Sandra Cisneros

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In "Straw Into Gold: The Metamorphosis of the Everyday," why do you think Cisneros makes an allusion to the "Rumpelstiltskin" tale in her essay?

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In the Rumpelstiltskin story, a girl must turn straw into gold or be executed. This seemingly impossible task is achieved with the help of a creature named Rumpelstiltskin. In Sandra Cisneros’s essay, “Straw into Gold: The Metamorphosis of the Everyday,” Cisneros does the seemingly impossible. She takes her lived, everyday experiences and, with the help of her imagination, makes stories out of it; the stories are her “gold.”

She first uses the allusion to the fairy tale to describe an experience she had making Mexican food with friends. The friends assumed that because she is of Mexican descent that she would know how to make corn tortillas, so they bought the ingredients (the straw) and asked her to make the tortillas (the gold). Like the girl ordered to spin the straw, she felt trapped by this impossible demand. She had never learned to make tortillas. She compared this process to writing an essay for her MFA exam, again, another seemingly impossible task for a writer who was used to spinning fiction and poetry, but not critical essays. However, in both instances she succeeds, although she knows her tortillas would not have met her mother’s standards even if her friends thought they were delicious.

She then proceeds to discuss her life, especially what it was like growing up with five brothers and a father who expected his daughter to marry young, not to become a writer:

I like to think that somehow my family, my Mexicanness, my poverty, all had something to do with shaping me into a writer.

In other words, her childhood experiences were the straw for her writing. She talks about how she used her father, mother, brothers, friends, as well as acquaintances, such as “the women who sat their sadness on an elbow and stared out a window,” spinning them into gold by basing many of the stories in The House on Mango Street (as well as other stories and poems) on them. She also talks about her own hunger to write, especially during “that slippery age when you are both child and woman and neither,” a time when she first experienced the need to transform her life into writing. She thinks about her teachers from her childhood, and how surprised they would be at her own metamorphosis into a writer “because all they saw was the outside me,” a girl who had trouble following the rules and couldn’t fit in. They couldn’t see the gold. Like the father, these teachers couldn’t predict how she would defy expectations.

Now she has defied her own expectations as well, spinning herself into a successful writer, no longer the “girl who wouldn’t come out of her shell.” She has had the chance to travel beyond the places of her childhood, Mexico and Chicago, to places all over the world. And everywhere she goes, there is straw for her to spin into gold.

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I tend to think that the primary allusion to Rumpelstiltskin is to represent the idea of "spinning straw into gold."  The fairy tale's meaning is predicated upon turning something deemed as worthless into something of great value to many. Straw to gold is what Cisneros uses to articulate her own narrative in the essay:  "Along the way there has been straw for the taking. With a little imagination, it can be spun into gold."  For Cisneros, her life has been one where the presence of straw has been abundant.  As a girl, as someone of Latina descent, as one who was deemed as shy and not very successful in school, there have been moments where she was left for "straw," as one who lacked value.  However, over time, Cisneros makes the point that "with a little imagination," she was able to transform into something of value for herself and many others.  The use of the fairy tale illuminates that there are moments where this transformation can take place. This is underscored with the allusion in the title and in the close of the essay.  Cisneros affirms the idea that there are instances where something deemed as worthless by so many can have redeeming and restorative purposes.  This is where I think that the allusion to the fairy tale gains importance and meaning.  In using the fairy tale, Cisneros inverts it to represent how voice and power can emerge from settings that might initially seem to be devoid of it.

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