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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What does Esperanza's house symbolize in The House on Mango Street?

One could characterize Esperanza by drawing attention to her capacity for change. When the story opens, she's very much a staunch individualist who just wants to escape from Mango Street as soon as possible. However, as she begins to mature, she develops a sense of responsibility for the community in which she lives.

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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...

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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.

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On the one hand, Esperanza's house is representative of security.  It

"is ours, and we don't have to pay rent to anybody...and there isn't a landlord banging on the ceiling with a broom".

On the other hand, the house is

"small and red with tight steps in front and windows so small you'd think they were holding their breath...(with) bricks...crumbling in places, and the front swollen you have to push hard to get in".

The house, which has only one washroom and one bedroom for all six of her family members, is a stark contrast from the dwelling the Corderos dream of owning, one with

"a basement and at least three washrooms so when (they) took a bath (they) wouldn't have to tell everybody...(a) house...(that is) white with trees around it, a great big yard and grass growing without a fence".

The house in this sense is symbolic of limited opportunities and dreams that don't quite measure up - it is "not the house we'd thought we'd get".  Esperanza is ashamed of her house, "it (makes) her feel like nothing".  The house on Mango Street represents the restricted options available to Esperanza as a poor Hispanic woman, and she is determined to rise above these limitations and one day "have a house...a real I could point to" with pride (Chapter 1 - "The House on Mango Street").

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How would you characterize Esperanza in The House on Mango Street?

Esperanza is a very intelligent young lady with a marked sense of curiosity about the outside world. This helps to explain why she's so intensely frustrated about life on Mango Street. Her neighborhood seems so small and narrow-minded, certainly not the kind of place for someone with an instinctive realization that there's a much bigger world out there.

Esperanza tries various methods of escape, none of which seem to work. Wearing high heels may give her a sense of power and control, but only for a very brief period of time. The inappropriate behavior of a tramp drives home the painful realization that this is a community steeped in machismo and misogyny, where women are regarded as little more than sex objects or eye candy.

But because Esperanza has the capacity to change, she's able to develop a completely different outlook on her community. Yes, Mango Street is steeped in poverty, crime, and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. But Esperanza now realizes that she has a responsibility to the people of the neighborhood. And she attempts to fulfill this responsibility through her writing. As well as developing an obvious talent, Esperanza's writing will allow her to tell the stories of people in her neighborhood—especially women—traditionally denied a voice.

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