What is the depiction of familial relationships in House on Mango Street?

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lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The House on Mango Street, Esperanza shares many stories about various family units:

Mango Street is populated by people with many different life stories, stories of hope and despair.

Esperanza shares her relationship with her own family. She is close to her family. She realizes that her family struggles to overcome. She writes that her father wakes up tired because he works so much:

First there is Esperanza's own family, her kind father who works two jobs and is absent most of the time; her mother, who can speak two languages and sing opera but never finished high school; her two brothers Carlos and Kiki; and her little sister Nenny.

Through the struggles, Esperanza's family ends up on Mango Street. The small house is cramped. They can hear the neighbors through the thin walls. Esperanza has a rice sandwich for lunch because the family has no luncheon meat. The family is extremely poor. Although Esperanza's family has its own struggles, some of the others on Mango Street suffer far more. One of the young wives is held prisoner by her husband:

Rafaela stays indoors and observes the world from her windowsill, 'because her husband is afraid Rafaela will run away since she is too beautiful to look at.'

This family unit is unique in that the husband actually keeps his wife locked in their house. Rafaela cannot go out. She sits by the windowsill watching the world go by. She is bound by her husband's jealously. She exists inside the walls of her home, often miserable, longing to experience the outside world:

Rafaela stands as a symbol for the interior world of women on Mango Street, whose lives are circumscribed and bound by the structure of home and family.

Other families have their own special circumstances. Ruthie was forced to move back home to Mango Street when her husband left her. Now, Ruthie is troubled by the fact that she has been abandoned. She exists but is truly lonely, so lonely until she plays with the other children:

Ruthie, 'the only grown-up we know who likes to play,' is a troubled, childlike woman whose husband left her and was forced to move from her own house in the suburbs back to Mango Street with her mother.

Sally has a dark family history. She wears black clothes, short skirts, nylons and makeup. Sally lives in an abusive home. Her father abuses her. She gets tired of all the abuse and marries before she begins the eighth grade:

She trades one type of ensnarement for another by marrying a marshmallow salesman before the eighth grade.

Rosa's husband left her with several unruly children. The children are misbehaved. Esperanza calls them "bad children." Of course, they are being raised by a woman who is always tired from raising children by herself. She is constantly "buttoning, bottling, and babying." She cries all the time for the man who abandoned her:

'[She] cries every day for the man who left without even leaving a dollar for bologna or a note explaining how come.'

These are a few depictions of familial relationships in The House on Mango Street. All of these depictions are quite sad. The relationships are broken. The family structure is not there. They suffer in silence, or they shout their grief to anyone willing to listen. Esperanza writes it all down.

Read the study guide:
The House on Mango Street

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