House on Mango Street
The Portrayal of Coming of Age Period in The House on Mango Street
For teenagers, the aging process, that is the human experience of growing older, is important. The theme in Sandra Cisneros’ novel The House on Mango Street is coming of age/ growing up. And how Chicago represented in the novel’s setting is problematic for the coming of age protagonist. The theme is not clear in the novel but can be understood only by the reader’s filling in the gaps.
One of the themes is coming of age, which is apparent in how the narrator, Esperanza, sees herself and her surrounding. In the chapter “Boys and Girls”, the narrator says: “The boys and girls live in separate worlds.” (8). The protagonist refers to herself and the people close to her as “boys and girls”, which indicates that she sees herself as a girl and not as an adolescent. The book is a first-person narrative with a protagonist as the narrator. This limits our observation to what the protagonist thinks, which can be a biased view. It is impossible to know the exact age of the protagonist because no age indications are to be found. Therefore, the reader has to fill in the gaps by close reading. The use of the nouns “boys” and “girls” draws the conclusion that the protagonist is a child. Later on in the book, the protagonist also begins to work at her first job in the chapter “The First job”: “I thought I’d find an easy job, the kind other kids had,… ” (53). Here, the protagonist uses another noun to refer to herself, “kids”, which is used for people who are between childhood and adolescence. Also, she begins to work which indicates that she begins to come of age. In the chapter called “The Monkey Garden”, the protagonist is growing up and leaving childhood: “ the garden that had been such a good place to play didn’t seem mine either.” (98). The choice of verb tense tells us that Esperanza has played in the garden in the past, but not anymore. She feels like a stranger because of her coming of age. In the next to last chapter, “A House of My Own”, the protagonist has gone from a little girl, who wished for a friend of her own, began to be attracted to the opposite sex and got her first work, to own a house of her own, where we truly see her coming of age.
The book also shows how difficult and dangerous it can be to grow up in Chicago as a girl. In the chapter called “Red Clowns”, once again there are many gaps to fill in. The chapter starts with a very horrible setting: “Sally, you lied. It wasn’t what you said at all. What he did. Where he touched me. I didn’t want it, Sally.” (99). Furthermore, she said: “Sally, make him stop.” and “All the books and magazines, everything that told it wrong.” (100). By interpreting this event, we can conclude it is sexual abuse due to the fact that the protagonist has entered adolescence, developed an interest in her body and the opposite sex, and also the man touches her and the wish for him to stop. She had imagined how it would be to have sex by reading books and magazines, but sometimes, what books and magazines show does not match with reality.
Self-Definition on Mango Street: Short Description
Esperanza saw self-definition as a battle, the battle for self-definition is a typical subject, and in The House on Mango Street, Esperanza’s battle to characterize herself underscores her each activity and experience. Esperanza must characterize herself both as a lady and as a member of her family and her view of her personality changes through the span of the book. Esperanza depicted a distinctive picture to the readers of spectators of her environment, the individuals she experienced, and her elucidation on the occasions that occurred with her and the individuals throughout her life around then. On numerous occasions Esperanza battled with how she was seen and how she wished to be seen.
In the start of the book Esperanza needs to change her name with the goal that she can characterize herself all alone terms, rather than tolerating a name that communicates her family legacy. She wants to isolate herself from her folks and her more youthful sister so as to make her very own life. She starts to need to be viewed as ‘wonderful’ by men as she develops through the book, Esperanza needs to battle to characterize what genuine inward magnificence is and she understands it’s not exactly when a man discloses to you he ‘adores you’. Likewise, toward the start of the book she makes it extremely certain that she wanted to be poor and needed to show signs of improvement life for herself without any men. Esperanza survives the accounts and encounters of different characters in the book and inevitably ends up engaged with them. It requires some investment for Esperanza to develop and experience some damaging things in life with the goal for her to at last get a feeling of self.
Esperanza ‘s battle with self-definition will assume a key job in the result of future, regarding what she needs to be and what she needs to abstain from starting. Without the ‘battle’ which came through experimentation, neediness and rape, she wouldn’t have any thought of who she would need to move toward becoming as a person. Without encounters you will never pick up learning of your own and need to depend exclusively on what others let you know. Esperanza has thought of herself as something skimming, she alludes to herself as a red inflatable that is holding back to drift away. The picture of the inflatable proposes that she believes she is gliding fully expecting something and that she feels separated. The shading red may recommend that she hangs out in the area. Esperanza discovers companions, Lucy and Rachel, not long after this segment, yet the sentiment of being an inflatable endures. She is as yet drifting since she believes she doesn’t fit in on Mango Road, and she is as yet disengaged on the grounds that she doesn’t impart her most profound insider facts to her companions.
Esperanza starts telling us of her identity struggle at the very beginning of the book, she says “In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting”. She follows up with saying “I would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees”. She clearly has an issue with her name and how she feels like it doesn’t fit with who she really is as she is trying to define herself. She then proceeds on to talk about some of her physical attributes she says “And me, my hair is lazy. It never obeys barrettes or bands”. “I am an ugly daughter; I am the one nobody comes for”. She is letting the audience be aware of her low self-esteem with her outside appearance and how she thinks she is viewed by others. Her wanting to be accepted by others and to be seen in a different light rolls in to her later becoming more sexually aware, Esperanza would like to be “beautiful and cruel” so men will like her but not hurt her, and she pursues that goal by becoming friends with Sally. But Sally didn’t portray things in a way that would mesh with the experience Esperanza has after trusting sally. “Sally you lied. It wasn’t what you said it would be at all. What he did. Where he touched me”. After she is assaulted, she doesn’t want to define herself as “beautiful and cruel” anymore, and she is, once again, unsure of who she is. Esperanza says this in “Red Clowns,” after the group of boys has sexually assaulted her at a carnival. She repeats the accusation that her friend lied, blaming Sally for the assault instead of the boys who have hurt and traumatized her. Esperanza blames Sally for not returning after she goes off with an older boy, she is reflecting her anger on sally rather than the boys because she trusted sally to protect her, she was following in Sally’s footsteps, not her own.
Eventually, Esperanza decides she does not need to set herself apart from the others in her neighborhood or her family heritage by changing her name, and she stops forcing herself to develop sexually, which she isn’t fully ready for. She accepts her place in her community and decides that the most important way she can define herself is as a writer. “I make a story for my life, for each step my brownstone takes.” As a writer, she observes and interacts with the world in a way that sets her apart from non-writers, giving her the legitimate new identity she’s been searching for. Writing promises to help her leave Mango Street emotionally, and possibly physically as well. “One day I will pack my bags of books and paper. One day I will say goodbye to Mango.”
Esperanza clearly shows a struggle within herself, she is grasping for the person she herself can identify with inside of herself. She wants to be an individual, get lost and her thoughts and find her way to self by telling stories and writing it all down. Making the choice as to what path to follow is a difficult one and even more of a struggle to build your very own path. Its takes courage and confidence to be okay with who you are and who you are going to form yourself to be in the future.
Imagery Used in the Novel The House on Mango Street
The House on Mango Street is a vignette by Sandra Cisneros, depicting among other aspects, the cloistering of women, abuse and hope. The purpose of this paper is to explore how Sandra employs imagery and other literary devices to bring out the cloistering, abuse and hope for women within the House on Mango Street. Some of the literary devices employed include symbolism, repetition, irony, allusion and symbolism. As in many aspects of life, when people are confined and restricted, they are weakened. There is, however, no guarantee that this weakening results in their defeat or serves to fuel their resolve to overcome the situation. When women are cloistered and abused, they develop hope and resolve to better their lives.
In the story, the image of a house is used to express two aspects; the restriction of women and also their hopes of independence.
House as a Confinement
Rafaela cannot do her will since she is under her husband’s command: ‘Rafaela, who is still young but getting old from leaning out the window so much, gets locked indoors because her husband is afraid that Rafaela will run away since she is too beautiful to look at’ (81). She keeps leaning out of the window and dreams of her freedom. On the other hand, her husband keeps her locked, fearing that she would have the confidence to leave the house and pursue her dreams.
Sally marries a marshmallow salesman who provides but keeps her confined with no access to friends, telephone and she is not allowed to go out without permission; ‘And he doesn’t let her look out the window’ (84). The house and marriage becomes a confinement to her greatly restricting her independence. She is forced to content with looking at the linoleum roses and the walls depicting the material things he provides.
Esperanza’s great-grandmother also looks out of the window in sadness for having been confined in a house and a marriage that she did not want and the inability to do as per her wish: ‘She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow ’ (25).
House as Hope
Mamacita looks at the picture of the pink house with a sigh, a house that represents home to her and she keeps asking the man when there will go there: ‘Home is a house in a photograph, a pink house, pink as hollyhocks with lots of startled light’ (70). She keeps up hope of going to the pink house, of being happy and speaking in her language.
Esperanza’s parents have hope of having a white house of their own with trees around it, running water and a big yard: ‘They always told us that one day we would move into a house, a real house that would be ours for always so we wouldn’t have to move each year’ (21). The mother told the story often showing her hope for a better life for herself and her family.
Notably, Esperanza’s dream is to have a house of her own with her own pillows, porch and purple petunias signifying her independence: ‘Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man’s house. Not a daddy’s. A house all my own’ (88). She acknowledges that the house on 4006 Mango is not hers and is determined to make a life of her own.
The House on Mango Street – a Review of the Challenges Immigrants in the United States Face
The House on Mango Street is a book written in the first persona, illustrating the difficulties of living in the United States as an immigrant. Written through the eyes of a young Spanish speaking girl named Esparanza; she explains the challenges that she faces as a female in a society that is male dominated and where people of her race are seen as inferior.to her, Mango Street becomes a thorn that pricks her in the flesh as she observes so many things she wishes to first run away from but then decides to stay and help change the situation. Esparanza is a writer and this makes her to be quite observant of her surroundings and the way in which people are living.
Critical analysis of the book
There is power in the English language and there is also power in being a man along Mango Street. Lack of knowledge of English by her parents makes Esparanza miss out on many opportunities. Her mother even though a native English speaking woman is not able to write proper English enough to convince the teachers at Esparanza’s school that she does deserve to be in that school. Instead of walking out and learning English, her mother chooses to simply hide behind closed doors and window blinds.
The first thing she notices are the systems of gender and race that are in place to limit women in the society. Mamacita is a wonderful woman, a mother and wife but she never leaves her house, she sits at the window and looks outside with admiration at the other people as they go on with their daily activities. She is unhappy and she represents failure on part of women. She cannot go outside to interact with other people as she does not know how to speak English and is afraid of trying something new.
Her fear makes her to be unhappy. She is also not happy when she hears her child try to speak English as she believes that they will not be able to communicate properly and she will lose the child to the rest of the society that has not accepted her. As a woman she also puts up with irresponsibility from her husband simply because she feels like she has no option but to stay there and be unhappy.
As a woman of color there are more challenges for Esparanza to overcome including ones that have been accepted and tolerated by her own society; the people along the Mango Street. They have embraced captivity of the mind as they seek to live just as they are and not change anything. The women in the society do not seek to teach their daughters to set higher goals and standards. This makes Esparanza to seek to change her name so that she cannot be related to such medieval thinking and to run away from her past that is filled with poverty and uncertainty.
Another theme that runs in the book is that of defining sexuality. One has to understand sexuality and embrace it before anything else; this becomes a bone of contention for Esparanza as she seeks to understand her role in the society versus the societal expectations. Sally, one of her friends is a true definition of the societal expectations in terms of defining sexuality. She has accepted that she is a woman and can use her beauty to pleasure the men in the society. Sally dresses seductively in high heels, short skirts and applies a lot of makeup which in turn makes her to attract attention.
Esparanza seeks to have beauty just like Sally, conversely she want her beauty to have strength so that’s she can be able to protect herself and other women from male dominance. Sally’s beauty does not benefit the society as she does not even know how to take care of her friends. While at the carnivore with Esparanza, she leaves her alone and goes to play around with the boys, this is followed by a horrific experience by Esparanza who is assaulted by some boys.
Becoming gender is a challenge for Esparanza who finds herself in the battle of a battle that she doesn’t seem to see her victory. At first she thinks that changing her name will be the solution to all her worries and problems, she quickly realizes that it is not. She then turns to beauty but realizes that beauty comes together with vulnerability and women in her society will never rebuke boys for assaulting girls or for misbehaving. The boys in this case are allowed to get away with anything. Esperanza then realizes that she has to shape the curve of her own life, she uses writing to keep her spiritually and mentally free. She realizes that women do not look after each other and she seeks to change that aspect. This is after she realizes that the people of Mango Street suffer from captivity of the mind that makes them to live unhappy lives as free people.
The more Esparanza observes, the more she knows the language and this knowledge empowers her, gives her power to overcome the weaknesses that are functioning in her society. She struggles with defining herself without much assistance from the adults who were close to her. Her aunt is the only raw of hope in her life as she encourages Esparanza not to quit from writing but instead to turn it into the one thing that sets her free; free from the confines of the Mango Street that wanted to turn her into an unhappy mother and wife in the future.
Esparanza in the end realizes that what she yearns for more than anything is self -independence and that is the reason she wishes to have her own house. Torn between being herself and doing right by her community, Esparanza writes about what she doesn’t like and seeks to change and what she hopes to achieve: this is the only way to keep her sanity. She starts by seeking to change her past but learns that a name change will not suffice.
She moves on to forming relationships with men by becoming beautiful and embracing her sexuality, this she discovers does not bring her true independence, finally she decides to help change the lives of the people in Mango Street. She embraces their culture and seeks to empower young girls like her small sister to become better than wives who hide and watch people from their windows due to fear. To teach young men to be more responsibility, she also learns that her newly fund freedom comes with responsibility to her society.
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.
An Analysis of the Main Texts in the Novel The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Refusal to Assimilate
Throughout all the texts, women’s destiny is a recurring theme. While some may argue that the women accept their fate, the opposite appears most evident. If they did accept the destiny given to them, they would most likely be seen as weak throughout their society. However, the women portrayed in the texts do not accept their fate without fighting, showing that they are strong and willing to work for the place that they wish to have in society.
In the text “My Name” by Sandra Cisneros, Esperanza resists her fate in many ways. In the first line of the piece she states “In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters.” (Cisneros) From the very beginning Esperanza fights her culture and heritage in exchange for a more ‘Americanized’ culture. Although she was named after her great-grandmother, whom Esperanza admires, she does not want to repeat her past. She suggests this in saying, “I have inherited her name, but don’t want to inherit her place by the window.” (Cisneros) In explaining this, Esperanza makes it very clear that she does not want to become heir to what her great-grandmother has already accomplished.
In the next piece by Cisneros, “No Speak English”, Mamacita also denies her future. She refuses to assimilate into a new culture with the rest of her family. Cisneros illustrates this in writing, “Whatever her reasons… she won’t come down. She sits all day by the window and plays the Spanish radio show and sings all the homesick songs about her country in a voice that sounds like a seagull.” (Cisneros) In listening to the Spanish radio, Mamacita demonstrates not only a dedication to her country, but also a longing to be back there. She also refuses to learn English, as a means to refuse the assimilation into the English culture. Cisneros writes, “…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) Because she only knows enough of the language to get by, Mamacita is trying to get as far away from her destiny as possible. At the end of the piece, she even fights to keep her culture, and her baby boys’ heritage alive. Cisneros suggests this in writing “No speak English, she says to the child who is singing in the language that sounds like tin. No speak English, no speak English, and bubbles into tears. No, no, no as if she can’t believe her ears.” (Cisneros) In saying this, the mother displays a longing for her son to know where he came from, though he will not remember.
Lastly, in the text “Marin” by Sandra Cisneros, an exchange student denies her destiny by making a detailed ‘Plan B’. Marin explains to her classmates that she has a boyfriend in Puerto Rico. She follows that statement with, “…if she stays here next year, she’s going to get a real job downtown because that’s where the best jobs are.” (Cisneros) She is refusing to accept her fate in Puerto Rico by making future plans in the city she is in now. She also subtly throws in that she, “…can meet someone in the subway who might marry you and take you to live in a big house far away.” (Cisneros) Proving further that she does not want her Puerto Rican boyfriend to be her reality, she daydreams about who she could meet in the next year on her way to her new job.
Throughout each piece, women demonstrate that they are strong willed in their own individual ways. Each woman denies her destiny despite her family and friends input. From changing her name, not learning English and making two different plans, every woman shown refuses to buy into what appears to be their fate.
The Theme of Finding Home and its Symbolism
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.
Exploring the Gender and Ethnicity Issues of the Novel
In Sandra Cisneros’ work The House on Mango Street, young Esperanza must face the trials and tribulations that accompany growing up. This daunting task is made all the more difficult by society’s views of her race and gender. As a teenage Latina girl living on Mango Street, Esperanza is expected to become a cookie-cutter version of the women she is exposed to on a daily basis. This, however, is not the life that Esperanza has in mind for herself. Three prominent issues seem to plague the women of Mango Street: an excess of loneliness (which in turn leads to other excesses), the complete loss of potential, and an extreme distrust of men. These problems seem to give Esperanza even more motivation to leave Mango Street and follow her own path.
A dominant issue that seems to affect several women on Mango Street is an extreme feeling of loneliness. This is fueled by several factors. One of these factors is abandonment. Rosa Vargas must deal with this horrible feeling every day of her life due to her husband’s running out on the family: “They are bad those Vargases, and how can they help it with only one mother who is tired all the time…and who cries every day for the man who left without even leaving a dollar for bologna or a note explaining how come” (Cisneros 29). She is forced to raise all her children alone. One cannot help but feel lonely after a situation such as this has occurred in their life. Another minor character that shows a tell-tale sign loneliness is Cathy, the “queen of cats” (13). She has something negative to say about everything and everyone on Mango Street. She has no friends, and seems to overcompensate for this lack of companionship with an abundance of cats. This further reveals that though one can put on a façade of contentment, there just might be some deep-down issues that need to be resolved within that person.
Yet another handicap that gender and ethnicity place on the women of Mango Street is the complete loss of potential. This is apparent in the lives of Ruthie and Esperanza’s mother. Ruthie is very talented in the performance arts: “Not only is she a good whistler, but she can sing and dance too” (68). In the past, she has been offered several jobs, none of which she took. She got married and moved outside the city, yet somehow always seems to come back to be with her mother Edna on Mango Street. It would appear that this street has a hold on her from which she cannot break free. This makes Ruthie come off as nothing more than “the only grown-up we know who likes to play” (67). But perhaps the greatest loss of potential reveals itself in the form of Esperanza’s mother in the vignette titled A Smart Cookie. In this episode, Esperanza’s mother is described as a very well-rounded woman, fluent in many different areas of practical knowledge. She is discontent with her life because she had to drop out of school at an early age. She vocalizes this sense of regret in her statement, “I could’ve been somebody, you know?” (90). She disgustedly explains to Esperanza that the only reason she had to drop out of school was because of her lack of nice clothes. One cannot help but feel for her in this situation; because of circumstances she could not control, she was forced to give up her formal education. This even further illustrates the socioeconomic struggles due to ethnicity and class.
The third, and seemingly most pertinent, issue faced by the women of Mango Street is the complete distrust and, to an extent, fear of the male gender. This theme seems to affect almost every little girl, teen, and woman on the street. Husbands, fathers, co-workers, and other men are all portrayed in a negative way throughout the novella. Husbands keep their wives under lock and key, as in the case of Rafaela who “gets locked indoors because her husband is afraid Rafaela will run away since she is too beautiful to look at” (79), and Sally, who “sits at home because she is afraid to go outside without [her husband’s] permission” (102). Fathers abuse their daughters: “[Alicia] Is afraid of nothing except four-legged fur. And fathers” (32). Esperanza can’t even work or have fun without something happening to add to a reasonable sense of unease when dealing with the opposite sex. Her incident with the Oriental man at her job, coupled with the alleged molestation by the red clowns at the carnival, is more than enough to make Esperanza have a distrust of men. Women are seen as nothing more than objects that men can use however they please.
Through all of these issues, though. Esperanza remains strong-willed. She refuses to bend to the social and economic barriers that have held so many of her elders back. She even refuses to act in the same manner as those she has been exposed to: “My mother says when I get older, my dusty hair will settle and my blouse will learn to stay clean, but I have decided not to grow up tame like the others who lay their necks on the threshold waiting for the ball and chain” (88). In this statement, she turns away from the belief that she cannot accomplish anything in her life and refuses to become a defenseless housewife. In her own way, she is attempting to break down the stereotypes and three main issues associated with Mango Street and its female inhabitants. Madeleine K. Albright once said, “There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.” That being said, Esperanza’s actions should certainly fill other women with a massive feeling of esperanza.
Comparison Of Sandra Cisneros’ Novel, Love In The Kitchen In The House On Mango Street, And Amy Tan’s Novel, The Joy Luck Club
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat, and The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan all have one thing in common…food. Each novel from within the heart of their own history magnifies the important and culturally diverse association between the importance of interactions in the kitchen and cooking food while telling stories. The differences lay in each of the stories’ ethnic backgrounds and how each “kitchen interaction” or “cooking story” is meaningful to each culture, in each book. In addition to there being significant moments in each novel that have stories that take place in the kitchen or dining room, the stories that are associated with food take the reader into the character’s life memories of love, concern, and compassion. Love is present in the kitchen.
First, let us examine Cisnero, Danticat, and Tan’s general similarities from their three novels, The House on Mango Street, Krik? Krak!, and The Joy Luck Club. All three women are literary artists. “Literary” by definition from the Online Merriam Webster Dictionary is “having a lot of knowledge about literature : known for reading or writing books,” while the definition of “artist” is “a skilled performer” (2016).
Both of the novels Krik? Krak! and The House on Mango Street are comprised of short stories and Krik? Krak! has an epilogue, while The House on Mango Street has an introduction, both referencing their personal stories and motivational aspects to write their literature. The Joy Luck Club has an introductory story in italics that is titled “Feathers From a Thousand Li Away”. The next few examples are ones that contain a more in depth observation into the similarities and slight differences between each of the author’s novels and the functions of love in reference to the kitchen.
The epilogue in Krik? Krak! has an unnamed narrator who notices her similarities to her mother and her female ancestors. These ancestors and the narrator’s mother use cooking to express sorrow, but the narrator chooses to write. Her mother does not approve because Haitian writers are often killed. However, the narrator’s female ancestors are united in death, and she uses stories to keep their history alive. “They slip phrases into their stew and wrap meaning around their pork before frying it” (Danticat 220).
This phrase from the book is a direct correlation between the importance of storytelling and cooking in Haitian culture. While being a writer is frowned upon, being a storyteller comes naturally to the women in Danticat’s epilogue. Maybe the narrator’s mother does not even realize that if she externalized the stories she told to her daughter while cooking, she could likely be a writer if only she wrote down what she says to her daughter while being in the kitchen. This quote represents the authenticity and appreciation behind a home cooked meal, placing emphasis on the story behind each particle of food that went into the stew.
In Haitian culture, harvesting and cooking is an important part of life. The women and men both had different roles in gathering food. The men would farm and till and the women would harvest and sell produce. It was uncommon to ever find a man in the kitchen because Haitian culture in gender roles looked at men in the kitchen as a sign of “over-femininity” and because the men were working to support their families, the women were working in their house to care for themselves and their children. Because most Haitians primarily lived in small homes, shacks, and flats, they valued their time together through conversations and storytelling, over a home cooked meal; that home cooked meal represented hard work, authenticity, pride, and love for family (“Gender Roles”).
In Krik? Krak!, Danticat’s short stories have a strong, female, Haitian character presence that shows the real struggles of everyday life of Haitian women not only as women, but mothers as well. Although cooking is not mentioned in the story “Night Women” the reader can still deduct the presence of love for a child through his mother. The roles that Haitian women play as a caretaker are beyond just the kitchen, and in that sense, one can conclude that a mother’s love is vital to a child’s growth and understanding, regardless of what the mother does. In “Night Women” we see Danticat telling a story of a sex worker who is humanized by the unconditional love that a mother has for her son. Although the mother in “Night Women” is working in what is considered a very taboo occupation to some, we see as readers that her love for her small family permeates much stronger than her words of disdain for her job. The female character very whimsically describes her son in “Night Women” as “soft” and “…like a butterfly.” The character in “Night Women” also makes sure to protect her son from realizing too young that his mother is a sex worker. Whether she is really protecting him or sheltering him is up for debate, but it is undeniable the extreme love she as for him as his mother (Danticat 85).
One could argue that the type of protection displayed in “Night Women” is a function of love, just like cooking a home cooked meal is a representation of a function of love. Love comes in many forms from many different places in many different ways that define us, and cannot be defined under one generic description.
The function of love is determined by the reasons behind doing things to show love and how the person receiving the love understands it. Many of the characters in each novel struggle with the concept of love and learn that there are different “languages of love”. In an article by Dr. J. Richard Cookerly, online, titled “A Functional Definition of Love”, he talks about the five functions of love being “to connect us, to safeguard us, to improve us, to heal us, and to reward us with joy” (2010). The story “Night Women” reflects Dr. Cookerly’s theory on love to “safeguard us” in which the mother is trying to protect her son by keeping him a separate factor in her life, away from anything that has to do with her work as a prostitute.
In The House on Mango Street, Cisneros concentrates mainly on one protagonist throughout her short stories named Esperanza. In the short story “A Smart Cookie”, Esperanza explains that her mother is cooking over the stove talking about what her life used to be, and how she was “a smart cookie” when she was younger. Esperanza’s mother explains her memories in a regretful way because she wishes she had done more in her life with her potential. She describes how she used to draw and sing, and how those things made her feel liberated. Esperanza’s mother tells Esperanza not to make the same mistakes that she did; she tells her to go to school and study hard, implying that later she can be whomever she wants when she grows up. Although there is a scolding tone to this mother’s story- almost threatening Esperanza to stay in school and study hard, there is also a loving sense of comfort in her mother’s undeniable love for her daughter. Esperanza’s mother is trying to protect Esperanza from making the same mistakes that she, herself, was thought to make by telling her to stick to her education and have the ability to do whatever she wants to do in life (Cisneros 90).
In The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, we see a group of women who have a feast every week to drown their sorrows, vent their problems, and tell their stories. The character, June-Woo aka “June”, had a mother, Suyuan Woo, who recently passed away and was a member of the “Joy Luck Club”. The other members of the Joy Luck Club are called “aunties” by June, and each one has a different take on life and a different relationship with their daughters. This book revolves around the stories told from within the Joy Luck Club and June’s memories of her past and her relationship with her mother. The Joy Luck club is thoughtful tradition that involves cooking and serving while storytelling.
In the story “Best Quality” June reflects on the day her mother gave her a jade pendant during the Chinese New Year. At first, June did not like the pendant; it seemed too big and ornate. After her mother’s death, however, the pendant will begin to assume great importance to her, even though she does not really understand the meaning that her mother assigned to it. June had helped her mother shop for the crabs that she served at the New Year’s dinner. That day, her mother was annoyed about the tenants living in the second-floor apartment of a six-unit building that she owns. She was especially bothered by their cat, which June and the tenants suspect that she poisoned. June listened patiently to her mother as she poked the crabs to find the liveliest ones. As she was spearing the live crabs from the tank, one of them lost a limb. Mrs. Woo refused to accept it because a maimed crab is bad luck for the New Year. After a lengthy discussion, the fishmonger threw it in for free. When they return home, June watches her mother cook, but she leaves the room when Mrs. Woo begins to boil the crabs; she cannot bear to see them die.
There are eleven people at the New Year’s celebration. Mrs. Woohadn’t counted Waverly’s daughter, Shoshana, and so she purchased only ten whole crabs. When she sees the extra person, she decides to cook the eleventh crab, the one missing a limb. At dinner, Waverly takes the best crab for her child, and Mrs. Woo ends up with the maimed one, which she doesn’t eat. June voices that she does not like crab, but picks one anyway.
Later that night, after everyone has left, June asks her mother why she did not eat her crab. Her mother tells her that it was already dead before she cooked it, and thus it was not edible. She cooked it merely because she thought that it might still be good and because she knew that only June would pick it, because June would never choose the “best quality.” She sees this virtue as one of June’s best qualities. Then she gives to June her “life’s importance”, also known as the jade pendant necklace. This was a way to show June that she loves who June is, although her mother never shows it.
Although June is discouraged in always trying to please her mother and did not want to eat crab, she understands that love comes in many different forms by saying “That’s the way Chinese mothers show they love their children, not through hugs and kisses but with stern offerings of steamed dumplings, duck’s gizzards, and crab” (Tan 202). This quote embodies a lack of understanding in the relationship between June and her mother through tradition and love. Where June can see love in some ways through Chinese traditions, she cannot see love in other situations like the giving of the jade pendant from her mother to her.
In both stories and the chapter, “Night Women” and “A Smart Cookie” and “Best Quality”, each mother is trying to protect their child in different ways. In each of these stories, each mother is showing love in a way that can only be expressed by the reaffirming tone of the text. In “Night Women”, Danticat beautifully and softly describes her sleeping son by saying “I watch his shadow resting still on the curtain” (Danticat 84). Danticat’s delicate and specific description of the character’s son conveys that the woman’s child means everything to her, and by titling the story “Night Women” and not “Night Woman”, it also implies that it represents multiple situations in which Haitian mothers by instinct and tradition, would do anything to sustain their family and provide the best life they can for their children.
In “A Smart Cookie”, although a shorter story than “Night Women”, Cisneros uses her own childhood experiences as a Mexican-American and remembers herself and her mother through the character of Esperanza. “A Smart Cookie” shows a mother and her unconditional love for her daughter by inspiring her to stay in school. In a cultural sense, Cisneros also talks about how Esperanza’s mother was cooking over the stove while talking with her and cooking and motherhood is also a staple tradition in Mexican, Haitian, and Chinese origins.
In “Best Quality” it is important to note that the last section of this chapter is set in the present. June is cooking dinner for her father, who has not been eating well since his wife’s death. She hears the tenants upstairs and now understands her mother’s former complaints. The tenant’s cat appears at the window, and June realizes that her mother did not poison it, after all.
In Krik? Krak!’s “Caroline’s Wedding”, the reader sees a divide between family members; there is concern from a mother towards the idea of how “Americanized” her daughter is/has becoming/become because she is not marrying a Haitian man. We often see a clash of tradition and modernism in age differences and in life, as it is illustrated by this story. In the end, Caroline’s mother comes around and reassures Caroline that “everything will be okay,” despite her personal views on traditionally marrying a Haitian man. Her love is shown through her concern with her daughter; she feels that no one else will love her except her husband Eric, if she marries him. Caroline’s sister, although seemingly young, is very mature and tells her mother that Caroline should be able to marry whomever she wants to because she is an adult. There is this extreme family bond between the characters that proves to be endearing in this story. It represents letting go of some old ideas, and also in a way is like a mother bird setting her daughter free to fly (Danticat 161).
There are similarities between Krik? Krak!, The House on Mango Street, and The Joy Luck Club in that there is a traditional divide in viewpoints from Esperanza and her family as well. Esperanza always seems to be clashing heads with her father. Jun is always clashing heads with her mother, constantly trying to figure out why she can never attain her mother’s full approval in her life decisions.
Esperanza’s father believes in tradition, and that hard work and being proud of your heritage is a factor in being a true Mexican. In the introduction of The House on Mango Street, Cisneros’s father cannot understand why his daughter chooses to live in a shabby apartment when he has worked hard for a nice home that she is welcome to stay in. He does not want to let go of the fact that his daughter, Sandra, has grown into an independent adult, much like her mother. This love through concern is typical in both stories when it involves family and tradition. We are all safe in our comfort zones and often do not want to accept changes in our lives, especially when it comes to family. All novels beautifully capture the strong bond and yet divide between Haitians and their family members, Mexicans and their family members, and the Chinese and theirs. All three novels show the bravery in letting go of someone or something, despite the unknown outcome.
The child characters in each novel fail to understand “the bigger picture” in that their parents are working hard to provide the best life they can for them. In The House on Mango Street, despite Esperanza’s move from a much lower quality of living into a much nicer one on Mango Street, she still dreams of having “more”. Esperanza’s new home on Mango Street is not like she pictured it would be; it is still disappointing to her because it did not meet her standards of what her “dream home” should look and feel like. Moments like these could also portray “hope”. There is an ongoing sense of hope within both of these novels for a better relationship, a better outcome, and a better life. Sometimes this is a false sense of hope that borderlines fantasy, but nonetheless, still drives the characters to remain as strong willed as possible.
In Krik? Krak! we see the story “Between the Pool and the Gardenias” in which the character Marie initially finds a little baby on the street and names her “Rose”. She brings her home and treats her nicely; she cares for Rose and cradles her in her arms, making the reader believe that she has found a new love through the child. Come to find out, Rose is deceased, her body is decomposing, and to cope with her own past of having miscarriages, Marie scooped the dead baby off the streets because she was delusional in her traumatic realities of her own life. She also has slept with a Dominican man who works where she has brought Rose. Marie had viewed their time together very differently than the Dominican, who denies her and calls the Police, accusing her of procuring Haitian Voodoo on the dead baby. This tragic story relays a false hope in which Marie cannot deal with her own life so she creates a new story for herself with Rose (Danticat 89).
In The House on Mango Street we see Esperanza, different than other little girls in her neighborhood. In the story “The Monkey Garden”, Esperanza witnesses her “friend” Sally interact with boys. She watches as the boys tease Sally and take her keys and then sees that one of the boys, Tito, will not return Sally’s keys until they kiss. Esperanza instantly and intuitively feels like this is wrong and that she needs to tell an adult, because she does not want anything to happen to Sally that could lead to unwanted advances. Esperanza in this moment has a high hope, like a superhero, in that she wants to save Sally, so she runs to tell Tito’s mother what is happening. Here the reader is able to see the reaction of a mother of a son, as compared to a concerned response from a mother about her daughter. Esperanza’s tall hopes in saving Sally from inappropriate interactions falls on deaf ears when Tito’s mother responds, “What do you want me to do, call the cops?” (Cisneros 97).
In this instance the reader feels empathy for little Esperanza, in hopes that the superhero falsities become a truth and reality for Esperanza to prevail in “saving Sally”. This story conveys a false hope versus a reality, and although “The Monkey Garden” is very different from “Between the Pool and the Gardenias” their similarities lie in the protagonist’s reality for young girls in a hopeless situation. In The Joy Luck Club June experiences her identity is lost and has hopes in finding in upon traveling back to China to meet her sisters that her mother left behind.
All three novels tell impacting stories of the different kinds of love and heartache that little girls and women from Haitian, Mexican, and Chinese heritage endure. Krik? Krak! , The House on Mango Street, and The Joy Luck Club may have different writers, but all three women, Edwidge Danticat, and Sandra Cisneros, and Amy Tan, intertwine their life experiences through their realities and hopes that make them all astounding female authors who have vivid memories of love and community through cooking.
How Education Influences Characters’ Lives
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.