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 house on Mango Street has no front yard and is small and constructed of red brick. It has small steps leading to the front door, and the windows are so small that the family does not seem to have space to breathe. The lack of enough room prevents the family members from having the privacy that they need; every time someone takes a bath, he or she must make an announcement first so that no one will accidentally walk in. The size of this house, however, is not the only problem. The reader perceives that it is an old building in which some of the bricks are crumbling, a detail that perhaps points to the material decadence of the neighborhood.
Esperanza’s parents talk about having a home like those on television. It will be a comfortable white house, with a large open front yard planted with trees. It will have an interior staircase, three bathrooms, and abundant running water. Esperanza realizes that a home like this is only a dream for her family and decides that it will be up to her to get the house she wants in the future.
Esperanza’s dream home becomes synonymous with individual economic and social independence, which one can obtain through education and the cultivation of one’s native talents.
In addition to developing gradually the metaphor of a house as symbolic of a self-reliant existence, the narrative relates Esperanza’s childhood games, alludes to the loving relationship that she maintains with her family, and describes the activities of the neighbors.