In The House on Mango Street, what does Esperanza find shameful or burdensome about her name, and why did Cisneros choose this name for the protagonist?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the vignette entitled "My Name," Esperanza discusses the meaning of her name. Although the direct translation from Spanish to English is "hope," Esperanza says, "It means sadness, it means waiting" (10). Clearly, there is a discrepancy between what a name full of hope represents compared to how the character feels about it. This discrepancy exists in part because of the tale of her great-grandmother, from whom she received the name. Her great-grandmother Esperanza was strong-willed and never wanted to get married. Unfortunately, her great-grandfather kidnapped and forced her great-grandmother to marry him. Esperanza sadly explains the following:  

And the story goes she never forgave him. She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. . . I have inherited her name, but I don't want to inherit her place by the window (11).

Esperanza associates her name with a violent abduction that resulted in a life beholden to a husband, not with a name or life full of hope. It's as though the story behind her name is shameful and the Spanish translation feels burdensome to her. 

Cisneros probably chose to name her protagonist Esperanza because of the irony associated with the name and one of the recurring themes of the book—poverty and the inability to escape one's cultural traditions. For instance, many women in The House on Mango Street seem to be trapped in dead-end or abusive marriages. These women's lives are examples that discourage Esperanza from wanting marriage before an education and a career. Ironically, even though Esperanza doesn't associate the word "hope" with her name or culture, she proves she does hope for a better life. She vows to herself that she will go to college and buy a house of her own one day, which is not only a wonderful goal for her to pursue, but one filled with hope.

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The House on Mango Street

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