Houses symbolize many things in The House on Mango Streetby Sandra Cisneros. They represent freedom and confinement, success and failure, and fantasy and reality.
Beginning with the house on Mango Street, the house symbolizes confinement, failure, and reality. Esperanza is embarrassed about her living conditions. This is the...
first house her family has owned and not rented, but it doesn't live up to the fantasies she had of a house that her parents promised.
They always told us that one day we would move into a house, a real house that would be ours for always so we wouldn't have to move each year. And our house would have running water and pipes that worked. And inside it would have real stairs, not hallways stairs, but stairs inside it like the house on T.V. And we'd have a basement and at least three washrooms so when we took a bath we wouldn't have to tell everybody. Our house would be white with trees around it, a great big yard and grass growing without a fence. This was the house Papa talked about when he held a lottery ticket and this was the house Mama dreamed up in the stories she told us before we went to bed.
In reality, the house has only one washroom, and everyone has to share a bedroom. It is a definite step up from the flat on Loomis that they rented and had to leave because the pipes burst and the landlord wouldn't replace them, but it is nothing like what Esperanza envisioned. At the end of chapter one, she shares her dream of one day having a house that will live up to her fantasy.
The house symbolizes failure because it falls short of what Esperanza's parents promised, but it is the best they can do with a growing family and limited opportunities. Its empty garage speaks of the car they don't own. Its cramped quarters speak of their poverty. It is in disrepair, with crumbling bricks and swollen door jambs.
The house symbolizes confinement in the difference between how girls and boys are treated. For example, in the chapter entitled "Boys & Girls," Esperanza explains some of the differences between growing up as a girl versus growing up as a boy in their neighborhood. Their brothers interact with them inside the home but ignore them outside of it. Boys have the freedom to do what they want, whereas girls are expected to stay at home or in the yard. The boys are carefree, whereas Esperanza is saddled with the responsibility of her younger sister.
Someday I will have a best friend all my own. One I can tell my secrets to. One who will understand my jokes without my having to explain them. Until then I am a red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor.
Later in the book, Esperanza speaks of the kind of house she will have in the future. Her future home will be the opposite of the one at 4006 Mango Street. It will represent freedom, success, and her realized fantasies. From the chapter "A House of My Own":
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 books 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.
In this quote, readers see that she seeks freedom from the patriarchal society that values men above women. She proclaims that she will be free from that, and her house will be her own. In this chapter as well as the last chapter, she also imagines the success she will have. This success will enable her to have a house of her own and also to go back to help those who don't have a way out of Mango Street.
The house Esperanza dreams of represents her fantasies, and readers get a sense that Esperanza, unlike her parents—and with her writing skills—will have the power to realize her fantasies.