Black, white, and orange illustration of Esperanza standing in front of a building or structure

The House on Mango Street

by Sandra Cisneros

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In The House on Mango Street, which chapters showcase determination?

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Several chapters in The House on Mango Street showcase determination. “My Name” highlights the protagonist’s early observations on her quest for self-determination. “Bums in the Attic” presents Esperanza’s growth on her journey toward maturity. “A House of My Own” showcases Esperanza’s personal vision of her future, with no strings attached.

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The 1984 work The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros presents the journey to maturity of the protagonist Esperanza as she attempts to break away from poverty in her community and become a responsible individual. Her quest to achieve self-determination is demonstrated by the author through a series of vignettes about her experiences growing up in a segregated Latino neighborhood.

This entire book deals with Esperanza’s perspective of her slice of the world. As such, the author leaves clues as to how the protagonist absorbs her surroundings. Her observations all add to her resolve to change her life in a positive manner. There are three vignettes that predominantly highlight her determination.

In “My Name,” the narrator identifies herself as Esperanza and points out that her name translates to “hope” in her native Spanish tongue. In a very moving passage, she recalls how her great-grandmother whom she never met, in the Mexican tradition in which they “don’t like their women strong," was compelled to marry against her wishes and she resented the tradition for her entire lifetime:

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.

Cisneros effectively showcases the protagonist’s determination through her thoughts about her great-grandmother’s plight. Esperanza impliedly vowed to avoid the same fate.

“Bums in the Attic” demonstrates Esperanza’s willpower. She states directly, “I want a house on a hill like the ones with the gardens where Papa works.” She is “tired of looking at what we can’t have.” Expressing her determination, Esperanza says:

One day I’ll own my own house, but I won’t forget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I’ll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, because I know how it is to be without a house.

Readers can clearly see Esperanza’s commitment not only to change her life, but also to never forget her journey. This vignette shows her maturity level growing with each experience.

Finally, in the very short passage, “A House of My Own,” Esperanza comes full circle. She outlines her individual dream home. Her house will not be selected by others or by tradition:

Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man's house. Not a daddy's. A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias. My book and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed. Nobody to shake a stick at. Nobody's garbage to pick up after. Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem. (Emphasis added)

In the end, Cisneros wraps up the theme of self-determination in this coming-of-age story through the protagonist’s words:

One day I will pack my bags of books and paper. One day I will say goodbye to Mango.

These lines at the end of the book predict the results of the protagonist’s journey and her determination to find her own way through life as referenced in the three vignettes presented herein. Esperanza will eventually pursue her dreams as a writer.

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"Four Skinny Trees," "Bums in the Attic," "Beautiful and Cruel," "A House of My Own," and "Mango says Goodbye Sometimes" are the main vignettes that focus on Esperanza's determination to be a strong woman, leave Mango Street one day, and to own her own house. She becomes progressively more determined with each vignette, too. As she analyzes the different types of people who live on Mango Street, Esperanza's resolve to leave and maker herself better than where she comes from builds and strengthens.

First, in "Four Skinny Trees," Esperanza finds strength within herself as she appreciates how these four trees remain strong and living against the odds of growing through the concrete of the inner-city. Esperanza explains as follows:

"When I am too sad and too skinny to keep keeping, when I am a tiny thing against so many bricks, then it is I look at trees. When there is nothing left to look at on this street. Four who grew despite concrete. Four who reach and do not forget to reach. Four whose only reason is to be and be" (75).

The trees give Esperanza hope, strength and determination to keep focusing on her goals.

Next, "Bums in the Attic" shows that Esperanza's determination is growing because she declares that she will not only own her own house one day, but she will allow bums to live in the attic "because I know how it is to be without a house" (87). She also says in this vignette that people who live in big houses on hills either don't know about people who live on streets like Mango, or they have forgotten them. She vows never to forget where she came from.

Then, in "Beautiful and Cruel," Esperanza thinks that she is the ugly daughter, so she better work harder for what she wants in life. The common belief for girls on Mango Street is that they can't escape it unless they get married and the husband takes them away. To Esperanza, that's like chaining oneself to a life in prison.

"I have decided not to grow up tame like the others who lay their necks on the threshold waiting for the ball and chain" (88).

Esperanza is determined not to get out of poverty and off of Mango Street by way of marriage. She will do it her way, not like every other young girl she knows.

By the time we read "A House of My Own," Esperanza is even more determined to obtain her own house because she's seen too many women and young girls beaten and taken advantage of by boyfriends, husbands and fathers to want to live that life in any way.

"Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man's house. Not a daddy's. A house all my own. . . Nobody to shake a stick at. Nobody's garbage to pick up after. Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem" (108).

Finally, "Mango Says Goodbye Sometimes," Esperanza declares that she will pack everything up one day to leave and make her life better, but she will come back for those who cannot escape it. Whether that means that she will use her own money to clean up Mango Street, or if she will buy a house there, or if she will just visit, she maintains that she will never forget where she came from. As determined as Esperanza is to leave Mango Street, she is also determined to remember it.


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