Sandra Cisneros attempts to reconstruct the traditionally patriarchal realm that is the house and negotiate a space for women. Her bilingual dedication “A las Mujeres/To the Women” recognizes her ethnicity as well as her gender, which immediately shapes the scope of her work. The title of Cisneros’ novel inevitably calls into mind Virginia Woolf’s similarly titled book, A Room of One’s Own. Whilst both novels aim to educate women and empower them, the bilingual dedication of Cisneros’ novel addresses an additional group of women that Woolf may have left out—women of colour. The House on Mango Street draws upon Cisneros’ cultural background and focuses on the patriarchal house as a motif for her reconstruction. The novel opens with a yearning that is reminiscent of the American dream, to acquire “a real house that would be ours for always…. White with trees around it, a great big yard and grass growing without a fence” (4), yet the Corderos can only settle in a house on Mango Street that is “small and red with tight steps in front and windows so small” (4). The exterior of the house is a reflection of the constraint that is present inside it. Esperanza notes that “the boys and girls live in separate worlds… [her brothers have] got plenty to say to me and Nenny inside the home. But outside they can’t be seen talking to girls” (8). Elsewhere, she recognizes the restrictive quality of the house. Her great grandmother, whom she was named after, was described as “a wild horse of a woman” who was relegated to looking “out the window her whole life, the way many women sit their sadness on an elbow” (11) after being forced into a marriage. Rafaela, too, is an example of a woman confined within the house by her husband “because her husband is afraid Rafaela will run away since she is too beautiful to look at” (79). Her situation is similar to Sally who “sits at home because she is afraid to go outside without his permission” (102). The text is thus punctuated by women who are trapped in their houses constructed by patriarchy.However, the same patriarchal structure that is supported by an oppressive presence is also marked by absence. Esperanza observes that her house had “no front yard,” and their garage is for “the car we don’t own yet” (4). Likewise, other houses are marked by absence. Meme’s house, built by Cathay’s father, has “no closets” (21) while Aunt Lupe’s apartment is located in a building “where sunlight never came” (60). This suggests that there is something incomplete about the male sphere, and opens up possibilities for other more inclusive constructions of the house. The house is a powerful metaphor for identity (re)construction because houses can be demolished, altered and substituted. This is echoed through Esperanza’s wish to reinvent herself by changing her name to “Lisandra or Maritza or Zeze the X” (11). The empty signifier “X” represents the arbitrary nature of gender construction that can be assumed like a pair of shoes. In the vignette, “The Family of Little Feet,” the girls become Cinderella and are aware of their sexuality as the men leer at them when they put on high heels. From this episode, Cisneros highlights the fallacy of male oppression that is based on monolithic gender constructions. If gender can be constructed, is it not therefore susceptible to deconstruction and reconstruction?The vignette “Alicia & I Talking on Edna’s Steps” is probably the most significant because it portrays the dilemma of reconstructing one’s identity. Though Esperanza’s initial intention was to leave Mango Street and only come back when “somebody makes it better” (107), Alicia soon reminds her that that is not going to happen, and this simultaneously leads Esperanza to realize that she will have to make that change. The novel ends by reiterating the opening paragraph. However, the difference is that Esperanza does not highlight the absences of the house but draws strength from it and resolute in voicing the stories of “the ones who cannot out” (110).The bildungsroman structure of the novel comes full circle with a little girl from an innocent girl who yearns to leave her house to a girl who gains an awareness of the restrictions that confine her and attempts to make a change. By situating the story in a setting that is typically marked by patriarchy, Cisneros is able to shatter absolute gender constructions and show how women can overcome their circumstances if only they can recognize their entrapment and be willing to effect a change. However, this change is not brought about by disavowing one’s past, but rather by embracing it and drawing strength from it because it is only through recognition and examination of the past can one progress. Works CitedCisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: Vintage Books, 1984. Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. Florida: First Harvest, 1989.
“One day I will say goodbye to Mango. I am too strong for her to keep me here forever. One day I will go away . . . They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out” (Cisneros 110). The House on Mango Street focuses on the mental progression of Esperanza as she observes her community. Many critics argue that this story illustrates a modernized bildungsroman because Esperanza matures into a young woman and attains an appreciation for her society due to her experiences. Yet Esperanza is an observer through the majority of the novel, and she forms an identity that opposes the typical female on Mango Street. Furthermore, Esperanza embodies several heroic attributes and represses them in order to fulfill what she believes is the norm for women, but after observing the “imprisonment” these women face, she becomes determined to escape the same fate. Although Esperanza lacks the experience and maturity to escape Mango Street, she recognizes, with the help of her community and mentors, that she is a pre-determined heroine who is able to break the redundant cycle of entrapment and, through writing, able to return to Mango Street after finding success to save other generations of women from the same fate. From the beginning of the novel, Cisneros uses several descriptions that suggest Esperanza is capable of becoming a heroine. Although Esperanza is young and unsure about herself, her stories demonstrate her disposition as a strong woman. For example, in “Hairs,” Esperanza characterizes her hair: “It never obeys barrettes or bands” (Cisneros 6). Cisneros provides this description in order to parallel the innate temperament of her protagonist. Instead of recognizing the uniqueness of her hair, Esperanza believes her hair is “lazy,” and describes the perfection of her mother’s hair. This demonstrates that Esperanza is uncomfortable with her disposition; she would rather have the norm. These ideas are developed further in “My Name.” Again, Esperanza demonstrates her discomfort with being attributed to masculinity or strength: “It was my great-grandmother’s name and now it is mine. She was a horse woman too, born like me in the Chinese year of the horse – which is supposed to be bad luck if you’re born – but I think this is a Chinese lie because the Chinese, like the Mexicans, don’t like their women strong” (10). Esperanza evades her innate strength because she believes she will be rejected by her society. By denying her heroic attributes, Esperanza illustrates her insecurities and her immaturity: “Fear and hostility are the alienating forces she tries to understand” (de Valdés 164). Cisneros demonstrates the uncertainty her heroine encounters due to social pressures. Esperanza is an inherently strong being, but her lack of experience leaves her vulnerable and doubtful of her abilities. Although she is afraid of social isolation and judgment, Esperanza opposes the redundant circular structure of entrapment into which her great-grandmother was forced. When describing her great-grandmother, Esperanza discusses her own desire to live an atypical life. Many women, as Esperanza will observe in her community, remain in the house while their husbands are free to explore. Even though Esperanza strives to adapt to the norms of her society, she refuses to adapt to the conventional lifestyles for women: “[My great-grandmother] looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow . . . I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window” (Cisneros 11). Esperanza intends on living a life outside of the house and escaping Mango Street, but, in order to do this, she must progressively mature to become a secure, courageous individual. She must overcome her anxieties of rejection and accept her innate strength. Her desires to leave Mango Street increase as she observes the women in the neighborhood and reflects on their positions in the home and inability to escape: “Esperanza comes to realize that she must leave Mango Street so that she will not be entrapped by poverty and shame or imprisoned by patriarchy” (Klein 24). Although Esperanza understands the redundancies for women on Mango Street, there is no immediate need to leave the neighborhood because she has not fully matured. Esperanza’s inexperience also affects her security beyond her cultural group. In “Those Who Don’t,” Esperanza describes different colored people entering her neighborhood with anxiety due to physical differences. Although she believes there is nothing to fear within her own community, Esperanza’s immaturity is exploited by her description of entering into a different neighborhood: “All brown all around, we are safe. But watch us drive into a neighborhood of another color and our knees go shakity-shake and our car windows get rolled up tight and our eyes look straight. Yeah. That is how it goes and goes” (Cisneros 28). Esperanza’s implicit strength is minimized due to her lack of experience outside her social group. She criticizes the “others” for being afraid of Mango Street; yet, she is also determined to escape that same community. This also demonstrates Esperanza’s youth because she desperately wants to abandon Mango Street, but she is afraid of what experiences await her outside her community. Esperanza then begins to progressively mature by accepting of her heroic attributes, recognizing that the women on Mango Street follow the same redundant cycle, and, with the help of mentors, accepting responsibility for future generations of women who may suffer the same fate as those in her community. As the novel continues, Esperanza begins to acknowledge her inherent strength. Unlike in the earlier stories where she oppressed her tenacity, Esperanza associates herself with objects and people of power. For example, in “Four Skinny Trees,” Esperanza discusses the physical similarities between her and the trees. She has made a connection to the trees “who do not belong here but are here” (Cisneros 74), similar to her own position on Mango Street. She then describes the inner strength of the trees: “Their strength is secret. They send ferocious roots beneath the ground. They grow up and they grow down and grab the earth between their hairy toes and bite the sky with violent teeth and never quit their anger” (74). This parallels Esperanza’s own disposition as a strong woman who relies on her community as an empowering force in order to one day explore outside Mango Street. She grows within her culture, and, in the future, she will grow within a different cultural setting: “The importance of community for Esperanza – of finding out where one belongs and making a space for oneself; realizing that she does indeed belong on Mango Street and to her Chicano community after all – is crucial” (Karafilis 67). Although Esperanza desires to escape Mango Street, she realizes her strength is reinforced by remaining within her community while maturing. Esperanza’s acceptance of her heroic nature continues as the novel proceeds. Although her lack of experience keeps her silent, her inner strength grows. In “Beautiful & Cruel,” Esperanza describes movies in which a strong women takes control of her life and the people around her. Esperanza wants to be this type of woman, but, due to her youth, she is unable to achieve this goal at this time in her life; instead, she recognizes her abilities to become this “strong” woman: “I have begun my own quiet war. Simple. Sure. I am one who leaves the table like a man, without putting back the chair or picking up the plate” (Cisneros 89). Esperanza refuses to submit to the same redundant cycle as the other women on Mango Street; instead, she emulates the “strong” women in the movies. Esperanza exhibits her heroism when she believes Sally is being hurt by the boys in “The Monkey Garden.” She recognizes her responsibility to help the women of Mango Street from the same fate and attempts to rescue her friend: “[I] ran back down the three flights to the garden where Sally needed to be saved. I took three big sticks and a brick and figured this was good enough” (97). Unfortunately, Esperanza is humiliated due to her heroic efforts. After an increase of security with her heroism, Esperanza quickly regresses and is molested/raped by a man in “Red Clowns.” Due to her humiliation, Esperanza lapses back into an insecure girl, and she once again attempts to become “normal.” Unlike the other girls on Mango Street that are taken advantage of their whole lives, Esperanza’s experience with sexuality – or the “norm” – is unacceptable in her mind: “the knowledge with which she emerges is not that of regeneration, but of painful knowledge, the knowledge of betrayal and physical violation” (Klein 25). She does not care about the social isolation she may suffer any longer, she refuses to be violated or victimized like the other women on Mango Street. As Esperanza accepts her heroic abilities, she recognizes the redundant cycle of entrapment the women on Mango Street suffer. Through the novel, Esperanza observes a variety of women in the community that all experience the same oppression. “Rafaela Who Drinks Coconut & Papaya Juice on Tuesdays” is an interesting parallel to the story of Rapunzel. Rafaela’s husband believes she is “too beautiful” to leave the house or go dancing, so she must remain in the house to avoid being abused. Esperanza and her friends bring her juice from the store, and Rafaela lets down a clothesline in order to retrieve the juice. Esperanza’s heroic nature is demonstrated through this action because she is aiding a women she considers a “damsel in distress.” Many of the women in this novel share the similar lifestyle: “there is an ironic twist to the guidance of mentors, for often Esperanza is guided by examples of women she does not want to emulate, such as Sally and Rafaela” (Klein 24). Although other women in the story guide Esperanza’s talents and sense of responsibility, majority of the women in the neighbor create a strong opposition to the life Esperanza desires. Sally also has a strong influence on Esperanza. When she was searching for social acceptance, Esperanza befriended Sally in order to understand the “norms” for women her age. Through her observations of and experiences with Sally, Esperanza learns that femininity and beauty parallel vulnerability and frailty in her community. Sally is trapped and abused by her father during her maturity, and in order to escape, Sally is married at an early age in “Linoleum Roses.” Although Sally believes this is an escape, Esperanza has observed enough “imprisoned” women to understand that Sally has followed the same pattern as the other women on Mango Street: “She is happy, except sometimes her husband gets angry . . . he won’t let her talk on the telephone. And he doesn’t let her look out the window. And he doesn’t like her friends, so nobody gets to visit her unless he is working” (Cisneros 101-102). Sally is entrapped more than the other women, because she is forbidden to even look out the window – she is forbidden to dream of a different life. Sally believes she has escaped the redundancies of Mango Street, but Esperanza recognizes the same circular structure she must avoid. By including an increasing number of trapped women, Cisneros empowers her protagonist. In the beginning of the novel, Esperanza was torn between her concerns for social acceptance and her ambition to escape the cycle, but, as she observes the miserable lives of the women who chose the “norm,” she decides to risk her social life for a better future. Esperanza realizes she would never be content in the redundant structure on Mango Street, so she must embrace her innate strength in order to overcome the degeneration of her community and escape. While she observes the entrapment of women on Mango Street and empowers herself in order to circumvent the same fate, Esperanza is advised by women and discovers her responsibility to her community. Guadalupe, Esperanza’s aunt, describes the importance of writing as a means of escape: “You must keep writing. It will keep you free . . .”(Cisneros 61). Although Esperanza does not understand this message at first, she begins to understand that her abilities will help her avoid the same fate as the other women. Similar to this advice, Esperanza’s mother stresses the importance of education to her daughter: “Esperanza, go to school. Study hard” (91). Her mother explains that shame can interrupt her progression. This message is extenuated by Esperanza’s heroic humiliation and rape in the following stories, illustrating that shame can lead to regression and vulnerability. Esperanza does not understand the messages at first, but due to experience, she recognizes the necessity to listen to others in order to escape: “[Her mentors] nurture her writing talent, show her ways to escape the bonds of patriarchy, and remind her of cultural and communal responsibilities” (Klein 24). The remaining mentors focus more attention on Esperanza’s future responsibilities to return to Mango Street in order to complete her heroic quest. Esperanza is determined to leave because she fears the same fate her great-grandmother faced, especially after her experience in “Red Clowns.” She recognizes her inner strength; yet, her young age leaves her vulnerable to the desires of men. Although she is afraid of the people outside of Mango Street, she is resolved to escape her community. In “The Three Sisters,” three women discuss the Esperanza’s destiny and place importance on her return to Mango Street after finding success. Cisneros’ use of three sisters illustrates a mystical element in The House on Mango Street: “The tradition of the sisters of fate runs deep in western literature from the most elevated lyric to the popular tale of marriage, birth, and the fate awaiting the hero or heroine. In Cisneros’ text, the prophecy of the facts turns to the evocation of self-knowledge” (de Valdés 170). Again, Esperanza interprets this message to mean she needs to return at some future point at time, but, combined with the advice from Alicia, Esperanza realizes her return will be one that changes the redundant structure of Mango Street. She argues with Alicia about who takes responsibility for change: “No, Alicia says. Like it or not you are Mango Street, and one day you’ll come back too” (Cisneros 107). Esperanza realizes then that not even the mayor will bring about the change; instead, due to her heroism and determination, she will be the woman the break the cycle. The women of Mango Street are relying on her to use her intellectual and mental strength in order to help future generations of women in the community. Through observation, experience, and advisement, Esperanza progresses into the courageous heroine she was pre-determined to become. Although she had to overcome certain struggles that women in her community face, Esperanza empowers herself through these experiences and decides she will control her own destiny by escaping Mango Street; yet, as revealed by her mentors, she is Mango Street, and she has a responsibility as a strong woman to return to Mango Street and save future generations from the oppressive cycle. She illustrates her understanding of the mentor’s messages in the end, proving she has matured throughout the novel; on the other hand, she is still vulnerable in the community and has not experienced any cultural diversity. She has not resolved her initial fears of “outsiders,” and in order to show complete growth, she must leave Mango Street and maintain her cultural identity that she has embraced. Although this story is not complete to fulfill a bildungsroman, Cisneros provides the reader with a heroic female that is determined to change her societal norms through education and writing. Writing, as Guadalupe explains, has freeing powers, and Esperanza will not only use her writing abilities to escape Mango Street herself, but her writing will also free the future women of Mango Street from a oppressive fate.
Cisnero’s acclaimed work The House on Mango Street explores a variety of themes in her photographic stories which capture everything from the seemingly banal triumphs of a small child to the tragedies suffered at the hands of cultural and social prescripts and finally to the mature introspections of a confused but wildly talented young woman. The short novel is essentially a coming-of-age story, one that depicts landmark events of Esperanza’s life in the heavily stylistic vignettes that form the novel all while retaining a regular chronology that divides her juvenile and mature life into sections. The tale begins with a snapshot of Esperanza’s home on Mango Street; the home which is viewed under the critical gaze of the perceptive child who struggles with the home as a representation of several failures. First is the failure of her parents to provide the idyllic future that they promised, the future that was to unfold in the white-picket-fence suburban dream-house they described as they moved from apartment to apartment. However, the house is more frequently seen as symbolic of the potential failure of never escaping Mango Street and not being able to realize the dream through her own agency. If her parent’s incapacity to fulfill the fantasy was disappointing, Esperanza understands the degree of disappointment that awaits her if she is to take responsibility for her own happiness and fall short. Thus begins the narrator’s battle to define herself and align her sense of self with the socially dictated identity appropriated to her. Cisnero’s choice to open with this piece effectively impresses the moment of Esperanza’s disillusionment and sets into motion the story of her understanding the issues and eventually resolving them. Esperanza’s identity crisis is multi-faceted, making it even more difficult for her to settle both her internal and external conflicts. One of the many faces of the crisis is her confusion surrounding her cultural role as a female. She paints the picture of the stereotypical Mexican woman as physically submissive yet psychic powerhouses of patience and more importantly, resilience. For example, she recounts the story of her grandparent’s union in which her grandmother was literally dragged off into marriage and punished her husband by never conforming to be happy in a matrimony that was never based on egalitarian standards or even a reciprocated affection. Esperanza learns of the subtlety of a woman’s strength and resolves not to repeat her grandmother’s mistakes. Another episode that deals with this role is in her memories of Sally coming to school with the faded purple and blue evidence of her father’s physical abuse. The girl’s beatings are explained away by her father’s supposed concern and desire to protect the girl from danger and dishonor; however, they are the exact representation of the patriarchal realities that are prevalent in Esperanza’s culture. Nevertheless, the tale is punctuated with an undertone of hope, albeit completely symbolic-Sally’s enduring beauty that is not hidden behind the marks of abuse. The role of the female is further complicated as Esperanza becomes increasingly aware of female sexuality in her culture and the power dynamic that is embodied and perpetuated in sexual interactions. Again, Sally’s character depicts this notion best-for instance, in the chapter where Esperanza describes the old lot that was her childhood playground and the locus of inspiration for her fantastical ruminations. The afternoon that Sally is pressured into kissing all the boys in order to regain her possessions (without any real resistance from Sally or objection to the undoubtedly sexual game on the part of the mothers of the boys) Esperanza experiences the crucial moment in coming-of-age-novels: the loss of innocence. The playground is no longer seen as a magical escape; rather, it becomes another place from which she must battle to escape. From this point on she sees sex as a punishable act for the women around her, one that entraps them in bad relationships and unplanned pregnancies. Take the case of Sally, who uses her sexual agency to achieve a temporary relief from her troubles at home. She moves away from her abusive father and into the arms of an abusive husband, one who is just as jealous and preoccupied the danger of the woman’s beauty. Lastly, her assumed role as a woman is that of a domestic goddess, circumscribing education, especially one that will teach her to question and dismiss the norms that define her quotidian life. Esperanza is first exposed to an educated woman (and the reactions to an educated woman) through her encounters with Alicia. Esperanza initially describes Alicia as conceited because of her university experience, but later views Alicia as a source of advice and encouragement for her own collegiate aspirations. The menace of an intelligent woman to the patriarchal society is perfectly encompassed in Esperanza’s commentary, “The Chinese, like the Mexicans, do not like their women strong,” because the intellectual female is empowered, aware and able without the support of the male. Her divergence from the culture of Mango Street is a result of several factors and as she grows older, the sentiment of exclusion becomes more pronounced. However, what was in her youth an unfortunate and painful truth of being the “other” later becomes the realization that her niche is to be an outsider, a perennially external personality to the reality of her peers and neighbors. She does not use this position, however, as an excuse to escape Mango Street, but as a vehicle for providing perspective for those around her. Therefore, she finds function in “fault” and takes from her experiences the tools needed to improve herself (and henceforth to improve the lives of people like her.) Esperanza’s primary conflict is that of identity, an intricate network of clashes between her perceptions of what she would like to be and that which is expected from her because of her sex and ethnic background. Throughout the story, she learns about female strength and weakness and finds that her home is exactly where the curandera said it was: in her heart. Furthermore, at the end of the novel, the house on Mango Street is no longer a representation of failure but of Esperanza (Hope).
In Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street, the narrator, Esperanza, recounts brief incidents and memories that shape who she becomes as she grows from a child into a young woman. From the beginning, her hope for the future is represented through her desire to have a nice house of her own. The same sentiment is echoed at the conclusion of the book, but Esperanza is no longer the same person. While she maintains her wish to get out of the neighborhood—to leave Mango Street behind—she acknowledges her attachment to the neighborhood and her duty to help those who are not as capable as she is. She cannot erase her past, as it is an essential part of who she is and who she is to become. Forced to encounter adult issues at a young age, Esperanza does not succumb to them as many characters in the book do. Instead, she is able to learn from her experiences, forming her own goals and maturing into a young woman shaped, but not held back, by the world in which she grows up.In the opening chapter, Esperanza acknowledges how important it is for her one day to have a house she can be proud of. She is not content with the house on Mango Street, even though her family owns it. It is small and rundown, lacking the amenities she envisions in a house. She wants a “real house,” and says, “But this isn’t it. The house on Mango Street isn’t it” (5). From the onset of the book, Esperanza’s unwillingness to accept her situation is clear. Despite the poverty of her family and her seemingly unfortunate situation, she does not resign herself to a life of pity and despair. She holds out hope for something better, and it is this hope that allows her to overcome many of the problems that she faces.Esperanza uses the meaning of her name and the story of her great-grandmother, her namesake, to show that she wants to distinguish herself and her life on her own terms, and not merely become the possession of a man. “In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting” (10). Esperanza’s great-grandmother was once a wild woman who refused to marry until one day a man physically carried her off. After that:She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window. (11)Esperanza knows that many Spanish women, like her great-grandmother, lose their dreams and their ability to live their own lives once they are married. Rather than fall into this traditional trap, she embraces the English meaning of her name: hope. She believes a new name would be even more fitting, “something like Zeze the X” (11), as it would represent her individuality.Marin’s fixation with impressing men and getting married provides a contrast to Esperanza’s yearning to create her own life. “What matters, Marin says, is for the boys to see us and for us to see them” (27). Marin’s hope for the future lies completely in the hands of men. As Esperanza describes, she “Is waiting for a car to stop, a star to fall, someone to change her life” (27). Esperanza refuses to take such a passive approach. She would rather try to succeed through her own endeavors than rely completely on a man to save her.Rafaela provides an example of a woman who relies on marriage to improve her life, and then finds herself trapped by her husband. She is still a young woman, but does not get to go out and dance and have fun. She “gets locked indoors because her husband is afraid [she] will run away since she is too beautiful to look at” (79). Rafaela is treated like a possession by her husband. She is not even permitted to leave her own home alone. Like Esperanza’s great-grandmother, Rafaela cannot live her own life. Esperanza recognizes the loss of freedom and individuality that many women in her community experience and refuses to accept that for herself. Her hopes and dreams are based on what she can achieve, and are not dependent on the promises of a man. She does not want to end up like her great-grandmother or Rafaela, trapped in a house, dreaming of what might have been.Esperanza’s early experiences with sexuality give her a negative view of men and the manner in which they treat women. She and two of her friends are given high-heeled shoes that they wear around the neighborhood. They are excited to be wearing the shoes. Esperanza says, “these are the best shoes” (41). She notices that the shoes draw the attention of all the men, but does not immediately realize it is because the shoes cause the men to view them as sex objects, not as little girls trying to have fun. The girls ignore the man at the grocery store who says they are too young to be wearing high-heeled shoes, but decide to take them off after a drunken bum offers one of them a dollar to give him a kiss. “We are tired of being beautiful” (42). They hide the shoes and do not complain when one of their mother’s throws them away. The experience with the shoes and the gawking men teaches the girls that though they may feel innocent and young, they are not viewed that way by men. The way men perceive them forces them to grow up before they should have to.At her first job, one of Esperanza’s coworkers forcefully kisses her, further proving to her that she is now viewed by men as an object of sexuality. She takes the job to help pay for school. She feels uncomfortable at first, but an older Oriental man is nice to her. He asks her for a birthday kiss, and as she is about to kiss him on the cheek, he grabs her and kisses her hard on the mouth, not letting go. Esperanza trusts this man at first, but learns that he was only being nice to her so that she would kiss him. Her early experiences with men and intimate acts are not how she imagined they would be.Esperanza does not see her sexuality as an escape as her friend Sally does. She is forcefully groped, perhaps raped, during her first sexual encounter. She is left crying and confused:Sally, you lied. It wasn’t what you said at all. What he did. Where he touched me. I didn’t want it, Sally. The way they said it, the way it’s supposed to be, all the storybooks and movies, why did you lie to me? (99)Esperanza blames Sally for the rape. At the carnival, Sally goes of with a man, leaving Esperanza alone. She is kissed and grabbed by a man who keeps telling her he loves her. For Esperanza, the experience is nothing like it was supposed to be. “They all lied. All the books and magazines, everything that told it wrong. Only his dirty fingernails against my skin, only his sour smell again” (100). Esperanza had enjoyed going out with Sally, because men would shower them with attention, but upon realizing what the men truly want, she sees that her sexuality is more a burden than an escape. This consciousness allows her to free herself from the idea that she needs a husband to live happily. Sally, on the other hand, gets married at a very young age, and soon finds herself afraid to leave her home without permission.While her sexual maturation, and the way it is viewed by men, plays a significant role in her growth into a young woman, Esperanza matures in other ways, discovering what she needs to be happy. On her final trip to the monkey garden, Esperanza discovers that she cannot use the games she played as a child to get away from reality anymore (98). She has to make some decisions about where she wants her life to go. She knows she does not want to end up imprisoned by marriage like many women in the neighborhood. She listens to her mother when she tells her to work hard in school, because she sees her mother’s regrets. “I could have been somebody, you know? Esperanza, you go to school. Study hard” (91). Her mother is not in an abusive relationship like some of the other women, but still she is limited in her freedom. All she knows is the neighborhood. She has disbanded the dreams she had as a young girl and resigns herself to her current situation. She is a strong influence on Esperanza, not wanting her to be one of the girls “that go into the alleys” (73). She envisions something better for her daughter, which contributes to Esperanza seeking something better for herself.Esperanza learns to accept the role her neighborhood plays in her life. She cannot forget it, with its sadness and its problems, because she is shaped by her experiences in it. She feels bad for those who suffer daily, and knows she can only be happy if she helps others.On day I’ll own my own house, but I won’t forget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I’ll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, because I know how it is to be without a house.Some days after dinner, guests and I will sit in front of a fire. Floorboards will squeak upstairs. The attic grumble.Rats? They’ll ask.Bums, I’ll say, and I’ll be happy. (87)Esperanza does not feel like a victim. Instead, she learns from the difficult situations she faces throughout her life and, even as a young woman, feels a sense of duty towards the less fortunate. She believes she can help. She may not know how or when, but one day she will be successful, and she will share that success with others.In “A House of My Own,” Esperanza further describes the house she will have one day, and how it will make her happy.Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man’s house. Not a daddy’s. A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias. My books and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed. Nobody to shake a stick at. Nobody’s garbage to pick up after.Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem. (108)Esperanza’s dream home is free of a male to control her. It will allow her to write, which becomes her passion. She will depend on herself and be responsible for herself, and if she can accomplish that, she will be happy. The house is her blank slate upon which she can make her life. She compares it to paper before a poem. It holds the promise and potential for greatness.In the final chapter, “Mango Says Goodbye Sometimes,” Esperanza explains how writing has helped her overcome the problems on Mango Street. “I write it down and Mango says goodbye sometimes” (110). She can never completely erase the bad parts of her life, the poverty of her situation, but she can escape it through writing. She says, “One day I will pack my bags of books and paper. One day I will say goodbye to Mango. I am too strong for her to keep me here forever” (110). While she wants to physically leave Mango Street one day, she already has left it in other ways. She is not burdened by it and does not fall into abusive or prohibitive relationships as many women she describes do. She maintains her hope in spite of the despair she encounters in her neighborhood. Perhaps most importantly, she appreciates her own situation and vows to return, “For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out” (110). While all along her dream is to get away from Mango Street, she knows that is not possible. She cannot forget those who have influenced her, those who lack her hope and perseverance. They will always be a part of who she is.Esperanza becomes aware of adult problems at a young age. In some cases, she learns from the experiences of others, other times, she experiences them firsthand. It becomes clear to her that she wants a better life than those around her have. She cannot rely on marriage to save her. She must create a good life for herself. Over the course of the book, she begins to comprehend what a happy life entails. She wants her own house, she wants to write, and she wants to help others. Esperanza is still a young woman on Mango Street when the story concludes, but one is left with the impression that her determination will allow her to reach her goals.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, students who graduate from college are more likely to find success in life than those who dropout of high school. Sandra Cisneros communicates the importance of education in a coming of age novel, House on Mango Street. Cisneros emphasizes how education is the key to one’s chance of living a better life through the characters of Mama, Alicia and Esperanza, characters whose fates differ and whose responses clearly link the idea of education to the idea of personal and social improvement.
Esperanza’s mother, whom she calls Mama, acts as a foreshadowing of what happens to someone who does not pursue education and lives a life full of regrets. One day after school Mama mentions how she could have been more than just a housewife and advises,“Esperanza, you go to school. Study hard… Got to take care all your own”(90). She is emphasizing that it’s very important to pursue your education so you can live freely and care for others. Mama regrets not continuing school because she is now stuck at home only taking care of her family instead of having the ideal life that education could give her. Esperanza’s mother reflects on her decision to get married young and give up her education when she regretfully says,“I could have been somebody, you know?”(90). Mama talks about how she could have been anything she wanted. She had talents that could had given her opportunities to freedom. At that time she thought it was best to conform to the beliefs of society. She found regret later in life due to that decision. Mama lives in regret each day of her life, wishing that she would have chosen to continue her education and take advantage of the opportunities that an education would give her. Mama exemplifies what life is like for one who chooses to not continue her education when it could have changed her life for the better.
Alicia’s mother dies in the novel and in her society when a mom dies the daughter is to become the housewife. Alicia decides instead to attend a University to make a better life for herself. Esperanza admires her friendly neighbor Alicia who “inherited her mama’s rolling pin and sleepiness, is young and smart and studies for the 1st time at a university”(30). Alicia was meant to inherit her dead mother’s role in the house but she decided to get a better education instead. Alicia is not following society’s expectation for her. By attending college she will escape the dead end life that many residents on Mango Street are used to. Esperanza sits on the curb looking at Alicia’s house while thinking about the determination Alicia has in order to fulfill her dream, “Boarding two trains and a bus because she doesn’t want to spend her whole life in a factory or behind a rolling pin”(31). People on Mango Street usually just make tortillas for the family, but Alicia goes to college to defy that expectation. Due to her choice of going to college she will become an independent woman that many women don’t have the chance to achieve. In contrast to Mama, Alicia chooses to strive for a better life with continuing her education.
Esperanza has many different role models in her life that make her want to pursue education. As the novel comes to an end, Esperanza expresses about how she will leave Mango Street to pursue her education and achieve her own freedom. She resolves that “One day I will pack my bags of books and paper. One day I will say goodbye to Mango. I am too strong for her to keep me here forever. One day I will go away”(110). Esperanza conveys about what she plans on doing in the future as she strives to continue her education and make a better life for herself. Mango Street holds Esperanza and all the other women from going to college and living a successful life, but Esperanza chooses a different path by attending college.. Esperanza dreams of a future where she can be proud of her life as she conveys,“I want to be like the waves on the sea, like the clouds in the wind, but I’m me. One day I’ll jump out my skin. I’ll shake the sky like a hundred like a hundred violins”(60). Esperanza declares the freedom and pride she will have by going to college to become her own person. In her life, Esperanza chooses to use education to break the chains Mango Street holds over her so that she may one day live a life better than the life she is living now. Esperanza is heavily influenced by those who live on Mango street, whether they are continuing their education to escape the life on Mango street or those who are stuck on Mango street regretting the life that they could have had in advancing their education.
One’s path to live a better life than they might now have can only start with education. Cisneros portrays the theme through Esperanza and Alicia who lived that life in House on Mango Street. On the contrary, Mama lives the life of regret and remorse of her decision to quit school. Everyone has a chance to live a better life than the one they have now through education. By choosing to forgo education, they live in dissatisfaction their whole life. Many people in the world today want some sort of success in their life and everyone has to chance to achieve that desired success. It just depends on whether they choose to take the route that might seem too hard or choose to not take the chance and live in remorse. People will always regret not continuing their education because education is an opportunity to success that is available to each citizen in the United States. Life may have its hardships but pursuing one’s education is ultimately the way to one’s success in life.
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros presents a Mexican-American principal character (who is also the narrator) that appears to make slight mistakes with the English language, but acquires to convey different meanings by this. These slight mistakes can be the apparent misuse of collocations, the strange use of pronouns, or the curious conjugations of some verbs. One of these cases is presented in page 13 when the narrator states that “the Chinese, like the Mexicans, don’t like their women strong” (Cisneros 13). This unusual use of the word “strong” in the quotation appears to be a misplaced collocation, but it achieves to acquire multiple meanings that are reflected throughout the entire text.
The use of the word “strong” appears to be a misused collocation, but, instead, conveys the idea not only of “much”, which would be the usual collocation and what appears to be replacing, but of food, smell, weakness, and being influenced by the society. The unusual collocation by conveying these ideas creates an apparent relation between the conveyed ideas and the noun being modified by the word “strong”, which is women. It relates women to food, smells, weakness, and it shows how the narrator has been influenced by the society in which it is developing.
“Strong” is not normally the word that follows the direct object of “like,” but this is seen in some occasions like with food or with smells (as shown in chart 1). The normal collocation would be “much” (as seen in chart 3 where “much” is following all kind of nouns), but the text works because “strong” functions to acquire the meaning of “much,” and still be unusual enough to achieve acquiring different ideas. “Strong” accomplish to work both as an adverb and an adjective, an adjective for women and an adverb for “like” as if it were “much”. “Strong” is normally and adjective that precedes the noun, but that misuse also represents other ideas. “Strong” is not really being misused but the apparent misuse of it is working in many ways. “Much” would be, then, the usual word instead of “strong”. Having “much” would mean that “the Chinese, like the Mexican, don’t like their women [much],” not that they dislike them, but they do not completely like them either. Having the word “strong” substituting “much” acquires this same meaning, but with the addition of all the others.
So, “strong” is working as “much”. However, having it after the noun also shows how is not working as “strong” normally does when preceding the noun, but it is, instead, remarking the differences from both meanings. “Strong” is normally used preceding the noun it modifies, so, the fact that in this case is not, remarks that the Chinese and Mexican woman are not conceived as strong nor by the speaker nor by the Chinese and Mexican society, which is the opinion of whom the narrator is supposed to be talking from. In fact, the word “strong” is mentioned four times throughout the book, this being the first one, the second referring to the legs of someone, the third to the stars and the forth to the protagonist, who is also the narrator, somehow establishing herself as the only strong woman, or even person, in her society. The other women, instead, are being qualified as not strong at all, as weak, they are so not-strong that the use of the adjective is inverted to remark it.
“Strong” works as “much” and remarks how is not working as “strong”, but “strong” can be seen after the noun it modifies, in certain occasions. “Strong” after the noun that it is modifying is a collocation more commonly used when talking about food, or even about smells (chart 1). “Strong” is, then, relating food and smells to women, making them gain the food and smells characteristics. Food is something you devour, something you can choose as you like, and throw away when it is no good anymore. Strong smells are something you want to get away from; there are no good strong smells; if it is too strong, it is bad.
Even the construction is relating women to food; writing the adjective after the direct object is usual when stating your order at a restaurant (chart 2). Food, as women, is something needed in order to maintain life, and women have often been seen only as a tool to have an heir and legacy. Food expires, and there is, also, the idea that women’s value is also determined by their time, by their youth. Most of the food characteristics that can be transferred to women are negative, but recognizable in the Mexican society.
The narrator is establishing this negative relation between women and food; she is a woman talking for two cultures, the Mexican and the Chinese, but is also being influenced by one of them, the Mexican, which is part of the culture in which she is growing up. The narrator voice is making an apparent unconscious connection created by the ideas that her culture has raised her with; ideas that she can be consciously aware of, but unconscious of how deep these are a part of her, how deep is this idea planted in the society, deep enough for her to make an apparent unconscious connection with negative meanings.
The multiple meanings of these extract can be seen and perceived through the whole text, because throughout the text man get away from women as they get away from strong smells, being young, as in fruit, is in the book seen as something positive, as being smart: “Alicia, […] is young and smart and studies for the first time at the university” (Cisneros 31), but it is also used, as in fruit, as a synonym of not being ready: “you girls too young to be wearing shoes like that ” (Cisneros 39). There is also presence of man not completely liking women, of society not completely liking women, of weakness.
In The House on Mango Street, the narrator appears to make an erroneous use of words that actually expresses what appears to be her unconscious ideas towards women, or the ideas of a society towards women. It relates them to food, smells, weakness, unlikeness, and the meanings of these relations can be perceived throughout the text. The apparent mistake from the narrator is, then, a clever use of collocations by the author. It acquires to convey meanings that can be reflected through the book without having the necessity to explicitly point at them. Sandra Cisneros makes of her book the reflection of a society that hides its negativity and appears to be as unconscious of it as the narrator is.
Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. Vintage Contemporaries, 2009.
“Don’t like Much.” Ludwig.guru, ludwig.guru/s/don’t+like+much.
“Meat medium.” Ludwig.guru, ludwig.guru/s/meat+medium
“Don’t like Strong.” Ludwig.guru, ludwig.guru/s/don’t+like+strong
“Eggs Scrambled” Ludwig.guru, ludwig.guru/s/eggs+scrambled
Having a Latinx American identity is an incredibly complex experience that tens of millions of Americans all share. A combination of African, European, and Native heritages have melded into a unique Latinx culture, and being Latinx in America often means straddling the Latinx culture of one’s ancestry and the American culture one is surrounded with. As a Latina woman living in the United States, this experience becomes deeply personal and resonates within me. Preserving pride and respect for one’s culture while also accommodating to American life can become a bit of a balancing act that dramatically impacts one’s life. In Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street, Esperanza Cordero, the young protagonist, experiences this identity divide herself. Her youthful encounter represents a situation that millions of Americans still experience every day. In her article “Adolescent Journeys: Finding Female Authority in The Rain Catchers and The House on Mango Street”, Christina Rose Dubb of the University of Pennsylvania notes this encounter as she defends her thesis that Esperanza uses her literary abilities to understand her identity and the world around her using Julie Langer’s four stances of envisionment-building. Rather than analyzing Dubb’s analysis of The House on Mango Street in regards to Langer’s four stances, which Dubb has already thoroughly developed, I will further explore her argument that Esperanza is living stuck between her Mexican identity and her American identity. I certainly agree with Dubb that Esperanza’s mixed identity is fundamental to helping us understand her progression and maturation throughout the novel. In order to achieve her “authorial voice” (230), as Dubb puts it, Esperanza must first question, analyze, and come to understand her culture.
In a nutshell, Christina Rose Dubb is using Julie Langer’s framework of envisionment-building to analyze adolescent authority in both The House on Mango Street and The Rain Catchers. She linearizes these stages to create a pathway for the protagonists in each novel to find their voices and become active, assertive parts of their worlds. In the beginning of this argument, Dubb recognizes the additional obstacles that Esperanza faces because of her background- referring to this in-between life as living in “los intersticios”, the cracks, as Anzaldua puts it (222). She argues that the use of vignettes and switching between Spanish and English allows this sense of flexibility and in-betweenness to flourish. This in-betweenness makes understanding her culture and background significantly more difficult for Esperanza than it would be had she been simply white.
At the start of the novel, Esperanza blindly accepts her culture and her life in general. Dubb classifies this part of her life as the “‘Silence stage of development, where they live their lives on the surface, without questioning their situations or using words as power at all,” (224). Esperanza writes simple descriptions of her world and culture, without even realizing that her culture is distinct. She talks of houses that “look like Mexico” (18) and dogs “with two names, one in English and one in Spanish” (21). Her identity is woven into her life so precisely that she is not conscious of it. Esperanza’s naivety and innocence keep her unquestioning of the world around her.
However, this childlike obedience does not last for long. Further into the novel, Esperanza starts to struggle with her identity as she is unable to find solace within it. About halfway into the novel, Esperanza visits Elenita. Elenita is spiritual like many other older Latina women. She combines traditional beliefs with Catholicism, and following this notion, she reads lotería tarot cards to tell a person’s future. Elenita reads the cards for Esperanza, and tells her she sees “a home in the heart” (64). This disappoints Esperanza, who was hoping to learn more from the reading. Now Dubb interprets this event as another example of Esperanza looking to other women in the community to “help her sort out her feelings” (226), I see this as an opportunity to allow Esperanza to think more critically about her life on Mango Street. This is one of the first times that Esperanza starts to feel disappointed in of her culture- forcing her to think through her culture and her role in society as an adolescent girl. This questioning of her culture is an integral part of her maturation throughout the novel. Thinking critically about one’s background allows for better understanding of both the benefits and limitations involved.
Esperanza is also forced to reconcile with her feelings of guilt as her culture intertwines with her socioeconomic background. At Mango Street, and at the prior residencies, Esperanza never feels at home. She is embarrassed by the house’s “small and red with tight steps”, “windows so small you’d think they were holding their breath”, “bricks are crumbling in places”, and “front door is so swollen you have to push hard to get in” (4). Because Latinx culture is so closely tied to community, it could be inferred that Esperanza is upset with her socioeconomic status, as it puts her at odds with her culture. Esperanza wants to hold on to her culture, but she also associates her culture with her working class neighborhood she wants to escape. When Esperanza visits with the three aunts and is told to make a wish, she feels “ashamed for having made such a selfish wish”- that is, wishing to get out of the neighborhood. However, with the support of community members, Esperanza is able to settle this conflict at the end of the novel. When Esperanza makes her wish, one of the aunts tells her,
When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle,
understand? You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street.
You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are. (105)
Although she initially admits that she did not understand what the aunt had meant, she is later able to process and understand it. On the last page of the novel, Esperanza writes,
One day I will pack my bags of books and paper. One day I will say goodbye to
Mango. I am too strong for her to keep me here forever. One day I will go away. (110)
However, she adds a finishing though:
They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind.
For the ones who cannot out. (110)
With this page alone we can witness a change in Esperanza’s understanding of her life on Mango Street. She moves past the guilt of wanting to leave, now understanding that her culture and community growing up will always have a profound impact on her life, and that she will certainly return.
Esperanza matures very quickly in this short-spanned, short-paged novel. By looking at the struggle of balancing Latinx and American identities, we can better understand how Esperanza grows to understand the significance of her culture and community living on Mango Street, allowing her to blossom into a strong, ambitious, and down-to-earth individual.
Because Sandra Cisneros writes from a child’s point of view in her novel, The House on Mango Street, her audience gets a glimpse of what life is like for a child struggling with her identity as a Latina girl; Esperanza is a child who hopes that, one day, she will escape poverty and be able to live in the home she has always dreamed of, not just a house that serves as a constant reminder of her family’s struggles and her embarrassment to live somewhere with such an unflattering appearance- inside and out. While the young-minded narrator certainly provides insight of what Esperanza’s truths are while growing up, it also provides an opportunity for a psychoanalytic approach to Esperanza’s perspectives on those around her. More so, it allows the way she views others to be related to the reader-response theory, in that she does not always read other characters accurately. In one way, Hans-Georg Gadamer’s ideas can be connected to Esperanza because of how she, like readers of a text, sometimes tries to find meaning in what a person says or does before the entire meaning can actually be found (Gadamer 722). On the other hand, her inability to understand some of the children around her can be explained through Sigmund Freud’s theory of how human beings do not always understand childhood actions until they are older (Freud 510). Undoubtedly, Esperanza’s perception of other people is affected by the fact that her thoughts are formed from a child’s perspective; sometimes, her perception allows her to develop as a forgiving individual, while other times her psychological restrictions – as a child whose brain is not yet as developed as an adult’s – prevent her from fully grasping how she understands others during her exchanges with them.
In certain ways, Esperanza’s perception gives her positive information because, in some cases, her childlike outlook on others prevents her from easily growing angry with them. For instance, she does not blame her parents for not giving her the better house they promised her as a child. Esperanza says, “I knew then I had to have a house. A real house. One I could point to. But this isn’t it. The house on Mango Street isn’t it. For the time being, Mama says. Temporary, says papa. But I know how those things go” (Cisneros 5). Even though her parents’ empty promises are tough on her, she is disappointed in the simple fact that she does not have the type of house she wants, more so than in her parents. Overall, she realizes that they are trying their best and does not hold it against them as much as an adult might; perhaps, this is because of how children tend to see the good in people and are not as likely to hold grudges, especially with their parents, whom they desire a relationship with. Unfortunately, a childlike perception does not always work for the benefit of an individual.
For instance, one issue with Esperanza’s childlike perception is that it creates psychological restrictions that negatively affect her reading of those around her; as a child, she cannot always fully understand why others do what they do, which is apparent in her confusion as to why Nenny does not try to fit in with their older friends. One example of these restrictions is how the young Esperanza does not quite understand her little sister. “You [Nenny] gotta use your own song. Make it up, you know? But she doesn’t get it or won’t. It’s hard to say which. I can tell Lucy and Rachel are disgusted. Nenny, I say, but she doesn’t hear me. She is too many light-years away. She is in a world we don’t belong to anymore. Nenny. Going. Going” (Cisneros 52). Though the narrator, in hindsight, would have a bit more insight as to why Nenny is in her own world, she does not understand Nenny’s behavior when they are both young. According to the still maturing Esperanza, Nenny’s lack of attempts to fit in with their older friends is not logical. In her mind, why would Nenny not participate with the others in a way that would make them accept her as a fellow friend, instead of being annoyed by her strangeness (and thus possibly leading them to be annoyed with Esperanza)? What Esperanza does not comprehend at that time in her life is that, at Nenny’s age, she is not concerned about being judged by others as much; instead, she just wants to play in a way that is entertaining for her. Thus, it is apparent that the psychological restrictions that children possess, due to still being in the process of learning about the world, affect how Esperanza understands – or, does not understand- her little sister.
More so, Esperanza’s inability to understand her sister’s desire to play, at the cost of not fitting in with others, emphasizes her psychological restrictions as a young person and can be explained through the following of Sigmund Freud’s theories about growing up: “When the child has grown up and has ceased to play, and after he has been laboring for decades to envisage the realities of life with proper seriousness, he may one day find himself in a mental situation which once more undoes the contrast between play and reality. As an adult he can look back on the intense seriousness with which he once carried on his games in childhood, and, by equating his ostensibly serious occupations of today with his childhood games, he can throw off the too heavy burden imposed on him by life and win the high yield of pleasure afforded by humor. (Freud 510) To put Freud’s idea into my own terms, a person has three different perspectives on childhood play as he or she grows up (Freud 510). As a child, he or she finds it important and enjoyable to play. Then, the adolescent goes through a stage in which not only is playing no longer enjoyable, but he or she does not quite understand why it was enjoyable in the first place. Later, an adult is eventually able to look back on how he or she used to play and can understand why he or she was able to think of playtime as such a serious, believable, and exciting time” (Freud 510). Basically, Esperanza’s psychological restriction is apparent in that she is in the middle stage; she is old enough to feel that playing around is silly and immature, but not old enough to understand that playtime is still an instrumental part of Nenny’s life as a child. Thus, the fact that Esperanza’s brain has not yet developed into an adult limits her ability to understand others, even her little sister.
One can go further to say that Esperanza’s misconception of whether the nun is judging her hinders her because she thinks the nun is judging her social status. For instance, Esperanza retells her exchange with the nun, saying, “That one? she said, pointing to a row of ugly three-flats, the ones even the raggedy men are ashamed to go into. Yes, I nodded even though I knew that wasn’t my house and started to cry. I always cry when nuns yell at me, even if they’re not yelling” (Cisneros 45). Not only does Esperanza believe that she is in trouble with the nun, but she also believes that the nun is judging her for the house that she lives in. While the nun could be judgmental, the narrator’s reflection of what happened does not give any evidence that shows that the nun is criticizing Esperanza for her social status, economic status, ethnic background, or the location or appearance of her house.
To further investigate how Esperanza reads the nun, one must go back to the beginning; earlier in the novel, the narrator explains that the way the nun spoke to her about the house made her “feel like nothing” (Cisneros 5). Regardless of whether the nun thought ill of any of Esperanza’s statuses previously listed, the nun does not actually say anything hurtful to Esperanza, and (being a nun that is supposedly supposed to be loving and accepting) one can argue that she did not mean to make Esperanza feel poorly of herself because of her situation. If anything, perhaps she felt sympathy for her. Whether the nun truly did judge Esperanza for her house or not, a child’s psychological restrictions are seen through the fact that she does not even consider that the nun may not have felt about Esperanza’s house the way she first assumes that she did. Often, children jump to the wrong conclusions and are quick to get their feelings hurt because they can be fragile in their innocence.
Meanwhile, Hans-Georg Gadamer, a German philosopher, explains, “A person who is trying to understand a text is always performing an act of projecting. He projects before himself a meaning for the text as a whole as soon as some initial meaning emerges from the text,” (Gadamer 722). More so, he goes on to explain that the reader only finds a theme so quickly because he or she is actively searching for one from the start. As the reader continues to sift through the given information, he or she has to continuously adjust his or her interpretation of the author’s meaning (Gadamer 722), since the additional information that comes when one reads further into a text allows for a clearer interpretation of it. Here, Gadamer is referring to how a reader interprets a certain text; however, his idea can also be connected with how a character in a novel is quick to try to find the meaning of another character’s words or action. In this specific case, his idea can be related to Esperanza’s haste in making assumptions about her sister, Nenny, and the nun, according to the incidences earlier mentioned. Similarly to Gadamer’s idea of how a reader tries to discover the entire meaning of a text as soon as a theme is hinted, the child version of Esperanza seems to remain faithful to her initial conclusion of why those in her life say or do certain things. Like readers of a text, Esperanza might be able to better understand the meaning of different events and exchanges in her life if she took the time to reevaluate whether her original perception of those meanings were correct. As she grows older, she is more likely to be able to better identify the meanings behind others’ actions, just as Gadamer’s readers can better interpret the text the more they take the time to gather information.
Certainly, Esperanza’s narration from the view of a child impacts her discernment of how she understands her conversations with others in Sandra Cisneros’ novel, The House on Mango Street; while her perception sometimes leads her to be more of a forgiving person, it also enforces psychological restrictions that keep her from accurately understanding others. In some ways, Hans-Georg Gadamer’s idea that readers can initially come to the wrong conclusion when they are searching for the theme of a work can be related to how Esperanza often comes to the wrong conclusion when she follows her first assumption of why a person says or does something (Gadamer 722). On a similar note, Sigmund Freud’s idea that human beings cannot always understand their childhood hobbies until they are older can be connected with how Esperanza has a difficult time understanding why the children around her take part in certain games (Freud 510). One might wonder if Cisneros’ choice in narrating from a child’s perspective leads her to have a more credible narrator, or a less credible one. While one might argue that a child narrator is painfully honest about topics that adults might try to sugarcoat with euphemisms, another might say that Esperanza’s psychological restrictions lead her to present her opinions as truths. Perhaps, Sandra Cisneros’ entrusted her readers with logically deciding when Esperanza’s age affects her credibility; after all, it is a reader’s responsibility to make judgments based not only on his or her analysis of what the character says, but also – and possibly more importantly- based on who the character is – both consciously and subconsciously.
Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York, Vintage Contemporaries, 1984. Freud, Sigmund. “[Creative Writers and Daydreaming].” Sigmund Freud, Scipione, Stephen, Blankseteen, Jennifer, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007, 1238.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. “The Elevation of the Historicality of Understanding to the Status of Hermeneutical Principle.” Hans-Georg Gadamer, Scipione, Stephen, Blankesteen, Jenifer, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007, 1238.
Richter, David H. The Critical Tradition; Classic Texts and Contemporary trends.3. ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.
The House on Mango Street is a story told through the observations of Esperanza, a girl of Latino heritage, as she views the world around her. Esperanza interprets the world she sees around her on Mango Street while paying special attention to the women she observes. She views everything from the language barrier these women face to their oppressed status. With these observations, Esperanza attempts to map out her own life using the examples she sees around her. However, she comes to realize she desires a life that is different from those she observes on Mango Street, so in the end she points out the differences between herself and the people around her in order to highlight the fact that she will leave Mango Street and has the means to do so. Through her observational perspective and documentation, Esperanza proves to have a voice with her mastery of language and writing, which awards her control over her life and the possibility of finding a true home.
The best piece of advice that Esperanza receives is from Aunt Lupe: “You just remember to keep writing, Esperanza. You must keep writing. It will keep you free” (Cisneros 61). The language barrier serves as a major hindrance to the characters in the story. When describing Mamacita, Esperanza observes, “Somebody said because she’s too fat, somebody because of the three flights of stairs, but I believe she doesn’t come out because she is afraid to speak English, and maybe this is so since she only knows eight words” (Cisneros 77). Everyone else in the community finds other reasons for this woman’s withdrawn status while Esperanza sees that language itself can hold a person back. In Mamacita’s case, it even separates her from her child as her son begins to learn English. Esperanza also points out that her father faced a similar problem when he first came to America. He only knew how to say “hamandeggs,” so for the three months that was all he was able to eat. With this strong emphasis on language, the author is identifying a source of power by which to overcome one’s circumstances. She realizes the importance of learning and knowing the language well. In this realization, she is justifying her writing and conveying that her published writing alone signifies that she has attained a bit of freedom and claimed a small amount of control over her own life.
This theme of having control over one’s life permeates the story as Esperanza observes the women in the story as having very little control over their own lives. She observes Sally being trapped in her home by an abusive and overprotective father. She sees Rafaela whose husband keeps her locked in the house as he goes out. Through these observations, Esperanza is seeing how life turns out for the women on Mango Street and longs for her life to be different. However, her observations do not quench her sexual curiosity. She first experiments with being beautiful as she tries on the high heels but deems it too tiring. Later, she is curious about boys and voices her curiosity as she observes Sire. She parades herself in front of him because, as she states, “I had to prove to me I wasn’t scared of nobody’s eyes, not even his” (Cisneros 72). She has control over this situation because she is still simply observing his reaction to her. However, she also discovers that such a reaction exists and is further intrigued. However, in “Red Clowns,” she has no control over the situation. In fact, the sexual encounter is strictly about control rather than love or tenderness as she was led to believe. She claims, “Sally, you lied, you lied. He wouldn’t let me go. He said I love you, I love you, Spanish girl” (Cisneros 100). Esperanza sees this as the first step to a life like the women of Mango Street because she had no control and was under the control of a man. This ends her attempts to be “beautiful and cruel.” She deems relationships as simply a form of control that will give her a life like the women on Mango Street have and she does not want that, so she ceases her attempts to initiate relationships and get married like the other girls.
Esperanza’s perspective on both the lives around her and what she considers to be home reveal the differences between her and those around her on Mango Street and award her a small amount of control over her own life. She tells the stories of those around her through personal observation. In doing so, she sets herself apart from everyone. She is able to observe the women around her and view their lives as possible patterns for her own. However, she voices her desire to leave Mango Street and in turn her desire to have a life different from lives of the women around her. She wants control over her own life. The most striking difference between her and the women around her is the perspective she has on what she considers home. When Epseranza speaks about Mamacita and her longing for home, she interprets Mamacita’s thoughts to be, “Home is a house in a photograph” (Cisneros 77). To this woman, home is something that is in the past; it is something that has been left behind and only survives in a photograph. Mamacita has been taken out of the place where she feels she belongs. Esperanza differs in that she has never belonged anywhere. When talking to Alicia, she claims, “No, this isn’t my house I say and shake my head as if shaking could undo the year I’ve lived here. I don’t belong. I don’t ever want to come from here… I never had a house, not even a photograph…only one I dream of” (Cisneros 107). While the women on Mango Street know they do not want to be there, they see their home in their past while Esperanza sees her home in the future. Instead of spending time reminiscing on something with the goal of reclaiming it, Esperanza can strive to create the home she has imagined. The past cannot be reclaimed, but the future is undecided and therefore belongs to those with a voice and the will to change or influence it. This knowledge awards Esperanza a small bit of control over her life because with her mastery of the language and writing, she has a voice to shape her future and leave Mango Street and the life it seems to have laid our for her.
According to the National Mental Health Information Center, girls are three times more likely than boys to develop body-image problems in their adolescence. From the advertisements on television to the constant glorification of feminine beauty by the media, adolescent women are being peer-pressured into desperately trying to make themselves look perfect. With this cultural message in mind, adolescent girls who possess physical flaws often feel worthless and inadequate because they judge their self-image purely on physical beauty. For example, in The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Esperanza characterizes herself as inferior to others because she finds her physical flaws appalling. Esperanza’s self-esteem is lacking as she struggles to find any beauty in herself compared to the other women in media. Contrary to Esperanza, the speaker in “homage to my hips” by Lucille Clifton expresses her defiance of the cultural definition of femininity by refusing to let her mindset be controlled by others. By doing so, she shows that feminine beauty should empower women, rather than degrade them. In The House on Mango Street, Esperanza perceives her feminine beauty as inferior to the standard of beauty that society idolizes, while in “homage to my hips”, the narrator defiantly expresses her desire to not let her own femininity be defined by others.
In The House on Mango Street, Esperanza perceives her feminine beauty as shameful and inferior to the attributes of others, largely based on her preconception that beauty is based only on looks. Esperanza, critiquing the insecurities on her body, says her legs are “skinny and spotted with satin scars where scabs were picked” (Cisneros p.40). By stating this, Esperanza shows that she perceives herself as ugly and imperfect, further illustrating Esperanza’s feelings of inadequacy and poor self-esteem. Similarly, Esperanza, thinking she is the unattractive daughter in the family, states “I am an ugly daughter. I am the one nobody comes for” (Cisneros p.88). Esperanza, feeling inadequate because of her physical beauty, harshly judges her attractiveness in comparison to her “prettier” sister, Nenny. By comparing herself to other women, Esperanza shows the insecurity and lack of self-esteem she feels for her own personal beauty.
Similarly, Esperanza later exclaims in desperation that she wants to feel “like waves on the sea, like the clouds in the wind, but I’m me” (Cisneros p.60). With the phrase “but I’m me”, Esperanza shows the reader that she is inferior to the beauty of the “clouds” and “waves”. This sense of herself again exhibits her reluctance to embrace her flaws and imperfections as beautiful. Similarly, Esperanza, wanting to be desired by men, states, “I want to be all new and shiny” (Cisneros p.73). Making this remark, Esperanza states that she wants to become an object of desire by using the diction “new” and “shiny” (PrPP). By desperately wanting to become a sexually-desirable icon, Esperanza again emphasizes how she is not satisfied with her current self and body.
In “homage to my hips”, the narrator confidently exposes her defiance of the notion that her femininity is defined by society. The narrator, near the beginning of the poem, states “These hips don’t fit into petty places”(Clifton 4-5). By saying this, the narrator expresses that she refuses to let her femininity be diminished down to what society perceives it as. By doing so, she exhibits her feelings of defiance and rebellion. Similarly, the narrator later defiantly proclaims that, “These hips have never been enslaved” (Clifton 8). This statement shows that the narrator has never let herself become suppressed or oppressed by the external factors. Thus, the narrator exhibits that she is determined to break free from the cultural stereotypes that could suppress her. Likewise, the narrator continues to express her defiance: “These hips are free hips” (Clifton 5-6). Exclaiming “free hips” exhibits that the narrator refuses to let anything suppress her as a woman (GP). By exhibiting this sentiment, the narrator continues to show how defying cultural expectations empowers her femininity. Analogously, the narrator states that her hips “need space to move around in” (Clifton 2-3). Her defiance evident, the narrator continues to demonstrate how she refuses to let her true feminine beauty be contained or suppressed (AbP).
From flowing hair to radiant skin and trimmed eye-brows, physical attractiveness emblematizes how society defines beauty today. With today’s definition of beauty prioritizing air-brushed filters and photoshopped models, young girls are pressured from the media into thinking that feminine beauty is dependent entirely on their sexual appeal. All these young girls desperately aspire to get the “perfect body”, eventually realizing somewhere along the way that the body-standards they desire are unattainable. Much like these girls, Esperanza desires to look beautiful and sexually appealing, without understanding what feminine beauty really means. However, she feels that her so-called beauty is inferior to that of the other women in her life and in the media, leading her to feel insecure and depressed about herself as a woman. This then shows how the media has twisted the definition of femininity from empowerment to insecurity. Using Esperanza’s struggles to symbolize her message, Cisneros argues that true femininity is not about physical beauty, but rather about the ability to be confident about and content with yourself as a woman.