There are ghosts in the barn, or at least Helena María Viramontes’s Under the Feet of Jesus leads one to believe so. Instances of spectrality abound in the novel, suggesting a fundamental connection between Viramontes’s figurative appeal to the “ghostly” and her more openly political and economic concerns in telling a story about the poverty, exploitation, and violence suffered yearly by farmworkers at the hands of US agribusiness. This essay argues that Viramontes’s turn to spectrality in Under the Feet of Jesus aims to lay bare the fundamental fetishism and phantasmagoria surrounding the value form and the products of labor under capitalism—what Karl Marx suggestively calls “all the magic and necromancy” shrouding capital accumulation. Capitalism inescapably conjures its own phantoms and so remains haunted by the spectral figures of “dead labor” occulted under the sign of value. Accordingly, Under the Feet of Jesus depicts a California agricultural landscape haunted at every turn by disavowed “dead labor,” both in Marx’s figurative sense and in a tragically literal sense.
Ghosts in the Barn: Dead Labor and Capital Accumulation in Helena María Viramontes’s Under the Feet of Jesus
Dennis López is associate professor of English at California State University, Long Beach. His teaching and research focus on Chicana/o and Latina/o literature, US ethnic literature, and US radical protest literatures. His scholarship has appeared in MELUS, College Literature, and Science and Society.
Dennis López; Ghosts in the Barn: Dead Labor and Capital Accumulation in Helena María Viramontes’s Under the Feet of Jesus. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 December 2019; 65 (4): 307–342. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-7995579
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