Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
The House on Mango Street is presented in forty-four vignettes that run from a fragment of a page to two or three pages. The young narrator, Esperanza, provides coherence to the book: Her voice, in a scarcely interrupted monologue, is present throughout. The predominant point of view of the narrative is the first-person singular, but the narrator makes extensive use of the third-person singular while describing the other characters in the work.
One can view The House on Mango Street either as a nontraditional novel made up of sketches or as a series of thematically related short stories. In addition to the constant presence of the narrator, which brings together the vignettes as chapters of the same book, the work presents other structural features that define it as a novel—for example, the recurring image of a comfortable house, which becomes a metaphor for the independence that Esperanza desires. As in short stories, however, there is limited character development within the vignettes.
Esperanza was born in the bosom of a loving Mexican American family of modest resources. She recalls having moved frequently and having lived in rundown apartment buildings. Although her family owns their current house located on Mango Street, Esperanza does not feel satisfied in it.
The narrator provides descriptions of both the house in which she lives at the present and the house that her parents have promised their children....
(The entire section is 492 words.)
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Mango Street. Street in the Hispanic neighborhood of Chicago, where author Sandra Cisneros was born. The young narrator of her novel, Esperanza, lives with her family in a small, redbrick house at 4006 Mango Street. Its bricks are crumbling in places, and its front door is swollen and hard to move. The house has no front yard, only four skinny elm trees the city has planted by the curb, trees that manage to grow in the cement. The house’s small backyard looks even smaller because it is enclosed by buildings on either side. Esperanza is ashamed of her house and longs to move away from Mango Street to a larger house in a better neighborhood.
The neighborhood is a busy place filled with children and adults engaged in a number of activities. Children play volleyball in the alley, and boys riding homemade bicycles shout at girls walking by. Kids bend trees, bounce between parked cars, and hang upside-down from their knees. A boy pushes Esperanza into an open water hydrant, and other boys sit on bikes in front of a house pitching pennies. Neighbors come out to see the crash of a big yellow Cadillac, listen for the sirens, and watch as cops handcuff the driver. In front of the tavern, a bum sits on a stoop. People wait to take the subway train to downtown. Strangers to the neighborhood fear that it is dangerous; however, the neighborhood is a place in which Esperanza feels safe.
Precious Blood Church
Precious Blood Church. Center of social life for Esperanza’s family and neighbors....
(The entire section is 635 words.)
Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Based on Sandra Cisneros’ experiences growing up in a Latino neighborhood of Chicago, The House on Mango Street is the story of a girl’s search for identity as she comes of age. The narrative covers one crucial year in her life. Esperanza Cordero, a young Chicana, draws her identity from her parents’ Mexican heritage and from the culture of the Mexican American community in which she grows up. She narrates the stories, describing herself, her neighbors, their dreams, and the world of Mango Street. In the process, she gains an understanding of herself and her community.
Cisneros has described the forty-six vignettes that make up the novel as crosses between poems and short stories. The tiny chapters are written in intensely lyrical prose, highly charged with metaphor, like prose poetry. Esperanza’s voice unifies the narrative. Her search for identity shapes the plot, which is otherwise loosely defined.
Esperanza’s descriptions focus on the women whom she knows, their lives often made difficult by the men who dominate them. Her childish yet mature perspective illuminates the ways in which society-at-large oppresses Latin Americans. The Latina women whom Esperanza describes bear a double yoke. They live in a strongly patriarchal society, often in fear of violence. Their choices for survival and self-expression are limited. Meanwhile, many suffer along with their men from living in poverty. Their burden is the fate that the narrator wishes to escape. Esperanza describes her...
(The entire section is 622 words.)
Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Sandra Cisneros dedicates The House on Mango Street “A Las Mujeres: To the Women.” The feminism of these stories is not tied to the mainstream feminist movement in the United States, however, but to the struggle of poor, working-class, uneducated women of American Latino culture. Her fiction exposes male violence and deception from a girl’s point of view, making the suffering of these women at the hands of the men in Chicano/Mexican culture seem even more devastating. Yet the female characters appear that much stronger in their opposition to these hindrances.
At the same time, Cisneros’ novel exposes the myth of the traditional role of Mexican and Latina women. While her female characters may at first seem humble, tied to household duties, and self-effacing—exemplary of the so-called traditional Latina—they are actually tough fighters. Their fierceness and strength is evident in Guadalupe, Minerva, Alicia, and the narrator herself. They are underprivileged women; nevertheless, they fight patriarchy, fight for selfhood, and fight for education. Even Sally resists the role that her father—or society—plans for her, however unfulfilled she remains in her marriage bedroom (which the narrator describes in an ironic aside: “the ceiling smooth as a wedding cake”).
The House on Mango Street, published in 1984, was Cisneros’ first book of fiction. With its appearance, she becomes recognized as one of the most powerful of the young Chicana writers—writers such as Ana Castillo, Denise Chavez, and Gloria Anzaldua whose work first emerged in the 1980’s. Cisneros has also published Woman Hollering Creek (1991), a collection of stories, and My Wicked, Wicked Ways (1987), a volume of poetry. These works also explore the themes of feminism, biculturalism, classism, family violence, artistic creativity, and personal identity. Cisneros’ work offers insights into the lives of contemporary Latina women, and grapples with issues of power and selfhood that concern all women.
Part I: The House on Mango Street, Hairs, and Boys & Girls
1. How is the house on Mango Street different from the other places Esperanza has lived?
2. Why did the Corderos have to move from the flat on Loomis Street?
3. What did Esperanza expect the house on Mango Street to be like?
4. Why did Esperanza have those expectations?
5. What is the house on Mango Street like? Why isn’t it “a real house”?
6. What happened between Esperanza and the nun from her school?
7. What did Esperanza realize after her experience with the nun?
8. Whose hair does Esperanza like best? Why?
9. What is Esperanza’s relationship with Nenny like?
10. Does Esperanza have a...
(The entire section is 355 words.)
Part II: My Name, Cathy Queen of Cats, and Our Good Day
1. What does Esperanza’s name mean in English and in Spanish?
2. After whom is Esperanza named?
3. What was Esperanza’s great-grandmother like?
4. What kind of name would Esperanza like for herself?
5. Why will Cathy be Esperanza’s friend “only till next Tuesday”?
6. Why is Cathy’s family leaving the neighborhood?
7. Why does Esperanza like Lucy and Rachel?
8. Why is Cathy not waiting when Esperanza gets back from buying the bike?
9. How does Esperanza think the girls will react to her name?
10. What does Rachel do that Esperanza thinks is “sassy”?
(The entire section is 273 words.)
Part III: Laughter, Gil’s Furniture Bought & Sold, Meme Ortiz, and Louie, His Cousin & His Other Cousin
1. In what ways are Esperanza and Nenny similar?
2. What kind of store does Gil have?
3. What did Esperanza once buy from Gil?
4. What did Nenny want to buy from Gil?
5. Why couldn’t she buy it?
6. Why does Esperanza say that she and Nenny are stupid for wanting the music box?
7. What is Meme’s real name?
8. Why can’t Marin go out?
9. What kind of car did Louie’s other cousin have?
10. What happened to Louie’s other cousin when he came to Mango Street?
1. Esperanza and Nenny have the same laugh and the same memories of Mexico.
2. Gil has a...
(The entire section is 196 words.)
Part IV: Marin, Those Who Don’t, and There Was an Old Woman She Had So Many Children She Didn’t Know What to Do
1. Why does Esperanza like Marin?
2. Why is Marin saving her money?
3. Why does Marin want to get a job downtown if she stays on Mango Street?
4. According to Marin, why is it important to be out front at night?
5. Why are people who get lost in Esperanza’s neighborhood afraid?
6. Why isn’t Esperanza scared in her neighborhood?
7. How does Esperanza feel when she goes into a neighborhood “of another color”?
8. Why can’t Rosa Vargas take care of her children?
9. What are the Vargas children like?
10. Why don’t the neighbors worry about the Vargas children anymore?
(The entire section is 277 words.)
Part V: Alicia Who Sees Mice, Darius & the Clouds, and And Some More
1. Why is Alicia so tired?
2. Why is Alicia in school?
3. According to Alicia’s father, where is a woman’s place?
4. Why is Alicia afraid of her father?
5. Why does Darius’s comment impress Esperanza?
6. What can Esperanza “never have too much” of?
7. Who is naming all the clouds in “And Some More”?
8. Why does Esperanza get mad at Rachel and Lucy?
9. According to Esperanza, how many different names for snow do the Eskimos have?
10. According to Lucy, how many different kinds of snow are there? According to Nenny?
1. Alicia is so tired because she has...
(The entire section is 260 words.)
Part VI: The Family of Little Feet and A Rice Sandwich
1. Where do Rachel, Lucy, and Esperanza get the high-heeled shoes?
2. What does Mr. Benny say about their shoes?
3. What does the bum man offer Rachel?
4. Why do the girls hide the shoes when they come home?
5.Why does Esperanza want to eat in the canteen?
6. How does Esperanza convince her mother to write the permission note?
7. What does Nenny do for lunch?
8. Why doesn’t Sister Superior let Esperanza have lunches in the canteen?
9. Why does Sister Superior assume Esperanza lives in the ugly three-flats?
10. Was the canteen what Esperanza expected?
1. They get...
(The entire section is 241 words.)
Part VII: Chanclas, Hips, and The First Job
1. What occasion is Esperanza’s family celebrating in “Chanclas”?
2. Why does Esperanza not want to dance?
3. Who finally gets Esperanza to dance?
4. Who watches Esperanza dance all night?
5. Why does Esperanza agree with the stupid thing that Nenny says?
6. In what way are hips “scientific”?
7. What does Nenny say swaying one’s hips is for?
8. What is Esperanza’s first job?
9. Why doesn’t Esperanza eat lunch in the lunchroom?
10. What happens with the Oriental man?
1. They are celebrating her cousin’s baptism.
2. Esperanza doesn’t...
(The entire section is 194 words.)
Part VIII: Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark, Born Bad, and Elenita, Cards, Palm, Water
1. Whose funeral must Esperanza’s father attend?
2. Why does Esperanza hold her father?
3. Why does Esperanza think she will go to hell?
4. What is Esperanza’s theory about disease?
5. What does Esperanza discover when she reads The Waterbabies to her aunt?
6. What does Aunt Lupe say to Esperanza about writing?
7. What does Esperanza wish she could do while Elenita is getting ready?
8. What interrupts Elenita while she is telling Esperanza’s fortune?
9. How much does Esperanza pay for her fortune?
10. What does Elenita tell Esperanza about her future?
(The entire section is 221 words.)
Part IX: Geraldo No Last Name, Edna’s Ruthie, The Earl of Tennessee, and Sire
1. Where does Marin meet Geraldo?
2. How does Geraldo die?
3. Why can’t the authorities notify anyone about Geraldo’s death?
4. What is special about Ruthie?
5. Why doesn’t Ruthie go with Edna’s friends to play bingo?
6. What does Earl do for a living?
7. What does Earl’s wife look like?
8. What happens when Esperanza looked back at Sire?
9. According to Esperanza’s parents, what kind of boy is Sire? What kind of girl is Lois?
10. What does Esperanza want to do at night?
1. Marin meets Geraldo at a dance.
2. Geraldo dies in a hit-and-run...
(The entire section is 202 words.)
Part X: Four Skinny Trees and No Speak English
1. Who planted the four skinny trees in Esperanza’s yard?
2. Does Nenny appreciate the trees?
3. What do the trees say to Esperanza while she sleeps?
4. How is Esperanza like the skinny trees?
5. Why does Esperanza like the skinny trees?
6. What theories do people have about why Mamacita won’t come out?
7. How many English words does Mamacita know?
8. What did Esperanza’s father eat for three months when he first came to the United States?
9. What does Mamacita’s husband want her to do?
10. What does Mamacita’s baby learn from the TV?
1. The city planted...
(The entire section is 205 words.)
Part XI: Rafaela Who Drinks Coconut & Papaya Juice on Tuesdays and Sally
1. Why does Rafaela’s husband lock her up on Tuesday nights?
2. Where does Rafaela want to go?
3. What does Rafaela ask the girls to do?
4. What does Rafaela wish for?
5. What does Sally’s father say about her beauty?
6. What does Esperanza want to learn from Sally?
7. What does Esperanza’s mother say about wearing black?
8. Why aren’t Sally and Cheryl friends anymore?
9. What does Sally do before she goes home from school?
10. What do most people seem to think of Sally? What are they waiting for?
1. Rafaela’s husband is afraid she’ll run away while...
(The entire section is 215 words.)
Part XII: Minerva Writes Poems and Bums in the Attic
1. How old is Minerva?
2. What does Minerva do “every night and every day”?
3. What do Esperanza and Minerva share?
4. What is Minerva’s biggest trouble?
5. Is there anything Esperanza can do to help Minerva?
6. Where does Esperanza’s father work? What does he do?
7. Why doesn’t Esperanza want to go with the family to look at the houses anymore?
8. What does Esperanza think about people who live on hills?
9. What will guests in Esperanza’s house think is causing the noise in her attic?
10. What does Esperanza say she’ll never forget?
1. Minerva is...
(The entire section is 224 words.)
1. What has Esperanza decided she will not do?
2. Why does Esperanza begin a “war”? What does she have?
3. How will she fight this war?
4. What kinds of things can Esperanza’s mom do?
5. What can’t she do?
6. What would Esperanza’s mother like to do someday?
7. Why did Esperanza’s mother quit school?
8. What advice does Esperanza’s mother give her?
9. How does Sally explain her bruises at school?
10. Why does Sally’s father beat her?
1. Esperanza has decided she will not be “tame.”
2. Esperanza begins a war because she is not...
(The entire section is 202 words.)
Part XIV: The Monkey Garden, Red Clowns, and Linoleum Roses
1. What happened in the garden after the monkey left?
2. Why did they go to the garden?
3. What does Sally have to do to get her keys back?
4. What does Esperanza do to try to help Sally?
5. Why does Esperanza want to die?
6. Why does Sally leave Esperanza alone at the carnival?
7. What happens to Esperanza while she is waiting for Sally?
8. What are the lies Esperanza accuses Sally of telling?
9. Why does Sally get married?
10. Why isn’t Sally happy?
1. After the monkey left, the garden grew wild.
2. They went to the garden to play and to...
(The entire section is 197 words.)
Part XV: The Three Sisters and Alicia & I Talking on Edna’s Steps
1. When did Lucy and Rachel’s sister die?
2. Who are las comadres?
3. What is the significance of the dog crying and the bird flying in the window?
4. What do the sisters say about Esperanza’s name?
5. What does Esperanza wish for?
6. How did Esperanza feel about her wish?
7. Where is Alicia from?
8. How long has Esperanza lived on Mango Street?
9. What does Alicia tell Esperanza about Mango Street?
10. What does Esperanza want before she comes back to Mango Street?
1. She died in August.
2. Las comadres are Rachel and Lucy’s aunts.
(The entire section is 159 words.)
Part XVI: A House of My Own and Mango Says Goodbye Sometimes
1. What kind of house does Esperanza want?
2. Will anyone live with her in this house?
3. What does Esperanza like to do?
4. Where does Esperanza tell her stories?
5. What story is Esperanza going to tell?
6. What color is the house on Mango Street?
7. What house does Esperanza remember most?
8. What happens when Esperanza writes about Mango Street?
9. What will Esperanza pack when she leaves Mango Street?
10. Why will Esperanza come back to Mango Street?
1. Esperanza wants a quiet and clean house that’s all her own.
2. No, she will live alone....
(The entire section is 163 words.)
Ideas for Group Discussions
Glossary of Spanish Terms
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Cisneros, Sandra. Interview by Reed Way Dasenbrock. In Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World, edited by Feroza Jussawalla and Dasenbrock. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1992. Cisneros discuses the genesis of her first novel, her use of voices, the effect that bilingualism has on her writing, her life in Texas, her parents’ lives, feminism, her favorite writers, and her novel in progress.
De Valdés, Maria Elena. “In Search of Identity in Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street.” Canadian Review of American Studies 23, no. 1 (Fall, 1992): 55-72. De Valdés systematically charts the stages of...
(The entire section is 305 words.)