In The House on Mango Street, how does Esperanza change over the course of the story?

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Mexican-American writer Sandra Cisneros’s 1983 novel The House on Mango Street presents the narrative of Esperanza Cordero, a 12-year-old Chicana girl living in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago. This novel contains a series of vignettes and contains elements of Mexican-American culture, specifically with regards to gender, sexuality, race, and...

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Mexican-American writer Sandra Cisneros’s 1983 novel The House on Mango Street presents the narrative of Esperanza Cordero, a 12-year-old Chicana girl living in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago. This novel contains a series of vignettes and contains elements of Mexican-American culture, specifically with regards to gender, sexuality, race, and socioeconomic class. The genre is bildungsroman, which focuses on the moral and psychological growth between adolescence to adulthood.

At the start of the novel, the reader learns that Esperanza has no desire to stay on Mango Street over the long term. However, as Esperanza matures, she becomes more aware of the socioeconomics of her family and her neighbors. She comes to realize that their poverty is what keeps them on Mango Street. Even when she leaves the street eventually, her poverty will follow her, and as such, Mango Street will not leave her as long as she is poor.

Additionally, Esperanza becomes more aware of her body and her sexuality throughout the novel. She is aware of her growing hips, which will one day bear children, and she takes romantic interest in boys. This theme of sexuality is perverted by instances of sexual assault. At the carnival, Esperanza is sexually abused by a group of boys. Esperanza’s friend Sally marries an older man in an attempt to escape her abusive father, but she is unsuccessful as her husband perpetuates the domestic abuse.

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"The House on Mango Street" takes us as readers through a period of time (about a year) in the life of Esperanza, a Mexican-American girl who moves in to a house on Mango Street at the beginning of the novel. The novel is told in a series of vignettes, and from the beginning, we are aware that Esperanza does not plan on staying on Mango Street for the rest of her life.

Throughout the year, Esperanza matures mentally, sexually, and emotionally. Several events occur throughout the novel that points us towards this fact, such as her becoming aware of her growing hips, making friends, developing crushes, and writing as a means of escape. We read about her grandfather (Abuelito) passing away, the way she perceives her own name, and being assaulted after she befriends Sally.

Esperanza quickly goes from a girl who loves playing outside, jumping rope, and telling stories to a young woman who dreams about boys, deals with people she loves passing away, and has to come to terms with her family's poverty. By the end of the novel, she knows that even if she leaves Mango Street, Mango Street will never leave her. Her writing has become a part of her, and she will use it to overcome any obstacle she faces.

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Although the book only covers a year, Esperanza starts out as a young girl and ends the book as a young woman. A number of things contribute to her coming of age in so short a time. One thing that happens is puberty. Over the course of the novel, Esperanza's body begins to change, and with that the way she relates to others begins to change as well. This culminates with her betrayal by her friend Sally and her assault at the carnival in the chapter "Red Clowns." But the real change Esperanza goes through is not physical or sexual, but one of understanding. She becomes more aware of her surroundings, the people around her, herself, and her relationship to the neighborhood. She learns that all the people around her are trapped on Mango Street in one way or another. She also learns that she is not like them. I think this awareness is neatly expressed in Esperanza's comment on her great-grandmother: "She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window."

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The House on Mango Street is a bildunsgroman, or coming of age story, so the reader can observe Esperanza mature throughout the course of the book.  She begins as a little girl, concerned with petty things like playground arguments.  Later vignettes show Esperanza becoming aware and interested in womanhood.  This is first evidenced in "Hips" when she notices this defining mark of a woman and ponders why they exist. She later comes of age in "Sire" when she begins to show interest in the opposite sex.  Esperanza also faces many experiences that strip her of her innocence.  No vignette is more powerful in showing this than "Red Clowns" where Esperanza is raped by a man at a carnival.

Esperanza also starts off the book as a selfish girl only concerned with her own desires.  Her focus is on the type of house she wants to live in and how she wants to leave the ghetto.  However, by the end she realizes her dream has to go beyond her own self- interestes.  This mature way of thinking is fully established in "The Three Sisters" when one of the sisters tells her that she must come back to Mango Street to help others like her succeed in escaping.

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