Esperanza's environment affects her in profound ways. The physical elements of her community as well as the social relationships she finds there leave a mark on Esperanza as she grows up. First, Esperanza feels shame because she lives in a run-down house. Before the family moved to Mango Street, she was shunned by a nun because her house had boarded windows. She believed that moving into a house of their own would solve the family's problems. However, Esperanza soon learns that poor communities are still poor even if the houses are owned by their inhabitants. As Esperanza meets people in her new neighborhood, she learns about sorrow, abuse, and the desire for hope and freedom. She describes Marin who "under the streetlight, dancing by herself, is singing the same song somewhere. I know. Is waiting for a car to stop, a star to fall, someone to change her life." Esperanza learns that others around her are all waiting for something to come rescue them and make their dreams come true. By the end of the book, Esperanza vows to leave Mango Street to find her dreams and return to rescue the others.
The House on Mango Street is a narrative about a girl who lives in the barrio and finds it an environment that is repugnant to her because she realizes early on that people are often judged by the house in which they live. Further, she finds the barrio a dangerous place as well as an environment in which her poetic spirit cannot flourish.
Esperanza is embarrassed about her house as being the worst place in her neighborhood. When a nun from her school passes by and sees Esperanza playing in her front yard, she remarks,"You live there?" as she notices that
Bricks are crumbling in places and the front door is so swollen you have to push hard to get in....
[On the third floor there are] wooden bars Papa had nailed on the window so we wouldn't fall out....
There is a certain fear instilled in Esperanza as she is warned about various people in her neighborhood. One day when she and her friends put on small high heels that a woman has given them and walk about, men make lurid comments to them. There is, for instance, the lecherous "Bum Man" who asks one of them to come closer.
"You are a pretty girl....What's your name, pretty girl?
....If I give you a dollar will you give me a kiss?"
The girls turn and run in fear.
Because her family is poor, Esperanza must go to work at a young age. In the vignette entitled "My First Job," she dresses in a navy blue dress to make herself seem older and is hired to place camera negatives in envelops for shipping. The job is not too strenuous, although Esperanza tires of standing. After gobbling down her lunch privately because she is afraid to sit down where so many women and men look at her, she later sees a man from the next shift who comes in early. She thinks he has "friendly eyes," so when he talks to her Esperanza engages in conversation with him. The man tells her it is his birthday and asks if he could have a little kiss for his birthday. Since he is old, Esperanza acquiesces and moves closer to place her lips on his cheek; however, as she narrates,
...he grabs my face with both hands and kisses me hard on the mouth and doesn't let go.
Esperanza is shaken by this experience in which, again, an older man seeks to rob her of her innocence.