Summary of the Novel
The House on Mango Street is comprised of 44 short character sketches, or stories, called vignettes. They are narrated by Esperanza, who just moved with her family to Mango Street, in the barrio. Esperanza hates their house on Mango Street because it is not a “real” house, like the ones she’s seen on TV.
Esperanza, whose name means “hope,” soon meets Lucy and Rachel, who she likes because they, too, are poor. She also meets Marin, who is wise about “women things” but is always stuck inside babysitting her cousins. She discovers the fear that outsiders have of her neighborhood, the fear that keeps their neighborhood “brown.” She becomes friends with Alicia, who goes to college at night so she will not be stuck “behind a rolling pin” the rest of her life.
Lucy, Rachel, and Esperanza are given several pairs of old high-heeled shoes, which they put on and wear around the neighborhood. At first they feel beautiful and powerful, but soon they discover that the shoes are “dangerous.” At school, Esperanza is humiliated by the Sister Superior, who assumes Esperanza lives in the worst house in the neighborhood.
Esperanza’s Aunt Lala gets her a job at a photo store, where an old man gives her a lewd kiss. Esperanza feels bad because she and her friends, in a game, made fun of her invalid Aunt Lupe, who died shortly thereafter. Aunt Lupe had listened to Esperanza’s poems and encouraged Esperanza to write.
Later, Esperanza has her fortune told by Elenita, the “witch woman.” Elenita tells Esperanza that she will have “a home in the heart.” Esperanza, who wants a “real” house, is disappointed by this fortune. Meanwhile, Sire, a boy in the neighborhood, awakens Esperanza’s sexuality: She knows he is looking at her, and she dares to look back.
Esperanza, comparing herself to the elm trees in front of her house, says they are the only ones who understand her because they don’t belong on Mango Street either. Meanwhile, Mamacita, the woman who lives across the street, refuses to learn English, and so she never leaves her apartment. Rafaela, another neighbor, is also stuck in her apartment; her husband locks her up whenever he goes out.
Esperanza befriends Sally, who is sad because everyone seems to think that because she is beautiful, she is bad. Minerva, just a few years older than they, already has children and a husband who beats her. Minerva and Esperanza share their poems with each other.
Esperanza vows that someday she will have a beautiful house and offer the attic to passing bums because she knows “how it is to be without a house.” She also decides to wage a “quiet war” against traditional female roles, because she is not beautiful like Sally and Nenny.
Esperanza learns that her mother “could’ve been somebody,” but she didn’t finish school because she was ashamed of her clothes. Esperanza also learns that Sally’s father often beats her. When Esperanza tries to protect Sally from the boys who are making her kiss them, Sally and the boys tell Esperanza to go away. Esperanza wants to die because she can’t understand the game they’re playing. Later, while waiting for Sally, who had run off with a boy, Esperanza is raped. Soon after, Sally gets married.
Then Esperanza meets the Three Sisters, Rachel and Lucy’s aunts. They read Esperanza’s palm and tell her that life is a circle; that she does belong to Mango Street, forever; and that if she leaves, she must return. Later, Alicia also tells Esperanza that she belongs to Mango Street and that she must come back. Finally, Esperanza begins to tell a story “about a little girl who didn’t want to belong,” the story of Mango Street.
The Life and Work of Sandra Cisneros
“If I were asked what it is I write about,” says Sandra Cisneros, “I would have to say I write about those ghosts inside that haunt me.” These ghosts—of poverty, sexism, and racism—populate The House on Mango Street, the novel that won Cisneros the Before Columbus American Book Award in 1985 and also won the hearts of thousands of readers across America. Originally published in 1984, this brilliant collage of character sketches and stories is revolutionary in its simple, honest look at issues such as the discrimination, poverty, and domestic violence faced by Mexican-American women.
What is so enchanting about Cisneros’ novel, for both young and adult readers, is not only its patchwork-quilt structure, the honesty of the narrator’s voice, or the beauty and simplicity of the language. Rather, the triumph of Mango Street is the way it empowers its readers. Full of characters who lack power—socially, politically, economically, and sexually—the novel is not a story of despair, but of hope, which is what the narrator’s name, Esperanza, means in English.
Cisneros, who was born in Chicago in 1954, is the only daughter in a family of six sons. Though she spent her childhood cramped in apartments much too small for her large family, she often felt alone. Her brothers “paired themselves off,” she says, thus leaving her “the odd-woman-out forever.” In addition, the Cisneros family moved around a great deal, shuttling back and forth between Chicago and Mexico City, where her father’s family lived. Cisneros was never in one place long enough to develop true friendships with other children her age.
Cisneros found refuge from her loneliness in reading. Books became her best friend, and she buried herself in them. It was not long before Cisneros began to compose stories in her head, forming narratives out of the daily events of her life. Fortunately for Cisneros, her mother, a Chicana (Mexican-American), supported her desire to read. To give her daughter the opportunities she herself was denied, Cisneros’ mother freed her from the traditional domestic duties of a Chicana female. She excused Cisneros from cooking, cleaning, and babysitting so Cisneros could study and read.
Growing up in a family full of men and in the barrios, Cisneros was well aware of the patriarchal structure of the Chicano society, which denied women equality at every level. As a teen she determined to fight this machismo (the Latin American term for male chauvinism) and to move from the ranks of the powerless to the powerful. Certainly her mother’s emphasis on education helped Cisneros in this quest. But it was through writing that she felt most able to help herself and other women.
In grade school Cisneros began recording her stories in a spiral notebook that she never showed to anyone. In high school, however, she was known among her classmates as a poet and was the editor of her school’s literary magazine. In her junior year at Loyola University of Chicago, where she received a B.A. in English, she took her first creative writing class.
It wasn’t until Cisneros attended the Writers Workshop in Iowa, however, that she found her true voice as a writer. There, she says, “for the first time in my life I felt ‘other’.” After thinking about what it was that made her different from her classmates, she realized that her impoverished childhood and the characters that populated her past were worthy of writing about because they were different from the mainstream, different from the “norm” that radiated from television sets across the nation.
After Iowa, Cisneros returned to the barrios to teach high-school dropouts. This didn’t leave her much time for writing, however, so she quit and took a job at Loyola, where she recruited and counseled minority and disadvantaged students. Both of these experiences were important in her development as a Chicana feminist and writer. The stories she heard from these students from the barrios were much like her own, and she realized there was a vast population of “the powerless” that she needed to address and whose stories needed to be told.
Cisneros began to incorporate these stories into the project she’d been working on since Iowa. The result was The House on Mango Street, a story whose protagonist discovers that power and peace come from recognizing one’s place in and one’s duty to the community.
Today, Cisneros is also the author of Woman Hollering Creek, a collection of short stories, and My Wicked Wicked Ways, a collection of poems. She has been awarded two NEA Fellowships for writing and a Dobie-Paisano Fellowship. Although she has not stopped writing, she has been teaching for the past several years as a guest writer at universities across the country.
It is no wonder that Cisneros, a woman of Mexican-American heritage, is obsessed with writing about the powerless. The history of Mexican-Americans is filled with conquests and inequalities—as is the history of women.
Although the Spanish were first to “conquer” the so-called “New World,” it was not long before those who had settled on the land found themselves in turn being conquered. In 1848, at the close of the Mexican-American War, the United States and Mexico signed the infamous Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which gave approximately 50 percent of Mexico’s territory—what is now Texas, New Mexico, California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and half of Colorado—to the United States. In 1906, Mexico plunged into a depression, sending a wave of new immigrants over the border. This wave was soon followed by another, in 1910, when revolutionary forces began a ten-year civil struggle in Mexico. In fact, according to historian Earl Shorris, between 1880 and 1929 alone more than a million Mexican immigrants came to the United States.
But the country they came to did not always welcome them with open arms. Instead, many immigrants faced flagrant discrimination and were often denied their basic civil and human rights. Mexican and Mexican-American laborers were frequently exploited for cheap labor, especially on farms in California and elsewhere in the Southwest. In the 1930s, when the United States faced a depression of its own and jobs were scarce, Americans demanded that these immigrants be repatriated—that is, sent back to Mexico. Despite the clear violation of civil liberties, government agencies deported approximately half a million Mexican-Americans during this decade.
In the 1940s through the 1960s—especially during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War—the United States and Mexican governments set up programs that allowed braceros, or hired hands, temporary employment in the United States. The braceros came to take the place of American men at war. But United States employers often violated the terms of these agreements and denied the braceros such basic rights as decent food and housing.
There were also those Mexicans called mojados, or wetbacks—illegal workers who swam across the river between Mexico and the United States in search of jobs and a better life. These illegal immigrants were also often exploited, despite such governmental policies as the Fair Employment Practices Committee and the National Labor Relations Act, policies championed by the only Mexican-American in Congress at the time, United States Senator Dennis Chavez (New Mexico).
In an attempt to combat these and other forms of discrimination and abuse, Mexican-Americans founded the Community Service Organization (CSO) in 1947. The CSO was among the first of many organizations dedicated to improving the living and working conditions of Mexican-Americans. These efforts were precursors to the Chicano (short for “Mexicano”) Movement, an intense and more successful political and cultural revolution that burgeoned with the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
The Chicano Movement (also called El Movimiento or La Causa) sought social, political, economic, and educational equality for Chicanos and hoped to increase pride in Chicano heritage and culture. Educational equality was particularly important to La Causa since lack of decent education deprived Chicanos of the opportunity to improve their wages and, hence, their economic standing.
On the economic front, organizations like the United Farm Workers, led by Movimiento hero Cesar Chávez, fought for rights of the underpaid and exploited Chicano laborers. Chávez organized successful protests, such as the California grape boycott, during which millions of Americans refused to purchase California grapes until the employers granted Chicano workers fair wages and union practices. This and many other successful boycotts and protests led to reforms, such as the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1974.
Equally as important as the revolution on the economic front, however, was the Chicano educational revolution. Because of prejudice against the Mexican-American, Chicano students often studied in dilapidated schools with second-rate educators and materials. Young Chicanos across the country rose up and demanded a better education—better schools, better teachers, and a curriculum that acknowledged both the Chicano contribution to American society and their unique cultural heritage. Chicano student activists staged “blow-outs,” sit-ins, and other such protests that eventually resulted in positive changes in curricula all across America. In addition, schools in the Southwest and elsewhere began to recruit Chicano teachers and establish programs, like bilingual education, to meet the needs of a Chicano student population.
An important “product” of El Movimiento was the outpouring of Chicano literature and art. Students at campuses across the nation strove to express their experiences creatively, and the number of Chicano artists—writers, musicians, painters, sculptors, and dancers—exploded. Several literary and social journals were born during this era, including La Revista Chicano-Riquena, a magazine that was later instrumental in encouraging Cisneros to write The House on Mango Street. Some of the most influential authors to emerge from the Chicano Movement include Richard Rodriguez, Tomas Rivera, Rudolfo Anaya, Luis Valdez, and Gary Soto.
But where were the women? Ironically, even as they fought with the men for equal status of their race, Mexican-American women (Chicanas) found themselves being discriminated against by their own kind. Male dominance and machismo are of special concern to Cisneros, whose female characters, like many Chicanas, are triply oppressed by their race, their class, and their gender. Chicanas joined together during El Movimiento to fight this additional form of oppression, and through their efforts they gained greater acceptance of the rights due to all Chicanas—and all women.
Today a good two-thirds of Latinos in the United States are of Mexican heritage, making Mexican-Americans the second largest minority group in America. In recent decades they have made great gains as individuals and as a community. A greater awareness of their suffering, heritage, and cultural wisdom is being shared by writers like Cisneros, whose stories bring us face to face with ghosts of America’s past and redefine what it means to be an American.
Master List of Characters
Esperanza Cordero—the narrator of the vignettes that make up the novel, a Mexican-American in her early teens who lives on Mango Street.
Nenny (Magdalena)—Esperanza’s younger sister.
Papa—Esperanza’s father, a hardworking laborer.
Carlos—Esperanza’s younger brother.
Kiki—Esperanza’s brother and the youngest Cordero child.
Nun—a nun from Esperanza’s school who made her feel ashamed of where she lived.
Great-grandmother—Esperanza’s great-grandmother, for whom she is named.
Cathy—Esperanza’s neighbor, who is Esperanza’s friend only for a day because her family is leaving Mango Street.
Joe—Esperanza’s neighbor, who Cathy says is “dangerous.”
Benny and Blanca—owners of the corner store on Mango Street.'
Edna—owner of the big building next to Esperanza’s.
Alicia—Esperanza’s neighbor, who went to college despite many obstacles, including Alicia’s father.
Lucy and Rachel—sisters who move to Mango Street from Texas and become friends of Esperanza and Nenny.
Tito—a neighborhood boy who, with his friends, later solicits kisses from Esperanza’s friend Sally.
Tito’s mother—who Esperanza runs to for help.
Gil—the old black man who owns the junk store, Gil’s Furniture Bought and Sold, in Esperanza’s neighborhood.
Meme (Juan) Ortiz—Esperanza’s friend, whose family moved into Cathy’s old house.
Louie—a friend of Esperanza’s brother, whose family rents the basement apartment in Meme’s building.
Marin—Louie’s cousin from Puerto Rico, who is a few years older than Esperanza and “knows lots of things.”
Louie’s other cousin—Louie’s male cousin, who comes to Mango Street in an expensive Cadillac and is arrested.
Davey the Baby, his brother and sister—residents of Esperanza’s neighborhood.
Fat Boy—a resident of Esperanza’s neighborhood.
The Vargas kids—Eddie, Angel, Refugia, Efren and others—the numerous, out of control children of Rosa Vargas, who live in Esperanza’s neighborhood and whose father deserted them.
Darius—a boy in Esperanza’s neighborhood.
The Family of Little Feet—a family in Esperanza’s neighborhood, whose mother gives Esperanza, Nenny, Lucy, and Rachel old high-heeled shoes.
Bum man—a bum in front of a local tavern who offers Rachel money for a kiss.
Gloria—Nenny’s friend, with whom Nenny eats lunch on school days.
Nun in the canteen—the nun in charge of the canteen at Esperanza’s school.
Sister Superior—a nun at Esperanza’s school who assumes Esperanza lives in the most run-down section of the neighborhood.
Uncle Nacho—Esperanza’s uncle who gets her to dance at a baptism party.
Esperanza’s cousin by communion—a “cousin” of Esperanza who watches her dance.
Aunt Lala—Esperanza’s aunt who gets her her first job at Peter Pan Photo Finishers.
Oriental Man—an old man who works with Esperanza at Peter Pan and gives her an unwanted, lewd kiss.
Aunt Lupe (Guadalupe)—Esperanza’s invalid aunt who encouraged Esperanza to write.
Totchy and Frank—Aunt Lupe’s children.
Elenita—the “witch woman,” or fortune teller, in Esperanza’s neighborhood who tells Esperanza her fortune.
Geraldo—a young, unidentified man, a bracero, who Marin meets at a dance and is killed in a hit-and-run accident.
Ruthie—Edna’s daughter, a grown woman who is Esperanza’s friend.
Earl—Esperanza’s neighbor, a jukebox repairman who works the night shift and lives in Edna’s basement apartment.
Earl’s “wife”—a number of different women Earl brings home, possibly prostitutes.
Sire—a neighborhood boy who awakens Esperanza’s sexuality.
Mamacita—the obese wife of the man across the street from Esperanza who comes from another country—probably Mexico—and refuses to learn English.
Mamacita’s husband—the man across the street who worked hard to bring his wife and children to Mango Street and who urges Mamacita to assimilate.
Rafaela—a young married woman on Mango Street whose husband locks her up in the apartment when he goes out.
Sally—Esperanza’s classmate and friend, a beautiful, physically mature eighth grader whose father beats her and who marries to escape Mango Street and her father.
Sally’s father—a strict, religious man who abuses Sally because he does not want her to bring shame to his family.
Minerva—a young mother whose husband frequently beats her and leaves her; she is friends with Esperanza and they share their poems with each other.
Izaura and Yolanda—friends of Esperanza’s mother.
The man (in “Red Clowns”)—an unnamed man, probably white, who rapes Esperanza at an amusement park.
Sally’s husband—a marshmallow salesman who cuts Sally off from her family and friends.
The Three Sisters—Lucy and Rachel’s mysterious aunts, who read Esperanza’s palm and teach her an important lesson.
Estimated Reading Time
Although a fast reader should be able to complete the novel in an hour, perhaps even less, The House on Mango Street deserves to be read at a somewhat slower pace. The brevity of the vignettes, the naturalness of the narrator’s voice, and the simplicity of the language make for easy and rapid reading. But this simplicity is deceptive. Though the vignettes are short, they are very rich, poetic, and full of meaning. This is a novel to be savored bite by bite, not swallowed whole. The reader would benefit from two or more short sittings of approximately 30 minutes each. If read in one sitting, the novel should be read slowly, with brief pauses between vignettes. The total reading time for the average reader should be approximately one and one-half to two and one-half hours.
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The House on Mango Street is Cisneros’s best-known work. Though it is made up of stories and sketches, some of which have been published separately, the collection has the unity of a novella. Cisneros has described the book as a connected collection, “each story a little pearl. . . . the whole thing like a necklace.” In her own mind, Esperanza Cordero, the narrator, has one main problem: She wants to have a house of her own. As the story develops, the meaning of having a house of her own grows richer and more complex, until finally, she understands that she wants not only a literal house but also “a home in the heart.” Furthermore, her one problem connects with many other problems that are clearer to the reader than to Esperanza, especially problems related to the roles and treatment accorded women in her culture and the problems of being Mexican American in U.S. culture.
Esperanza is the older of two daughters and has two brothers. Her wish for a house grows out of the family desire that is realized when they buy the house on Mango Street. This turns out not to be the home of which they have dreamed, with a large yard and many bathrooms, but the house they can afford, in a neighborhood being transformed into a ghetto. Esperanza’s disappointment sparks her wish. She also realizes after moving to Mango Street that she does not want to live her life as do most women whom she knows. She is named after her great-grandmother, a woman who...
(The entire section is 657 words.)
Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros, speaks in an adolescent Chicana’s voice of coming-of-age in a poor Chicago neighborhood in the mid-twentieth century. Cisneros’ first book of fiction received immediate acclaim, becoming a widely studied text in schools and universities.
The novella consists of sketches, each exploring some aspect of the experiences of the narrator, Esperanza Cordero, after her family moves into a house of their own. These sketches are drawn from Cisneros’ own life; her family moved into a Puerto Rican neighborhood on Chicago’s north side during her twelfth year. Cisneros discovered this voice and subject in resistance against the pressure to conform to what she felt was, at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a “terrible East-coast pretentiousness.” She realized that growing up Chicana in Chicago set her apart from most other writers. Esperanza’s story also is one of resistance, especially against the expectations for women in her culture. She and her family have dreamed of having an even grander home, but she discovers strongly ambivalent feelings about home once they have one. On one hand, it is a place to be and to become. On the other, it is a sort of prison, especially for women.
In “The Family of Little Feet,” Esperanza and two girlfriends get high-heeled shoes and wander playfully into the neighborhood, imagining themselves adults. At first, when men notice them and women...
(The entire section is 381 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Esperanza Cordero and her family had not always lived on Mango Street. The family of six lived in a series of run-down apartments before finally buying a small house with crumbling brick. Esperanza is disappointed. It is not a real house, not the house she imagined they would someday live in. They say this house is only temporary, but Esperanza knows better.
Esperanza loves her family but resents having to look after her little sister, Nenny. She hopes someday to have a best friend to play with instead. She also wants a new name, because her Spanish name means “sadness” to her. She makes up Zeze the X. She meets Cathy, who gossips about the neighbors and says that her father wants to move because people like the Corderos keep moving in. Esperanza and Nenny meet Lucy and Rachel, newly arrived from Texas. They pool their savings to buy a bike for ten dollars and take turns riding it. They visit the black man’s junk store and hear his music box play. Esperanza knows that some people are afraid of her neighborhood and call them “Those Who Don’t.” She explains, “They think we’re dangerous.” She herself feels safe and secure in her neighborhood of brown-skinned people.
Esperanza’s friend Alicia, the college student, gets up one morning and sees a mouse behind the sink. Her father says there is no mouse. Alicia is afraid of two things in life—her father and mice. She studies at night and, ever since her mother died, gets up with...
(The entire section is 990 words.)
The House on Mango Street is the coming of age story of Esperanza Cordero, a preadolescent Mexican American girl (Chicana) living in the contemporary United States. A marked departure from the traditional novel form, The House on Mango Street is a slim book consisting of forty-four vignettes, or literary sketches, narrated by Esperanza and ranging in length from two paragraphs to four pages. In deceptively simple language, the novel recounts the complex experience of being young, poor, female, and Chicana in America. The novel opens with a description of the Cordero family's house on Mango Street, the most recent in a long line of houses they have occupied. Esperanza is dissatisfied with the house, which is small and cramped, and doesn't want to stay there. But Mango Street is her home now, and she sets out to try to understand it.
Mango Street is populated by people with many different life stories, stories of hope and despair. First there is Esperanza's own family, her kind father who works two jobs and is absent most of the time; her mother, who can speak two languages and sing opera but never finished high school; her two brothers Carlos and Kiki; and her little sister Nenny. Of the neighborhood children Esperanza meets, there is Cathy, who shows her around Mango Street but moves out shortly thereafter because the neighborhood is "getting bad." Then there are Rachel and Lucy, sisters from Texas, who become Esperanza and Nenny's best...
(The entire section is 826 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Part I: The House on Mango Street, Hairs, and Boys & Girls
Esperanza Cordero: the narrator of the novel
Nenny (Magdalena): Esperanza’s younger sister
Mama: Esperanza’s mother
Papa: Esperanza’s father
Carlos: Esperanza’s younger brother
Kiki: Esperanza’s youngest brother
Nun: a nun from Esperanza’s school
The House on Mango Street
Esperanza and her family have just moved to a house on Mango Street. They have lived on a number of different streets in the past, and Esperanza names as many of them as she can remember. What she remembers most, however, is moving around a lot.
This is the first house the Corderos own. Esperanza is glad that there is no landlord and that they don’t have to share the backyard, but the house on Mango Street is a disappointment—it’s not the kind of house she wanted.
They moved to Mango Street because the water pipes broke in their previous apartment, a run-down flat on Loomis Street, and the landlord refused to fix them. Esperanza had expected the house on Mango Street to be a “real” house: a house like the ones she’d seen on TV, the kind her mother described in bedtime stories. The house on Mango Street, however, is small, cramped, and crumbling.
Once, when the Corderos lived on Loomis Street, a nun from Esperanza’s school saw her playing in front of their flat. The nun asked Esperanza...
(The entire section is 1171 words.)
Part II: My Name, Cathy Queen of Cats, and Our Good Day
Cathy: one of Esperanza’s neighbors
Joe: man who lives next door to Cathy
Benny and Blanca: owners of the corner store
Edna: owner of the building next to Esperanza’s house
Alicia: Esperanza’s neighbor who is attending college
Rachel and Lucy: sisters who live across the street from Cathy
Tito: a neighborhood boy
Esperanza describes the meaning and origin of her name. The English translation is “hope,” but in Spanish, she says, it means something different, something sad. She was named after her great-grandmother, who, like Esperanza, was born in the Chinese Year of the Horse. That is supposed to be bad luck for women, Esperanza is told, but she doesn’t believe it. She thinks it’s a lie made up by men who “don’t like their women strong.”
Esperanza says she would have liked to have known her great-grandmother, a wild woman who refused to marry until her great-grandfather literally “carried her off” one day and forced her to marry him. After that, Esperanza’s great-grandmother was sad and spent the rest of her life looking out the window. Esperanza worries that because she inherited her great-grandmother’s name, she may also inherit her grandmother’s seat by the window.
Esperanza describes how the people at school have trouble pronouncing her name. She thinks “Esperanza” is...
(The entire section is 1429 words.)
Part III: Laughter, Gil’s Furniture Bought & Sold, Meme Ortiz, and Louie, His Cousin & His Other Cousin
Gil: owner of the junk store near Esperanza’s house
Meme Ortiz: Juan “Meme” Ortiz, one of Esperanza’s neighbors
Louie: one of Esperanza’s neighbors
Marin: Louie’s cousin from Puerto Rico
Louie’s other cousin: Louie’s unnamed cousin, a young man
Esperanza discusses her likeness to Nenny. They don’t look too much alike, but they are similar in other ways, like their laughter. Esperanza describes how one day, when they were with Lucy and Rachel, they passed a house that reminded Esperanza of Mexico. Esperanza said that the house looked “like Mexico,” and though Lucy and Rachel looked at her as if she were crazy, Nenny knew exactly what she meant.
Gil’s Furniture Bought & Sold
Esperanza describes Gil’s junk store, which she and Nenny often explore. Nenny once discovered a music box, which Gil started up for them. Though the box itself wasn’t pretty, the music mesmerized the girls. Nenny tried to buy the music box, but Gil said it wasn’t for sale.
Meme, whose real name is Juan, moved into Cathy’s house after she moved away. Esperanza describes Meme and his dog, who also has two names, and Meme’s house, which Cathy’s father built. His yard has a huge tree that the neighborhood children decided to use for a Tarzan jumping contest. Meme won the contest, but he broke...
(The entire section is 1343 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
Davey the Baby, his sister and brother: residents of Esperanza’s neighborhood
Fat Boy: a resident of Esperanza’s neighborhood
Eddie, Refugia, Efren, Angel, and the other Vargas kids: residents of Esperanza’s neighborhood and children of Rosa Vargas
Rosa Vargas: a resident of Esperanza’s neighborhood and a single mother
Esperanza describes Marin, who is secretly engaged to a boy in Puerto Rico. Marin sells Avon products and is trying to save up money for her marriage. She will probably be sent back to Puerto Rico next year by Louie’s parents, but Esperanza hopes not because Marin is her source of gossip and feminine advice. Marin is always babysitting, but even when she’s not she is forbidden to leave the property. At night, Marin escapes to the front of the house so the boys can see her. Sometimes she dances alone under the street light, but always, it seems, she is waiting.
Those Who Don’t
Esperanza notes that people “who don’t know any better” expect her neighborhood to be dangerous, and they are afraid. But those who live on and near Mango Street know better, because they know each other and are comfortable in a neighborhood where everyone is “brown.” Esperanza admits, however, that when they—the “brown” people—go into a neighborhood of a different color, they, too, are afraid.
There Was an Old...
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Part V: Alicia Who Sees Mice, Darius & the Clouds, and And Some More
Alicia’s father: father of Alicia, Esperanza’s neighbor
Darius: a neighbor of Esperanza
Alicia Who Sees Mice
Alicia’s father tells her that the mice she sees while she is up studying at night don’t really exist—they’re just in her imagination. Besides, he says, she should be sleeping instead of studying so she can wake up early and cook for the family. Alicia’s mother died, and she has had to take her mother’s place at home while she attends a university across town. She is always tired because she has to travel far to the university and stays up late to study.
Darius & the Clouds
Esperanza laments the fact that there is not enough sky, butterflies, or flowers, but she is determined to make the best of it. Her neighbor, Darius, who she thinks is “a fool,” says something that she thinks is simple and profound: He points to a cloud and says, “That’s God.”
And Some More
Esperanza, Nenny, Lucy, and Rachel have a discussion about names: different names for snow, people, and clouds. Nenny tries to name all the clouds she sees in the sky and the others describe what the clouds look like. Lucy, Rachel, and Esperanza get into a mild fight and call each other names.
Alicia is a pivotal character in the novel. Like Esperanza, she desires something more than the traditional role for the Chicana woman....
(The entire section is 1193 words.)
Part VI: The Family of Little Feet and A Rice Sandwich
The Family of Little Feet: Grandpa, Grandma, Baby, and Mother: a family in Esperanza’s neighborhood
Bum man: a drunkard outside the local tavern
Gloria: Nenny’s friend
Nun: the nun in charge of the canteen at Esperanza’s school
Sister Superior: the nun in charge at Esperanza’s school
The Family of Little Feet
Esperanza describes the small feet of a family in her neighborhood. The mother of that family gives Esperanza, Rachel, and Lucy three pairs of old high-heeled shoes.
Because the mother has small feet, the shoes fit the girls perfectly. They put on the shoes and take off their socks to reveal their legs. They walk down to the corner in the shoes, practicing how to walk in high heels. On the corner, the men stare at them, and Mr. Benny tells them such shoes “are dangerous.” He threatens to call the cops, but the girls run.
On the avenue, a boy makes a suggestive comment to them. Rachel asks Esperanza and Lucy if they like these shoes, and they all agree that they’re the best shoes of all. In front of the local bar, Rachel asks a drunk man on the stoop if he likes their shoes. He says yes and flatters Rachel, who is intoxicated by all the attention she has gotten in the shoes. He offers Rachel a dollar for a kiss, and she considers it. Lucy quickly pulls her away, and they run back to Mango Street where they take off the shoes...
(The entire section is 1068 words.)
Part VII: Chanclas, Hips, and The First Job
Uncle Nacho: Esperanza’s uncle
Esperanza’s cousin by communion: a boy Esperanza knows through church
Aunt Lala: Esperanza’s aunt
Oriental man: a man who works with Esperanza at Peter Pan Photo Finishers
Esperanza’s mother comes home from buying new clothes for the family to wear to Esperanza’s cousin’s baptism party. Esperanza gets a beautiful new dress and slip, but her mother forgot to buy her new shoes. Uncle Nacho takes them to the church, where everyone seems to be having a good time except Esperanza. She feels stupid in her new dress and old shoes.
Esperanza’s cousin by communion asks her to dance, but she says no because she is too self-conscious about her shoes. Then Uncle Nacho convinces her to dance, and even though at first she’s very worried about her shoes, she soon forgets about them and enjoys herself dancing. Everyone watches them dance and applauds when they finish. Esperanza is proud, and she is also aware that her cousin watches her dance the rest of the night.
Esperanza, Nenny, Lucy, and Rachel play double dutch and talk about hips. Nenny says something Esperanza thinks is stupid, but Esperanza agrees with Nenny so that Lucy and Rachel won’t make fun of her little sister. Esperanza repeats with authority facts about hips she’s learned from Alicia and says that they need to know what to do...
(The entire section is 1222 words.)
Part VIII: Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark, Born Bad, and Elenita, Cards, Palm, Water
Aunt Guadalupe (Aunt Lupe): Esperanza’s invalid aunt
Frank and Totchy: Aunt Lupe’s children
Elenita: a fortune teller in Esperanza’s neighborhood
Ernie: Elenita’s son
Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark
Esperanza’s father wakes her up early one morning to tell her that her grandfather has died. She is the first child he tells because she is the oldest, and she will have to tell the others. Esperanza wonders what she would do if she lost her father, who is always up and off to work before they even wake up. She has never seen him cry before, and she takes him into her arms and holds him.
Esperanza claims that she’ll probably go to hell and that she deserves to go because she was “born on an evil day” and because she, Rachel, and Lucy made fun of her Aunt Lupe, an invalid, who died soon after.
Aunt Lupe had been sick for a long time, but from old photographs Esperanza knew Aunt Lupe used to be strong and pretty. Esperanza wonders why Aunt Lupe was chosen to “go bad” and acknowledges the indiscriminate nature of disease.
Esperanza, Lucy, and Rachel liked Aunt Lupe. Esperanza often read library books to her aunt. Once, Esperanza recalls with shame, she tried to show Aunt Lupe a picture in one of her books. She didn’t realize that Aunt Lupe was blind.
Aunt Lupe also listened to Esperanza’s...
(The entire section is 1340 words.)
Part IX: Geraldo No Last Name, Edna’s Ruthie, The Earl of Tennessee, and Sire
Geraldo: a young man Marin meets at a dance
Ruthie: Edna’s daughter
Earl: the man who lives in Edna’s basement
Earl’s “wife”: the different women Earl brings home
Sire: a neighborhood boy
Lois: Sire’s girlfriend
Geraldo No Last Name
Marin meets Geraldo, a young Hispanic man, at a dance. He dies later that evening in a hit-and-run accident. No one seems to know anything about him, and no one seems to understand why Marin is so upset if she only met him that evening. Geraldo was a wetback, a temporary and probably illegal immigrant worker who didn’t speak any English and didn’t have any identification. No one even knew his last name or where he lived. No one, in fact, knew that he worked hard and sent his money home to his family. Those he left behind in his native country will never know what happened to him.
Ruthie, Edna’s daughter, is the only “grown-up” Esperanza knows who “likes to play.” She laughs to herself, whistles beautifully, and is frightened inside stores. She has the ability to see beauty in common and unusual things, but she is also very indecisive. Once her mother’s friends invited her to join them for some bingo. Ruthie couldn’t decide whether or not to go, and after 15 minutes they left without her.
Ruthie says she is married, and Esperanza can’t...
(The entire section is 1186 words.)
Part X: Four Skinny Trees and No Speak English
Mamacita and her husband: neighbors who live across the street from Esperanza
Four Skinny Trees
Esperanza describes the four skinny trees outside her window. The trees, she says, are the only ones who understand her, and she is the only one who understands them. Like her, they have been put on Mango Street where they don’t belong. The trees are skinny but strong, with deep roots, and they talk to Esperanza while she sleeps. When she feels weak, she gains strength by looking at the trees.
No Speak English
Mamacita, the obese wife of the man across the street, finally comes from somewhere in Latin America to be with her husband. He had worked very hard to earn enough money to bring her and their son to Mango Street. Mamacita is so big that they literally have to push and pull her out of the taxicab.
After her arrival, however, no one sees Mamacita outside anymore. Some say she doesn’t come out because she’s too fat, others because there’s too many stairs to climb; but Esperanza thinks it’s because Mamacita can’t speak English. Mamacita just sits inside by the window and sings songs about her native country. She is very sad and wants to go home. Her husband gets very angry about this because to him, Mango Street is home. He urges her to learn English, but she won’t. Her heart breaks when their child learns to speak English by watching TV.
(The entire section is 966 words.)
Part XI: Rafaela Who Drinks Coconut & Papaya Juice on Tuesdays and Sally
Rafaela: a neighbor of Esperanza
Rafaela’s husband: locks up Rafaela in the apartment
Sally: a friend and classmate of Esperanza
Sally’s father: who beats Sally
Cheryl: Sally’s ex-best friend
Rafaela Who Drinks Coconut & Papaya Juice on Tuesdays
Rafaela’s husband locks her in their apartment on Tuesday nights when he goes to play dominoes. He is afraid she’ll run off because she is very young and beautiful. She leans out of the window and watches Esperanza and her friends play, then throws them money and asks them to buy her juice at the store. She pulls the juice up to her window with a clothesline. Rafaela would like to get out and go dancing at the bar on the corner, where the women are offered sweet drinks and promises.
Sally, a classmate of Esperanza, is beautiful and admired by the boys. Esperanza also admires Sally, who wears make-up, black clothes, and nylons to school. Sally’s father, who is very strict, doesn’t let her go out because she is beautiful and he is afraid she will get into trouble.
Sally has no friends after she fights with Cheryl, who called her a name. The boys tell stories about Sally, but Esperanza says those stories are lies. Esperanza wonders what Sally thinks about when she stands alone in the schoolyard and why Sally always has to go straight home. She wonders if Sally...
(The entire section is 729 words.)
Part XII: Minerva Writes Poems and Bums in the Attic
Minerva: a neighbor and friend of Esperanza
Minerva’s husband: frequently beats his wife
Minerva Writes Poems
Minerva, who is just a few years older than Esperanza, already has two children. She also has a husband who beats her. Minerva often kicks her husband out, but he apologizes and she lets him come back, only to have him beat her again. Minerva cries often, and at night, when she is alone, she writes poems on scraps of paper. She and Esperanza share their poems with each other.
Bums in the Attic
Esperanza wants a house like the ones her father takes the family to see on Sundays—a house on a hill with a garden. Esperanza refuses to go with them anymore because she’s ashamed of the way they stare hungrily at the houses. She declares that one day she’ll have her own house and won’t forget where she came from. She’ll take in bums who pass by and let them sleep in the attic, because she knows how it feels not to have a home.
Minerva, whose “luck is unlucky,” is caught in a cycle. Her husband beats her, and she kicks him out. When he apologizes, she lets him return—and he beats her again. He is the husband “who left and keeps leaving”—but she lets him keep returning, probably because she is very young (just “a little bit older” than Esperanza) and has two children to take care of. If she is strong enough to break the...
(The entire section is 686 words.)
Izaura and Yolanda: friends of Esperanza’s mother
Beautiful & Cruel
Esperanza says she is the ugly girl in the family, so no husband will come for her. Nenny, who is pretty, says she won’t wait around forever for a husband. She wants to be able to choose who or what takes her away from home. Esperanza says that Nenny can talk about choices because she is pretty. Esperanza decides not to “grow up tame” and grow old waiting for a husband. She wants to be powerful like the beautiful women in the movies, so she decides to get her power from a different source: she begins to behave like a man.
A Smart Cookie
Esperanza’s mother says that she “could’ve been somebody”—a singer, perhaps, or an artist—but she isn’t because she quit school. She confesses to Esperanza that she quit because she was ashamed of her clothes.
What Sally Said
Sally’s father has been beating her. She tells people at school that she fell, but no one believes that’s how she got her bruises. She says her father never hits her hard, but Esperanza knows that more than once he has lost control and beaten Sally very badly. He beats her because he doesn’t want her to bring shame on the family like his sisters did.
Once Sally tried to stay with Esperanza’s family for a while, but Sally’s father came to get her. He said he was sorry for what he’d done and that...
(The entire section is 971 words.)
Part XIV: The Monkey Garden, Red Clowns, and Linoleum Roses
Tito’s mother: who Esperanza runs to for help
Man at carnival: a man who molests Esperanza
Sally’s husband: a salesman
The Monkey Garden
Esperanza describes the monkey garden, a neighborhood garden where the previous owners kept a pet monkey. The garden has since grown wild and is now a place where they can play and disappear for a while. Esperanza describes the last time she went there, the time she wanted to die.
Esperanza wanted to play in the garden with the other children, but someone said she was too big to play. She urged Sally to join her, but Sally wanted to stay with Tito and his friends. Sally flirted with the boys and they stole her keys. To get them back, they said, Sally had to give them each a kiss. Sally agreed.
This infuriated Esperanza. She ran to Tito’s mother and told her what was happening, hoping Tito’s mother would stop them. Tito’s mother, however, was unconcerned. When Esperanza tried to “save” Sally herself, Sally and the boys told her to go away. Esperanza hid herself in the garden and cried. She wished her heart would stop beating. When she left the garden, it no longer seemed like a good place to her.
Esperanza says Sally lied to her about what it is like to be with a man. Esperanza had been waiting for Sally at the carnival while Sally went off with a boy. Esperanza waited for a long...
(The entire section is 1236 words.)
Part XV: The Three Sisters and Alicia & I Talking on Edna’s Steps
The Three Sisters: aunts of Rachel and Lucy
The Three Sisters
Lucy and Rachel’s baby sister dies. Many visitors come to their house for the viewing, and Esperanza meets Lucy and Rachel’s aunts there. They call Esperanza over and read her palm. They say that she is special and tell her to make a wish. She does, and they tell her it will come true. Then one of the sisters takes Esperanza aside and tells her that when she leaves Mango Street, she must remember to return, “to come back for the others.” She tells Esperanza not to forget who she is, because she will always be Esperanza and will always be part of Mango Street.
Alicia & I Talking on Edna’s Steps
Esperanza tells Alicia she is sad because she doesn’t have a house. Alicia reminds her that she lives in the house right next door, but Esperanza says that she doesn’t want to belong to Mango Street; where she lives isn’t a real home. Alicia tells Esperanza that whether she wants to or not, she does belong to Mango Street, and one day she’ll return.
The comadres are fascinating and very important characters. They are old and mysterious, and they do “not seem to be related to anything but the moon.” (The moon is a traditional symbol for women.) More importantly, they “had the power and could sense what was what.” They know what is going on with Esperanza; they can see her...
(The entire section is 692 words.)
Part XVI: A House of My Own and Mango Says Goodbye Sometimes
A House of My Own
Esperanza describes the house she wants to have some day: a house completely her own, that belongs entirely to her, with only her things—her books, her stories, her shoes—inside.
Mango Says Goodbye Sometimes
Esperanza says that she likes to tell stories and that she makes up stories about her life as she experiences things. She says she is going to tell the story of a girl “who didn’t want to belong.” She describes the houses she’s lived in and says she remembers the house on Mango Street the most. When she writes this story down, it makes her feel better; it sets her free from Mango Street.
Esperanza says that one day she will leave Mango Street and everyone will wonder where she’s gone. They won’t know that she left so that she can come back for the others.
“A House of My Own” is the shortest vignette in the novel. In it, Esperanza defines the house she longs for. She explains what it is not first. It is not a house she inherits from a father or inhabits with a husband, and there is “[n]obody to shake a stick at. Nobody’s garbage to pick up after.” It is not a house where Esperanza will fill the traditional role of homemaker and housekeeper.
Instead, her house will be quiet and clean, a house for her alone, a house made by, and for, herself. It will have only her things: “my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias. My...
(The entire section is 728 words.)