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.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
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...
(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...
(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...
(The entire section is 309 words.)
Mexican Immigration to the United States
Cisneros plays on her dual Mexican American heritage throughout her work, and The House on Mango Street in particular reflects the experience of Mexicans in the United States. In the mid-nineteenth century, Mexico ceded its northern territories (present-day California, Arizona, and New Mexico) to the United States at the end of the Mexican War, and Mexican landowners lost many of their rights under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. From about 1900 to 1920, immigrants from Mexico were actively recruited into the United States as low-cost labor for railroad, mining, and other industries, especially throughout the southwestern United States. Mexican immigration was widespread and unregulated through the 1920s, when immigration from Mexico and some other countries hit its peak. Between World War I and World War II, however, Mexican immigration came to a halt due in part to the pressures of the Great Depression, and Mexican Americans faced repatriation, poverty, and rampant discrimination.
Despite their contribution and service to the U.S. Army during World War II, Mexican Americans continued to face discrimination upon returning home after World War II. For example, many Mexican Americans were treated like second-class citizens. And throughout the fifties and sixties, despite their eagerness to integrate more fully into American society, Mexican Americans were still treated as "outsiders" by...
(The entire section is 1036 words.)
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 best friend?
1. The house on Mango Street is different because the Corderos own it rather than rent it. They don’t have to share it with anybody or answer to a landlord.
2. They had to leave the flat on Loomis because the water pipes broke and the landlord refused to fix them.
3. Esperanza expected the house on Mango Street to be a house with plenty of room, “real stairs,” at least three bathrooms, and a huge yard.
4. She had these expectations because this was the kind of house she saw on TV, the kind of house her parents talked about, the kind her mother described to her in stories.
5. The house on Mango Street is small, crumbling, with no front yard,...
(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”?
1. Esperanza’s name means “hope” in English, but “sadness or waiting” in Spanish.
2. Esperanza is named after her great-grandmother.
3. Esperanza’s great-grandmother was a “wild” woman who was very independent until she was forced to marry. After that, she was very sad.
4. Esperanza would like a name that is more like the “real” Esperanza, the one she says “nobody sees.” She would like a name that reveals who she really is, a name like “Zeze the X.”
5. Cathy will be Esperanza’s friend “only till next Tuesday” because that’s when her family is moving away from Mango Street.
6. Cathy says her family is leaving Mango Street because “the...
(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 junk store full of used furniture and trinkets.
3. Esperanza once bought a miniature Statue of Liberty.
4. Nenny wanted to buy the music box.
5. She couldn’t buy it because it wasn’t for sale.
6. Esperanza says they’re stupid because she knows that even if the music box were for sale, they couldn’t afford it.
7. Meme’s real name is Juan.
8. Marin can’t go out because she’s always babysitting Louie’s little sisters.
9. Louie’s other cousin had a yellow Cadillac.
10. The police chased him and arrested him.
(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?
1. Esperanza likes Marin because Marin “is older and knows lots of things.”
2. Marin is saving her money because the boy she is engaged to in Puerto Rico hasn’t gotten a job yet.
3. Marin thinks she may meet a man on the subway who will marry her and take her far away.
4. Marin says it is essential that the boys be able to see them.
5. People who get lost in her neighborhood are afraid because everyone around them is “brown,” and they think that Esperanza’s neighborhood is dangerous.
6. Esperanza isn’t scared because she knows the people in her neighborhood, and she is comfortable being around others who are “brown.”
7. Esperanza feels the...
(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 to travel far to school and stay up late to study.
2. Alicia is in school because “she doesn’t want to spend her whole life in a factory or behind a rolling pin.” She wants to have the opportunity to be more than just a housewife or a factory worker.
3. Alicia’s father says a woman’s place is sleeping, so she can get up early “with the tortilla star” to take care of the family.
4. Alicia is afraid of her father because he thinks she should be at home taking care of the family instead of in school studying.
5. Darius’s comment impresses Esperanza because he “made it simple.”
6. Esperanza says she can never have too much sky.
7. Nenny is naming the...
(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 shoes from the mother of the Family of Little Feet.
2. Mr. Benny says those shoes are dangerous.
3. The bum man offers Rachel $1.00 for a kiss.
4. The girls hide the shoes because they are “tired of being beautiful” and aren’t ready to handle it.
5. Esperanza wants to eat in the canteen because she thinks the kids who eat there are “special.”
6. For three days in a row, she tells her mother that she is too skinny and that her mother will appreciate her more if she’s not home for lunch every day.
7. Nenny goes to her friend Gloria’s, where they watch cartoons.
8. Sister Superior says Esperanza lives too close to school to have to stay for...
(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 want to dance because she’s embarrassed about her shoes.
3. Esperanza’s Uncle Nacho finally gets her to dance.
4. Esperanza’s cousin by communion watches her dance all night.
5. Esperanza agrees with Nenny so that Lucy and Rachel won’t laugh at Nenny.
6. Hips are scientific because they are the skeletal bones that distinguish men from women.
7. Nenny says hips are for lullabying the baby inside to sleep.
8. Esperanza’s first job is matching photographs with their negatives.
9. Esperanza doesn’t eat in the lunchroom because she is afraid to eat alone among strangers.
10. The Oriental man forces Esperanza to give him a lewd kiss.
(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?
1. He is going to his father’s funeral.
2. Esperanza holds him because she realizes how much she loves him.
3. Esperanza thinks she will go to hell because she was born on a “bad day” and because she made fun of Aunt Lupe.
4. Esperanza believes that disease is indiscriminate—it can attack anyone at any time for no reason.
5. Esperanza discovers that her aunt is blind.
6. Aunt Lupe tells Esperanza to keep writing because writing will keep her free.
7. Esperanza wishes she could go into the living room and watch Bugs Bunny with Ernie.
8. Elenita is interrupted by the kids’ fighting.
9. Esperanza pays $5.00.
(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 accident.
3. They can’t notify anyone because Geraldo doesn’t have any identification.
4. Ruthie is an adult who still likes to play. She also sees beauty in ordinary things.
5. Ruthie doesn’t go because she can’t decide if she should go or not.
6. Earl is a jukebox repairman.
7. Earl’s “wife” looks different depending on who saw her.
8. Sire, who is riding his bike, bumps into a parked car.
9. Esperanza’s parents say Sire is a punk, and Lois is like the girls who “go into alleys.”
10. Esperanza would like to actually be outside with a boy instead of just dreaming about it.
(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 four skinny trees.
2. No, Nenny doesn’t even hear them.
3. The trees tell Esperanza to “keep.”
4. The trees have skinny necks and pointy elbows, and, like her, they don’t belong on Mango Street.
5. She likes the trees because they understand her and give her strength.
6. They guess she won’t come out because she is too fat, because there are too many stairs, or because she can’t speak English.
7. Mamacita knows eight words in English: “He not here,” “No speak English,” and “Holy smokes.”
8. Esperanza’s father ate “hamandeggs.”
9. Mamacita’s husband wants her to learn English.
10. The baby learns a...
(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 he’s out playing dominoes.
2. Rafaela wants to go to the bar on the corner so she can dance.
3. Rafaela asks the girls to buy her sweet juice from the store.
4. Rafaela wishes for “sweeter drinks.”
5. Sally’s father says that being beautiful is dangerous.
6. Esperanza wants Sally to teach her how to put on make-up and paint her eyes “like Cleopatra.”
7. Esperanza’s mother says wearing black when you’re young is dangerous.
8. Sally and Cheryl got in a fight and Cheryl insulted Sally.
9. Sally takes off her make-up before she goes home.
10. Most people think that because Sally is beautiful, she is bad. They are waiting for...
(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 just a little older than Esperanza, probably no more than 18.
2. Minerva cries and prays.
3. Minerva and Esperanza share their poems.
4. Minerva’s biggest trouble is her husband, who beats her and “keeps leaving.”
5. Esperanza says that there’s nothing she can do.
6. Esperanza’s father is a gardener who works in the gardens of the houses on the hill.
7. Esperanza doesn’t want to go because she is ashamed.
8. Esperanza thinks the people on the hills are so close to the stars that they don’t have the worries of people who live “too close to the earth,” like trash and rats.
9. Her guests will ask if rats are making the noise....
(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 beautiful.
3. She will fight this war by behaving like a man instead of a woman.
4. Esperanza’s mother can speak two languages, sing opera, and fix TVs.
5. Esperanza’s mother can’t take a train by herself into town.
6. Esperanza’s mother would like to go to a play and see a ballet.
7. She quit school because she didn’t have nice clothes, and she was ashamed.
8. Her mother tells her to stay in school and study hard, because shame will keep her down.
9. Sally says her bruises came from falling.
10. Her father beats her because he is afraid she will bring shame on the family.
(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 “disappear” from their mothers.
3. Sally has to give each boy a kiss.
4. Esperanza tells Tito’s mother about their game and then comes to Sally’s aid with sticks and a brick.
5. Esperanza wants to die because she doesn’t understand Sally’s game and because Sally tells her to go away.
6. Sally goes off with a boy.
7. Esperanza is raped.
8. Esperanza says Sally lied about what it felt like to be with a man.
9. Sally gets married to escape.
10. Sally isn’t happy because her husband won’t let her talk to or see her friends.
(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.
3. The dog and the bird are bad omens that predict the baby’s death.
4. The sisters say Esperanza is a “good, good name.”
5. Esperanza wishes for a “real” house.
6. She thinks it’s a selfish wish.
7. Alicia is from Guadalajara.
8. Esperanza has lived on Mango Street for one year.
9. Alicia tells Esperanza that they belong to Mango Street.
10. Esperanza wants somebody to “make it better.”
(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.
3. Esperanza likes to tell stories.
4. She tells them to herself, inside her head.
5. She is going to tell her story, the story of Mango Street.
6. Her house is red.
7. She remembers the house on Mango Street the most.
8. When she writes about Mango Street, she feels better and freed from Mango Street.
9. She will pack her books and papers.
10. She will come back to help the ones she “left behind.”
(The entire section is 163 words.)
Point of View
The House on Mango Street is narrated by the adolescent Esperanza, who tells her story in the form of short, vivid tales. The stories are narrated in the first person ("I"), giving the reader an intimate glimpse of the girl's outlook on the world. Although critics often describe Esperanza as a childlike narrator, Cisneros said in a 1992 interview in Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World: "If you take Mango Street and translate it, it's Spanish. The syntax, the sensibility, the diminutives, the way of looking at inanimate objects—that's not a child's voice as is sometimes said. That's Spanish! I didn't notice that when I was writing it." Incorporating and translating Spanish expressions literally into English, often without quotation marks, adds a singular narrative flavor that distinguishes Cisneros's work from that of her peers.
The House on Mango Street is set in a Latino neighborhood in Chicago. Esperanza briefly describes some of the rickety houses in her neighborhood, beginning with her own, which she says is "small and red with tight steps in front." Of Meme Ortiz's house, Esperanza says that "Inside the floors slant—And there are no closets. Out front there are twenty-one steps, all lopsided and jutting like crooked teeth." Mamacita's son paints the inside walls of her house pink, a reminder of the Mexican home she left to come to America. The furniture in Elena's house...
(The entire section is 1049 words.)
Although The House on Mango Street contains many characters and stories, they are narrated by the adolescent Esperanza in the form of short, vivid tales. Narrated in the first person ("I"), they give the reader an intimate glimpse of the girl's outlook on the world. Although critics often describe Esperanza as a childlike narrator, Cisneros said in a 1992 interview in Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World:
If you take Mango Street and translate it, it's Spanish. The syntax, the sensibility, the diminutives, the way of looking at inanimate objects—that's not a child's voice as is sometimes said. That's Spanish! I didn't notice that when I was writing it.
Incorporating and translating Spanish expressions literally into English, often without quotation marks, adds a singular narrative flavor that distinguishes Cisneros's work from that of her peers.
Just like Esperanza, whose identity is not easy to define, critics have had difficulty classifying The House on Mango Street. Is it a collection of short stories? A novel? Essays? Autobiography? Poetry? Prose poems? The book is composed of very short, loosely organized vignettes. Each stands as a whole in and of itself, but collectively the stories cumulate in a mounting progression that creates an underlying coherence; the setting remains constant, and the same characters reappear throughout the tales. Cisneros once...
(The entire section is 840 words.)
Ideas for Group Discussions
In forty-four short tales, or vignettes, placed under one cover, Sandra Cisneros tells the life of Esperanza and her Mexican American family who live in a Latino section of Chicago.
1. Characterize the social constraints of the women in Esperanza's neighborhood, and describe how Esperanza both responds to and transcends the social forces in her environment.
2. Discuss the metaphor of the house in The House on Mango Street.
3. Discuss The House on Mango Street in relationship to the history of Mexican Americans in large cities of the United States.
4. Compare and contrast the depiction of barrio life in The House on Mango Street with Nicholasa Mohr's Nilda.
(The entire section is 106 words.)
The House on Mango Street, which appeared in 1984, is a linked collection of forty-four short tales that evokes the circumstances and conditions of a Hispanic- American ghetto in Chicago as seen through the eyes of Esperanza Cordero, a fictionalized adolescent girl coming of age. These concise and poetic tales also offer snapshots of the roles of women in this society by uncovering the dual forces that pull Esperanza. On the one hand, she wants to stay rooted in her cultural traditions, but on the other, she is compelled to pursue a better way of life outside the barrio.
Sandra Cisneros plays on her own Mexican American heritage throughout her work, and The House on Mango Street in particular reflects the experience of Mexicans in the United States. In the mid-nineteenth century, Mexico ceded its northern territories (present-day California, Arizona, and New Mexico) to the United States at the end of the Mexican War, and Mexican landowners lost many of their rights under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. From about 1900 to 1920, immigrants from Mexico were actively recruited into the United States as low-cost labor for railroad, mining, and other industries, especially throughout the southwestern United States. Mexican immigration was widespread and unregulated through the 1920s, when immigration from Mexico and some other countries hit its peak. Between World War I and World War II, however, Mexican immigration came to a halt due in part to...
(The entire section is 1007 words.)
Glossary of Spanish Terms
Terms found in The House on Mango Street and in these eNotes:
A las Mujeres (dedication)— To the women
abuelito—affectionate term for grandfather (abuelo)
Ay, Caray!—Good heavens!
bracero—hired hands, temporary immigrant workers
brazer—see bracero above
chanclas—old shoes; good for nothing
comadres—female friend, neighbor
cuando—when El Movimiento and La Causa—The Movement or The Cause, referring to the Chicano Movement of the 1960s
Esperanza— hope, expectation
Esta muerto—He is dead.
La Revista Chicano-Riquena—The Chicano-Puerto Rican Review
los espiritus—the spirits, ghosts
merengue—meringue; weak person; type of dance
mojado—“wetbacks”—illegal immigrant workers
tembleque—variation of temblar, which means to tremble, shake, quiver; by adding “que” to the end, Rachel makes it the name of a dance, like merengue
(The entire section is 143 words.)
Topics for Further Study
Characterize the social constraints of the women in Esperanza's neighborhood, and describe how Esperanza both responds to and transcends the social forces in her environment.
Discuss the metaphor of the house in The House on Mango Street.
Discuss The House on Mango Street in relationship to the history of Mexican Americans in large cities of the United States.
(The entire section is 58 words.)
Cisneros wrote the vignettes in The House on Mango Street while struggling with her identity as an author at the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop in the 1970s. She was influenced by Russian-born novelist and poet Vladimir Nabokov's memoirs as well as by her own experiences as a child in the Chicago barrio. This engaging book has brought the author critical acclaim and a 1985 Before Columbus American Book Award. The work also has been highly lauded for its impressionistic, poetic style and powerful imagery. Though Cisneros was a young writer and her work was not plentiful at the time she penned the book, The House on Mango Street established her as a significant figure in American literature. Her work has already been the subject of numerous scholarly studies and is often at the forefront of works that explore the role of Larinas in American society.
(The entire section is 145 words.)
A collection of poems that expresses the themes Cisneros explored in her early writing career is My Wicked Wicked Ways, published as a book in 1987. This is an adaptation by Cisneros of her own master's thesis from the University of Iowa. In 1991 Cisneros issued Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, a collection of stories characterizing Mexican Americans living in San Antonio, Texas. The book explores the process of socialization and cultural assimilation of Mexicans and Mexican Americans into American society and is similar in focus to The House on Mango Street. The Rodrigo Poems, another collection of poetry by Sandra Cisneros published in 1985, reflects a more mature voice that characterizes Cisneros's work after The House on Mango Street. These poems are inspired by the author's travels in Europe and evoke her encounters with men, all of whom are anonymously referred to as "Rodrigo."
Other authors who have written on similar themes include Gary Soto, whose title Baseball in April: And Other Stories realistically captures the daily lives of young Hispanics. Also of interest might be Nicholasa Mohr's Nilda, published in 1973, featuring a Puerto Rican girl living in the barrio of New York City during World War II, where she meets discrimination every day; and 1995's The Air Down Here: True Tales from a South Bronx Boyhood, a collection of reminiscences from Gil C. Alicea and Carmen Desena, who talk of...
(The entire section is 243 words.)
What Do I Read Next?
My Wicked Wicked Ways, published as a book in 1987 by Sandra Cisneros, is an adaptation of her master's thesis from the University of Iowa. This collection of poems expresses various themes of the writer's early career.
Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories is Cisneros's 1991 collection of stories characterizing Mexican Americans living in San Antonio, Texas. The book explores the process of socialization and cultural assimilation of Mexicans and Mexican Americans into American society.
Bad Boys is a short collection of poems by Sandra Cisneros published in 1980. Like The House on Mango Street, the poems in Bad Boys revolve around stories from Hispanic neighborhoods and are characterized by short, vivid phrases that evoke impressionistic images of her characters.
The Rodrigo Poems, another collection of poetry by Sandra Cisneros published in 1985, reflects a more mature voice that characterizes Cisneros's work after The House on Mango Street. These poems are inspired by the author's travels in Europe, and evoke her encounters with men, all of whom are anonymously referred to as "Rodrigo."
Baseball in April: And Other Stories by Gary Soto (1990) realistically captures the daily lives of young Hispanics in this collection of eleven short stories.
Nicholasa Mohr's Nilda, published in 1973, features a Puerto Rican girl living in the barrio of New...
(The entire section is 261 words.)
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 Esperanza’s search for identity, which is complicated by her “double marginalization” in being both a Chicana and a woman. Reviews key chapters to suggest what ideas they contribute to major themes in the novel.
Ganz, Robin. “Sandra Cisneros: Border Crossings and Beyond.” Melus 19, no. 1 (Spring, 1994): 19-29. Ganz uses biographical information drawn from many sources to show how Cisneros’ stories successfully cross borders of gender and ethnicity.
McCracken, Ellen. “Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street: Community-Oriented Introspection and the Demystification of Patriarchal Violence.” In Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writing and Critical Readings,...
(The entire section is 305 words.)
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bebe Moore Campbell, "Crossing Borders," New York Times Book Renew, May 26, 1991, p. 6.
Ciscernos, Sandra. “Do You Know Me?: I Wrote The House on Mango Street.” The Americas Review. Vol. 15, No. 1, Spring 1987, 77–79.
Sandra Cisneros, "Interview with Sandra Cisneros," in Reed Dasenbrock and Feroza Jussawalla, Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World, University Press of Mississippi, 1992.
Eduardo F. Ellas, "Sandra Cisneros," Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 122 Chicano Writers, Second Series edited by Francisco A Lomeli and Carl Shirley, Gale Research, 1992, pp 77-81.
Eduardo F Ehas, "The House on Mango Street," Reference Guide to American Literature, 3rd edition, edited by Jim Kamp, Gale Research, 1994, p. 992.
Eduardo F. Ehas, "Sandra Cisneros," Reference Guide to American Literature, 3rd edition, edited by Jim Kamp, Gale Research, 1994, pp. 200-02.
———. “Ghosts and Voices: Writing from Obsession.” The Americas Review. Vol. 15, No. 1. Spring 1987, 69–73.
Gomez Quinones, Juan. Chicano Politics: Reality and Promise 1940–1990. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990.
Klein, Dianne. “Coming of Age in Novels by Rudolfo Anaya and Sandra Cisneros.” The English Journal. Vol. 81, No. 5. September 1992, 21–26.
(The entire section is 600 words.)