Analysis of the Portrayal of Struggles of Latina Women in the Novel The House on Mango Street
In “La conciencia de la mestiza” Gloria Anzaldua embodies her idea of Latina feminism the mestiza which she explains is the “product of the transfer of the cultural and spiritual values of one group to another” (Anzaldua 78). Through this idea she explains the struggle many Latin American people face in trying to hold onto their culture while assimilating to the culture they have chosen to be a part of and finding a balance between the two. Beyond this, Anzaldua uses the mestiza to illustrate the deeper struggle for women in this culture because they are not only oppressed by racism, but also by men who demean and abuse them to feel powerful. She uses the mestiza to empower women to demand equality and prove that they are more powerful than their oppressors assume. Anzaldua wants women to be “free of the tainted biases of male dominance” (Anzaldua 87). These ideals are echoed in Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street through Esperanza’s struggles with who she is in her family, her friendship with Sally and her place in her community.
In The House on Mango Street, Esperanza struggles a great deal with defining who she is as an individual in her family. In the beginning of the book, Esperanza notes that the boys and girls in her family are separated when they are not home, but that she does not really feel connected to her sister. Though Esperanza doesn’t say it, there seems to be a note of sadness in this observation especially when she talks about Carlos and Kiki being best friends as if she possibly wishes the boys would acknowledge her outside of the house. This is the first time that the disconnect from her family becomes apparent and she dreams about having her own friend to tell secrets and talk to. This longing for individuality is even more apparent however, in Esperanza’s struggle with her name and her desire to change it. Esperanza notes that she has her great-grandmother’s name which takes away the individuality of something that should be hers. Though she in some ways admires her great-grandmother from stories of her, she is also likely afraid of her story being similar to her grandmother who was “a wild horse of a woman… until [Esperanza’s] great-grandfather threw a sack over her head and carried her off” (Cisneros 27). This story ruined Esperanza’s great-grandmother’s spirit and Esperanza does not want the same for herself. In this struggle it becomes clear that Esperanza is struggling in finding the balance between the culture of her family and the culture that she lives in outside of her home which causes her to feel displaced in both areas of her life.
Esperanza’s friendship with Sally is a defining moment in Esperanza’s desire for individuality because through this friendship Esperanza tries to embrace her sexuality which is something she is really not quite ready for. Through Esperanza’s friendship Sally, Cisneros’ illustrates male dominance in Sally’s relationship with her father and they boys she flirts with. Sally is very confident in public and in many ways Esperanza idealizes her as everything that she wants to be. It becomes clear however, that this confidence is a mask for the abuse she is experiencing from her father. As she watches Sally, Esperanza starts to mature sexually, but she also questions the actions of Sally and the boys she is flirting with. In “The Monkey Garden” Esperanza feels anger as one of Tito’s friends takes Sally’s keys and won’t give them back until Sally gives all the boys a kiss and is even more upset when Tito’s mother won’t do anything about it either. It is clear in her annoyance at Sally and the boys that Esperanza wants the boys to respect Sally as a person instead of treating her as a toy or an object. After Esperanza is assaulted, she realizes that Sally is not someone to idealize. It is this realization that matures Esperanza more than because she is really starting to find herself and not rely on another now.
Another struggle for Esperanza is her desire for her own home and to get away from Mango Street. Part of this struggle is connected back to her desire for individuality only now she feels that she does not fit into her community. In many ways this displacement in her community is the reason for her struggles with her family and why she tries to become more like Sally. Because of this Esperanza longs to have her own home, but by the end of the novel she realizes that Mango Street will always be a part of her. More than this she comes to the realization that she also has the power to help the other women on Mango Street who were once powerless. This final realization is an embodiment of Anzaldua’s Mestiza because Esperanza not only wants to free herself from what she feels is oppressing her, but she wants to help other women free themselves as well.
In The House on Mango Street Esperanza becomes a Mestiza as she grows and makes discoveries not only about herself, but about all the women in her community and the struggles they face both individually and collectively. Both Anzaldua and Cisneros create strong characters to fight against male dominance and gender roles to empower women to overcome oppression from both inside and outside their communities and homes. Esperanza does this through her writing and her acknowledgment that Mango Street will always be an important part of her life.
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