What does Esperanza's house symbolize in The House on Mango Street?
Houses symbolize many things in The House on Mango Street by 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.
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 door...so 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 house...one I could point to" with pride (Chapter 1 - "The House on Mango Street").
In Sandra Cisneros' "The House on Mango Street," the house, itself, symbolizes stagnancy and cultural neccessity. Initially, Esperanza's tone is joyous and connotes happiness and excitement for the future. Cisneros' writes, "The house on Mango Street is ours, and we don't have to pay rent to anybody, or share the yard with the people downstairs, or be careful not to make too much noise, and there isn't a landlord banging on the ceiling with a broom." Esperanza and her family now have a "house" without the financial obligations that many socio-economic disadvantaged families must face. The textual evidence describes the hardships of living in a space that does not benefit a family of six or the self-regulations of being "careful not to make too much noise." This "freedom" of now having a space of her own, represents Esperanza's hope for her childhood.
However, the house becomes more of a stagnant and cultural necessity. Esperanza explains that before the house of Mango Street, "We didn't always live on Mango Street. Before that we lived on Loomis on the third floor, and before that we lived on Keeler. Before Keeler it was Paulina, and before that I can't remember. But what I remember most is moving a lot. Each time it seemed there'd be one more of us." For any family, the "American Dream" is the ideal, thus, owning a house, so that one can remain stagnant to built a life, is what Esperanza's family aspired to do. However, in their quest, Esperanza comes to the realization that the house of Mango Street, is not the dream house she desires. In fact, Esperanza points out the issues, highlighting her family's ultimate neccessity. Esperanza describes:
But the house on Mango Street is not the way they told it at all. It's small and red with tight steps in front and windows so small you'd think they were holding their breath. Bricks are crumbling in places, and the front door is so swollen you have to push hard to get in. There is no front yard, only four little elms the city planted by the curb. Out back is a small garage for the car we don't own yet and a small yard that looks smaller between the two buildings on either side. There are stairs in our house, but they're ordinary hallway stairs, and the house has only one washroom. Everybody has to share a bedroom—Mama and Papa, Carlos and Kiki, me and Nenny (9).
In this regard, the house itself, is stagnant, incapable of change and there for the necessity or convenience of those who need a secure place to stay. Esperanza, herself, highlights the outside appearance of the building with its "bricks...crumbling in places..." The house of Mango Street is not the symbolic American dream house, with a white picket fence and oversized yard. With Esperanza's realization comes a drive to eventually attain the house of her dreams. One that fits her and is not a need to relieve financial burdens. Instead, the house is reflective of the evident socio-economic burdens that many individuals face. This is clearly stated when Esperanza says, For the time being, Mama says. Temporary, says Papa. But I know how those things go" (10). Esperanza knows that financially, this house is not one that her family can move on from. It is a step toward a dream, but not the one that Esperanza sees fitting for herself. Esperanza desires " A real house. One I could point to. But this isn't it. The house on Mango Street isn't it." Ultimately, the house gives Esperanza hope that she will, one day, have a house that she can show with pleasure and happiness.