrella gaining strength through Education. He
was pushed to pursue education by the toolbox her father left (Viramontes 206).
The author goes contrary to the theories of the Bildungsroman to depict the
influence of Estrella’s Biological father on her life.
After the departure of Estrella’s father,
the family was forced to work in Tomato plantations. In one of the tomato
farms, Estrella met Maxine, a character who has been described as stubborn.
Estrella and Maxine are age mates and they at first get along well. However,
Estrella becomes upset when Maxine tells her that her mother is having sex with
Perfecto (Viramontes 207). Estrella’s reaction shows that she has grown and
understands the implication of what Maxine is saying. She starts a tussle with
Maxine over the issue forcing the foreman to fire their family. The genre
conventions in the theory of Bildungsroman express that growth is influenced by
social life (Barkley 18). In the narrative, Estrella’s growth into the age of
adolescence has been influenced by her hard life as the scene with Maxine
Furthermore, as Estrella washes a
watermelon it accidentally falls into the river, this forces Estrella to
undress and swim towards the watermelon (Viramontes 112). The author describes
Estrella’s appearance at that moment vividly using expressions that imply
beauty. Alejo looks on from a distance dazed by Estrella’s beauty. This builds
on the theme of love amidst the struggle. In the Bildungsroman framework, the
protagonist goes through intimate relationships that build or destroy them
(Buckley 18). The attraction of Alejo towards Estrella indicates that they are
adolescents and farther conforms to the Bildungsroman.
As they live their migrant lives, Petra’s
family has deeply sought desires. The life of a migrant is tough to the family
including Estrella who is going through the problems associated with being a
migrant and an adolescent. Estrella beliefs that education is her salvation and
tries to change the situation her and her family are going through by enlightening
herself. However, most of the family members are trying to cope with their
problems by adapting to them. The plot of the novel employs the conventions of
the Bildungsroman where the hero decides to address a common problem after
experiencing life through a difficult perspective. The conventions of the genre
help bring out the theme of struggle depicted through the experiences of a
migrant family and the life an adolescent in the novel.
Jerome Hamilton. Season of youth: The Bildungsroman from Dickens to Golding.
Harvard Univ Pr, 1974.
Lukács, Georg. “Wilhelm
Meister’s Years of Apprenticeship as an Attempted Synthesis.” The
Theory of the Novel: 132-42.
Viramontes, Helena María. Under
the feet of Jesus. Penguin, 1995.