House on Mango Street and Love Medicine: Reflection on Women Empowerment
Within the works of Cisneros’s, “House on Mango Street”, Erdrich’s, “Love Medicine”, there is a pattern that the main women within the novels follow to help them achieve peace and empowerment for themselves, their culture, and the woman within their culture. When we take a look at the elements that defy the very being of these two woman, Esperanza of House on Mango Street and Lulu of Love Medicine, we are able to see similar themes that hold both of these women through their journey to female empowerment. Both Lulu and Esperanza go through a type of quest of self identification as they age and mature into their ultimate selves. During these journeys the woman go through several very common events that can be described as themes that relate to innocence, crisis, self-discovery/awareness. The journeys that Lulu and Esperanza go through help to shape them into the woman that can overcome, the events help them learn about life, themselves, and decide which path will be most empowering.
As we take a look into Esperanza’s journey, or quest, it is important to start off from the beginning and take a look into the innocence of Esperanza. When she first moved to her new home on Mango street she was young, naive, and of course a bit selfish. She sees her new home to be something ashamed of, she does not expect what she gets, and therefore, sulks and pities herself. This is because Esperanza has always dreamed of living a better life; within the text it can be read, “ 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 … Our house would be white with trees around it, a great big yard and grass growing without a fence. This was the house Papa talked about when he held a lottery ticket and this was the house Mama dreamed up in the stories she told us before we went to bed (Cisneros, p. 4). “ From the above quote, innocence and dreamer qualities can be seen within Esperanza, as she longs for something more than the life she is living. This can be seen as her first small flirt with the idea of breaking cultural and gender norms, because not only does she want a house she wants one of her own, which is not common for woman of Hispanic culture. This can be seen in the line which reads, “ One day I’ll own my own house, but I won’t forget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I’ll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, because I know how it is to be without a house (Cisneros, p. 87).” This passage also shows how Esperanza has grown from her experiences, she has matured into a caring woman through the process of her personal quest.
The section which reads, “ but I won’t forget who I am or where I came from”, also defines an important fact that Esperanza will not forget her culture or roots as she evolves into who she wants to be. This is the ultimate cultural goal of the Chicana movement, to be able to evolve and become empowered while still holding on to the culture that also defies them. Going on from this point, Esperanza begins to move into the area of crisis within her journey to independence and fulfillment. As we look into the crises that test Esperanza, we can see that many stem from her own mind, and in turn, are constructed by her own interpretation of the limits set on her by her culture and gender. Within the text it can be read, “ She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window (Cisneros). “ This passage from the text illustrates the limitations Esperanza feels are placed upon her. She has seen the story firsthand and is worried that she will not be able to fulfill her dreams and become who she is meant to be. Her ultimate fear, at this point, is the becoming, “the woman in the window”, someone who waits for another to come along a make her whole. Looking farther into the area of crisis, we are able to see instances that break her of her innocence and begin to show her an uglier side of the world. Within the text it can be read, “ Sally, you lied, you lied. He wouldn’t let me go. He said I love you, I love you, Spanish girl (Cisneros, p. 99).” From the above quote, Esperanza experiences a terrible blow in the form of sexually assault. This line which reads, “I love you, spanish girl”, shows Esperanza the darker side of life. The line is a mockery of love because it perpetuates the stereotype that sex equals love.
However, Esperanza is able to see that this is not love, and that men have a hold over woman in her culture due to the acceptance of these types of situations. She realizes that in order to change this women should stick closely by one another and not let men perpetuate this type of dominating behavior. Esperanza sees this in the failed support of her friend Sally. This is a huge turning point for Esperanza has she begins to see the problems within her community. This is also the point when Esperanza is able to overcome this crisis, as well as the ones that old her mind. This can be seen in the following quote which reads, “ One day I will pack my bags of books and paper. One day I will say goodbye to Mango street. I am too strong for her to keep me here forever (Cisneros, p. 110).” From this line, it is clear to see that Esperanza as overcome her crisis and knows now that Mango street, her culture, and her gender, can not hold her back from the freedom and fulfilment that she is seeking. The many negative experiences that have plague her have actually helped her to learn who she wants to be. She now knows that she will not be, “the woman in the window”, she will find her own place and within this space there will be peace.
Going on to Lulu’s journey within, “Love Medicine”, we are able to see the same process of the personal journey that Esperanza experiences. Lulu goes through the same events that follow, innocence, crisis, and self-awareness. This quest leads Lulu, much like Esperanza, to become a figure of female empowerment within her culture. Within the area of innocence, Lulu can be seen as an innocent young girl, who much like Esperanza, is naive. This can be seen in the way she plays freely at her childhood home. This is also exposed when she begins to play near a dead body she finds behind her home. The fact that she plays so easily near the corpse shows her innocence and ignorance. Shortly after this, Lulu is sent away to the Indian boarding school. She is ripped from her home, and everything she knows. From this experience, Lulu’s innocence is also ripped from her. This can be seen in the line which reads, “ I don’t know why, but after that [my tears] they just dried up ( Erdrich, p. 281).” She is taken to the boarding school and her culture is diminished right in front of her eyes. She must become strong in order to survive this crisis, and thus, she grows so that she can save the indian within her, much like how Esperanza grows from the trauma of her sexual assault. However, this is also where Lulu greatly differs from Esperanza, she faces her crises with a much bolder face. This can be seen in the line which reads, “
…Everyone who knows me will say I am a happy person. I go through life like a breeze. I try to greet the world without a grudge. I can beat the devil himself at cards because I play for the sheer amusement…(Erdrich, p. 281).” From this passage, the power within Lulu can be seen. She takes on each of her crises, such as Nector’s unwillingness to settle, with a strong stance and powerful resolve. She may cry and be broken, but she will never be so for long. This is because the experiences she has faced have taught her that in order to find peace and fulfilment she must preserve and stand tall. This is something that takes Esperanza a bit longer to understand, due to the fact that she grows up a bit slower than Lulu does. However, both Lulu and Esperanza are similar, in that, they eventually find empowerment through these traumatic events that (at first) scared them.
This is how they are able to find peace, by accepting and making peace with the terrible events of their pasts, and by not accepting the gender and cultural constructs that seem to hold them.
Mentorship and spirituality play a huge role in the advancement of Esperanza and Lulu. This is part of how they are able to overcome so many obstacles in their way. For Esperanza, mentorship comes from certain woman who reside on Mango, one in particular being Alicia. This can be seen in the line which reads, “ …like it or not you are Mango street, and one day you’ll come back too (Cisneros, p. 107).”
From this, Esperanza is able to reflect on who she wants to be, and how she will help lose within her culture break free in the way that she has, much like Lulu, Esperanza leads by example; this is how she helps her community become better. On the side of spirituality, Lulu finds strength there within the realm of her soul and culture. She relies on her Indian roots to sooth her and help her overcome difficulties, such as life at boarding school. She holds true to her culture, and thus, she is able to hold true to herself. She truly does as she wants, and is able to find peace and fulfillment in this manner. This can be seen when she is confronted about the the choices she has made in life, “… And so when they tell you that I was heartless, a shameless man-chaser, don’t ever forget this: I loved what I saw. And yes, it is true that I’ve done all the things they say. That’s not what gets them. What aggravates them is I’ve never shed one solitary tear. I’m not sorry. That’s unnatural. As we all know, a woman is supposed to cry…( Erdrich, p. 277).” From this passage, it is clear to see that Lulu has found empowerment by saying that she does not regret the choices she has made. She also makes a stand for the rest of those woman suppressed within her culture by saying, “…What aggravates them is I’ve never shed one solitary tear. I’m not sorry. That’s unnatural. As we all know, a woman is supposed to cry.” Here, Lulu makes fun of the stereotype that women are emotional and cry, by breaking down this wall she shows everyone (including Native American woman) that these constructs do not define her or women, much like how Esperanza show her people a new way of living by example. By looking at these similarities and differences between Esperanza and Lulu’s experiences as women within their culture, we are able to make comparisons about the cultures as a whole. It seems that when it comes to woman within these cultures, the men try to bind them to their “traditional” gender constructs. By this I am referring to the domination of men over woman. In both the Native American and Hispanic communities, women are meant to be obedient, quiet, and take care of the matters of the home. There are also stereotypes placed on them by the men within their culture, such as Lulu’s explanation of men’s view of women being easily made to cry. These are constructs that make up both the Native American culture and the Hispanic.
It is clear to see that both the woman with, Love Medicine and House on Mango Street, work to achieve fulfilment and empowerment. Lulu and Esperanza are able to grow and learn from the terrible experiences of their childhoods, in order to carve a new place for themselves within their cultures. The process of innocence, crisis, and self-awareness/ fulfilment, becomes a journey that produces self empowered women. Overall, it would seem that the crises they go through are used as learning experiences so that both of these women may become cultural leaders within their communities. As these women are able to overcome and accept the life they’ve been dealt, they are able to cross the threshold into peace, fulfillment, and overall self empowerment.
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