What was the author's purpose in writing The House on Mango Street?
Authors write for many reasons. I think the key to Cisneros’s purpose is in the narrator. In The House on Mango Street, the narrator is a young Latino girl. She describes her neighborhood and the people in it. Most of them are down on their luck and struggling to make it in America, and most are hard-working immigrants. The main character, Esperanza, struggles with her own ideas of identity and success. She wants to have pride in her heritage, but she also wants to succeed and go beyond the limits of her neighborhood. Like every immigrant, she strives for the American dream.
I think this story is more than a little autobiographical. When we consider the author’s purpose, we should think of Esperanza’s hopes and dreams and how Cisneros depicts them. I think she is reaching out to young Latino girls, immigrants in general, and all young people who strive to succeed. She hopes to tell a good story, but she also hopes to serve as an inspiration. We all struggle, but somehow we can make it.
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In any work of literature when we consider purpose or the themes that it contains, there are going to be lots of possible answers. However, one over-arching theme that we can identify in this compelling series of vignettes or fragments is that it narrates how the central protagonist identifies herself as part of her community but also the only character who is brave enough to try and fight against and overcome her situation. Therefore it is possible to consider this novel as one adolescent's struggle to discover and fashion her own identity against a backdrop of poverty, racism and so many other forces that try to prevent her from being who she wants to be. You would do well to analyse how Esperanza deals with and responds to the various myths that circulate in her community about women, sex, pregnancy and marriage to consider how she plays with ideas of marriage, becoming a woman and pregnancy. However, it is also clear that she views some of the characters who have married early and have suffered abusive marriages, now only have an identity based on their husband and marriage and are effectively trapped in the community. Likewise, it is important to note that Esperanza's first experiences with sexuality are definitely not positive. Consider "Red Clowns," for example.
A key moment in her development as an adolescent but also as a woman comes after observing how female characters such as Minerva that she formally admired and respected are now reduced to lacking their own distinct identity and suffering abuse in their marriages. She says in "Beautiful and Cruel" the following key statement:
I have decided not to grow up tame like the others who lay their necks on the threshold waiting for the ball and chain.
Important to her sense of development and identity is the tension that exists between Esperanza's attachment to her barrio but also her desire for her own house and own "home" outside of that barrio. Finally, it is the potential to see outside of her community that gives Esperanza the opportunity to overcome her individual circumstances and forge her own mature, stable identity.
Thus when we consider the purpose of this work, we might want to think about how this story relates a coming of age tale of a young adolescent girl, who is strong enough in herself to be able to escape the fate that so many girls suffer in her community and be her own person.
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