The Bildungsroman literary genreconvention dwells on the growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood morallyand psychologically.
Works that have employed the literary genre can also bereferred to as coming of age genres. The novel by Viramontes entitled Under the Feet of Jesus gives an accountof the plight of a family that lives as migrants. It has aspects that indicatesimilarities with the theories of the Bildungsroman. The essay evaluates howand to what extent the events of the novel fit the genre conventions in theBildungsroman. Furthermore, the essay will delve into the justification behindthe choice to use or not to use the genre conventions to enhance the theme ofstruggle as Estrella and her family experience hardships, focusing on migrationand adolescence which characterize the life of the protagonist Estrella and herfamily.Estrella and her family are traveling onthe road heading to another destination.
The illustration above paints thepicture of a struggling family. The seven members are squeezed into a cardescribed by the author as old. They bear the tough conditions as they movefrom one place to another, in agreement with the Bildungsroman genre conventionthat describes a problematic start that has a desired end (Barkley 16). The journeyis just the start of struggles that face the characters as they develop in thebuildup of the plot.During the journey, Estrella is curious toknow their destination. Despite the tough conditions in the old car, she raisesher head trying to see their destination (Viramontes 59). The interest sheshows make her exceptional in the crowded vehicle setting her apart from therest pitting her as the protagonist according to the theory of Bildungsroman.The theory of the Bildungsroman stipulates that the protagonist stands out fromthe 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 thecuriosity of Estrella shows her interest to know where they are going, unlikeher siblings who also do not know their destination but manage to ignore it.On arrival to their destination, Petra andher Husband Perfecto start inspecting the Cabin. Petra is Estrella’s motherwhile Perfecto is Petra’s boyfriend. Perfecto finds a dead bird and a scorpionin the Cabin and chooses to hide the dead bird from Petra (Viramontes 67). Thisreveals 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 wouldprefer getting used to a problem rather than face the risks associated withtrying to solve the problem (Lukacs 132).Petra, on the other hand, warns herchildren immediately not to walk barefoot because of the presence of scorpions(Viramontes 68). Petra knows through her struggle that scorpions are dangerousand walking barefoot isn’t advisory in such an environment.
In theBildungsroman, personalities who have learned a phenomenon through experienceare resourceful and act as a light to the rest who end up believing in acertain way of life as illustrated by the learned individual (Lukacs 133).Petra uses her knowledge to help the children during their struggle asmigrants.As the narrative develops we encounterAlejo and his cousin Gumecindo who are migrants. They have adapted to the hardlife imminent to Petra and her family. Alejo and Gumecindo are illustratedstealing fruits hastily being cautious of the owner (Viramontes 96). Thisdepicts a harsh environment from where the protagonist is supposed to rise fromas defined by the Bildungsroman standard. According to the theory of theBildungsroman, a protagonist will only rise in the midst of hardships (Buckley17). Alejo and his cousin have been used to paint a picture of the hardshipsthat await the protagonist.
Life for Petra, her daughter Estrella andthe rest of the family has been difficult since. Initially, Petra was marriedto Estrella’s real father. Estrella’s father left them alone and never cameback.
Estrella’s mother was distraught but remembered how hard her fathertoiled and how her daughter Estrella tries her best to Keep the Boys happy(Viramontes 109). Petra’s interior change was affected by external socialfactors, he thought of her father and daughter and decided to fight. Thetheories of the Bildungsroman express that the theme a story is furtherdeveloped through interior change experienced as a consequence of facingreality. (Buckley 17) This shows similarity with Petra’s decision to change hercause of action.After Estrella’s father left Estrella hadto learn to live without her father. The struggle to overcome the trauma ofbeing walked out on by her biological father defines her character throughoutthe narrative.
In the Bildungsroman, the struggle is overcome and theprotagonist rises (Lukacs 134). For Estrella, the author chooses that thecharacter will not overcome the predicament but uses it instead to facilitatethe rise of the protagonist. At some point, later in their new destination,Estrella refutes instructions from Perfecto claiming that he is not herbiological father.
We also see Estrella gaining strength through Education. Hewas pushed to pursue education by the toolbox her father left (Viramontes 206).The author goes contrary to the theories of the Bildungsroman to depict theinfluence 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 tomatofarms, 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 withPerfecto (Viramontes 207). Estrella’s reaction shows that she has grown andunderstands the implication of what Maxine is saying. She starts a tussle withMaxine over the issue forcing the foreman to fire their family. The genreconventions in the theory of Bildungsroman express that growth is influenced bysocial life (Barkley 18). In the narrative, Estrella’s growth into the age ofadolescence has been influenced by her hard life as the scene with Maxinereflects.Furthermore, as Estrella washes awatermelon it accidentally falls into the river, this forces Estrella toundress and swim towards the watermelon (Viramontes 112).
The author describesEstrella’s appearance at that moment vividly using expressions that implybeauty. Alejo looks on from a distance dazed by Estrella’s beauty. This buildson the theme of love amidst the struggle. In the Bildungsroman framework, theprotagonist goes through intimate relationships that build or destroy them(Buckley 18). The attraction of Alejo towards Estrella indicates that they areadolescents and farther conforms to the Bildungsroman.As they live their migrant lives, Petra’sfamily has deeply sought desires.
The life of a migrant is tough to the familyincluding Estrella who is going through the problems associated with being amigrant and an adolescent. Estrella beliefs that education is her salvation andtries to change the situation her and her family are going through by enlighteningherself. However, most of the family members are trying to cope with theirproblems by adapting to them. The plot of the novel employs the conventions ofthe Bildungsroman where the hero decides to address a common problem afterexperiencing life through a difficult perspective. The conventions of the genrehelp bring out the theme of struggle depicted through the experiences of amigrant family and the life an adolescent in the novel. Works CitedBuckley,Jerome Hamilton. Season of youth: The Bildungsroman from Dickens to Golding.Harvard Univ Pr, 1974.
Lukács, Georg. “WilhelmMeister’s Years of Apprenticeship as an Attempted Synthesis.” TheTheory of the Novel: 132-42.Viramontes, Helena María. Underthe feet of Jesus. Penguin, 1995.