House on Mango Street
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.
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.
Constructing Latinx American Identity
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.
The Reconstruction of Patriarchal Space
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.
Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: Vintage Books, 1984.
Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. Florida: First Harvest, 1989.
The Portrayal of the Sexual Violence Against Female Adolescents in “The House on Mango Street”
The perception of the crucial and critical topic of sex held by the majority of adolescents, even in today’s progressive world, is alarmingly apocryphal. The world’s frantic attempts to preserve the beauty of childhood’s innocence and the alluring vision of passionate love has led inexperienced adolescents to conceive an idealistic and unrealistic image of sex. This fallacious belief is a severe threat for young girls who may unknowingly become victims of harrowing sexual encounters. The revolutionary author, Sandra Cisneros uses the vignette “Red Clowns” within her autobiographical novel “The House on Mango Street” to poignantly depict the socially suppressed horrors of sexual oppression. This haunting story is narrated by the novel’s adolescent protagonist, Esperanza, after she is sexually molested at a carnival while she was waiting for her friend, Sally.
The vision of sex traditionally painted by the media is radically misleading. Most movies and novels portray sex as a sacred and romantic union of two love-struck individuals. The gory details of rape and other forms of violent sexual assaults are rarely mentioned. The few books and movies that expose this dark alter ego of sex are carefully concealed from the unsuspecting eyes of idealistic adolescents. As a result, most girls grow up naively dreaming of a passionate, loving sexual experience. Esperanza, having believed in this dream, is thus left in a state of complete confusion after her traumatic sexual encounter: “The way they said it, the way it’s supposed to be, all the storybooks and movies, why did you lie to me?” (Cisneros, 122). This lyrical sentence, composed of detached fragments, depicts Esperanza’s wrecked mental state with heartbreaking clarity. The reader can easily understand, without being explicitly told, that Esperanza’s negative sexual experience was the antithesis of what society had led her to expect. Her softly reproachful tone for having been tricked into cherishing unrealistic romantic ideas later changes into vehement accusations: “I waited my whole life. You’re a liar. They all lied. All the books and magazines, everything that told it wrong.” (Cisneros, 123). The hyperbolic statement, “I waited my whole life”, cogently conveys the crushing disappointment she experienced on seeing her long-held dreams of fairy-tale love dissolve. It also implies that the innocent life she used to lead was over. The personification of “books and magazines” indicates that Esperanza’s rage is directed against the people who wrote them. The simplicity of the diction used in these terse, childlike allegations potently portrays her ravaged faith in the integrity of the media and human beings in general.
The media is not solely responsible for maintaining this false depiction of romantic sex. The people centrally involved in this conspiracy of lies are, in fact, females themselves. Women’s overwhelming personal insecurity makes them wary of sharing unpleasant sexual encounters with others. Thus, Esperanza only heard stories of tender romance from her best friend, Sally, and was devastated when her own experience ended up being so brutally different: “Sally, you lied. It wasn’t what you said at all. What he did. Where he touched me. I didn’t want it, Sally.” (Cisneros, 122). Although Esperanza never mentions details of what happened, the fragmented sentences, “What he did. Where he touched me”, vividly evokes images of the harrowing sexual abuse she was forced through. Her pathetic cry, “I didn’t want it, Sally”, conveys her utter helplessness during this event. Throughout this vignette, Esperanza repeatedly reproaches Sally for lying to her. According to Maria Herrera-Sobek, her “diatribe” is aimed not only against Sally, but rather against “the community of women who keep the truth from the younger generation of women in a conspiracy of silence” (Herrera-Sobek, 222).
The misrepresentation of sex by society is one of the principal causes of the rising rates of sexual assaults. Adolescent females are not aware of the perils of sexual oppression and thus do not take necessary precautions against it. Instead they try their best to attract men’s attention and revere the ones who are successful in doing so. The “Red Clowns” subtly portrays this destructive tendency of young women:
I was waiting by the red clowns. I was standing by the tilt-a-whirl where you said. And anyway I don’t like carnivals. I went to be with you because you laugh on the tilt-a-whirl, you throw your head back and laugh. I hold your change, wave, count how many times you go by. Those boys that look at you because you’re pretty. I like to be with you, Sally. You’re my friend. (Cisneros, 122-123)
This simple passage, filled with powerful imagery clearly illustrates Esperanza’s excessive devotion for her friend, Sally. She went to a carnival, where she was clearly bored, merely to be with Sally and was willing to do everything Sally said, even if that meant waiting for hours. Although Esperanza justifies her extreme affection for her friend by saying, “I like to be with you, Sally. You’re my friend,” her former observation that “Those boys that look at you because you’re pretty” suggests a different reason for her attachment. Sally enticed boys through flirtatious actions like throwing her “head back” and laughing; by spending time with Sally, Esperanza wanted to learn the means of exercising such power over men. Ironically, her attempts to understand the technique of controlling men led her to experience the most traumatizing event of her life in which a man had complete control over her.
Another significant cause of women’s continued oppression in society is the lack of female bonding. Sally’s careless and selfish decision to leave Esperanza all alone in the carnival in order to have a romantic fling with a boy is undoubtedly one of the key reasons for her exposure to sexual violence: “But that big boy, where did he take you? I waited for such a long time. I waited by the red clowns, just like you said, but you never came, you never came for me.”(Cisneros, 123). Although Sally was supposed to be Esperanza’s friend she deserted her to go with a “big boy” and never returned. The repetition, “you never came, you never came for me”, vividly depicts Esperanza’s acute feelings of betrayal. However, the fact that Sally does not return despite having promised Esperanza that she would leaves the reader wondering whether Sally, too, might have been subjected to a similar harrowing experience. But Esperanza does not consider this and blames Sally entirely for her tragic loss: “Sally Sally a hundred times. Why didn’t you hear me when I called? Why didn’t you tell them to leave me alone?”(Cisneros, 123). In this passage, Esperanza childishly reproaches Sally for not hearing her cries in the midst of a noisy carnival and for not saving her from boys they were both powerless to fight against. She does not even once accuse the men directly responsible for the pathetic state she was in. Her rage is directed only towards Sally because she does not possess the courage needed to blame the true offenders.
Victims of sexual oppressions invariably undergo a period of paralyzing mental trauma. They are constantly haunted by memories of this grueling experience despite their desperate attempts to forget. Through her carefully crafted use of powerful imageries, Cisneros depicts, in Esperanza, the damaged mental state of rape victims with heart wrenching accuracy: “Sally, make him stop. I couldn’t make them go away. I couldn’t do anything but cry. I don’t remember. It was dark. I don’t remember. I don’t remember. Please don’t make me tell it all.” (Cisneros, 123). This poignant passage, narrated with a tone of uncontrolled panic, cogently conveys Esperanza’s torturous mental condition after being sexually molested. She asks Sally to “make him stop”, although her assaulters had all left by then. This implies that she was being tormented by agonizing memories of the event. The lines “I couldn’t make them go away. I couldn’t do anything but cry”, illustrate her stifling feelings of utter powerlessness. Her repeated cries, “I don’t remember”, and pitiful plea, “please don’t make me tell it all”, portray her crippling fear of the memories that were still haunting her.
Sexual oppressions are often a form of racial violence. This appears to be the case for Esperanza. Although the race of her sexual assaulter is never directly revealed, Esperanza mentions that he kept saying: “I love you, I love you Spanish girl” (Cisneros, 123). The beautiful words “I love you” sound repulsively obscene in this context and their repetition only intensifies this feeling of abhorrence. By calling her “Spanish girl”, he was clearly mocking her Latino heritage. This insinuates that he himself came from a different racial background. The theme of racial discrimination is prevalent throughout Cisneros’s novel, “The House on the Mango Street”, but it surfaces with the most heartrending brutality in this passage.
The shockingly amusing attitude most men have towards sexual violence and the pure resignation with which the majority of women accept this attitude is leading to a growing heap of rape victims: “Only his dirty fingernails against my skin, only his sour smell again. The moon that watched. The tilt-a-whirl. The red clowns laughing their thick-tongue laugh.” (Cisneros,123). This passage is filled with the key symbols Cisneros uses in this impressionistic story. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, moon is an icon of femininity and through the anthropomorphism “moon that watched”, Cisneros portrays the silent tolerance of male oppression by the female population. According to Wikipedia, the tilt-a-whirl is one of the most popular rides in the amusement parks which exhibits “unpredictable chaotic motion”. Thus the tilt-a-whirl epitomizes the chaos and confusion Esperanza felt as she was being raped. The powerful imagery created by the phrase “dirty fingernails against my skin” and the synesthesia “sour smell” provides a heartrending glimpse into Esperanza’s feelings of physical violation.
Also, the term “red clown” (the title of the chapter), is the most salient symbol in this passage. According to the “Dictionary of Symbolism”, red is “an emotionally charged color” which denotes a multitude of elements including blood, anger, passion, sexual arousal and masculinity. Cisneros thus uses red to symbolize Esperanza’s loss of blood and helpless rage during the tragic sexual encounter. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a clown as “an ignorant, rude, uncouth, ill-bred man” while Wikipedia calls clowns “comical performers” who attempt to entertain people with their “grotesque appearance” but often evoke fear instead. Red clowns thus represent formidable male figures and the chilling image produced by the phrase “red clowns laughing their thick tongue laugh” portrays the cruel pleasure men derive from the oppression of women. On a broader context, “red clowns” denote the system of deception and lies that increases the vulnerability of young girls to sexual subjugation and foreshadows the sexual content of the chapter.
With this heartbreaking narrative in the “Red Clowns”, Cisneros boldly reveals the harsh face of sexual reality which society has carefully kept hidden behind a mask of tailored romanticism. She also illustrates the principle causes and disastrous effects of the sexual molestation of female adolescents. Through her ingenious use of vividly evocative imageries, subtle symbols and appropriately childish language, Cisneros leaves a lasting impression on the reader’s mind, which urges them to try and bring an end to this unvoiced system of brutal sexual violence.
1. Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: Alfred A. knopf, 2001.
2. “Clown, n.” The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 10 May 2010 <http://dictionary.oed.com/>
3. “Clown.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 10 May 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clown>
4. Herrera-Sobek, Maria.”The Politics of Rape: Sexual Transgression in Chicana Fiction.” Beyond Portia: Women, Law and Literature in the United States. Eds St. Joan, Jacqueline and Annette Bennington McElhiney. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press, 1997, 216-225.
5. “Moon, n.” The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 10 May 2010 <http://dictionary.oed.com/>.
6. “Red”. Online Symbolism Dictionary. 10 May 2010. <http://www.umich.edu/~umfandsf/symbolismproject/symbolism.html/>.
7. “Tilt-a-whirl.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 10 May 2010. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilt-a-whirl