The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

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In The House on Mango Street, what do the mice symbolize in the vignette of Alicia Who Sees Mice?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The mouse may also symbolize vigilance or alertness. In the vignette, we are not really told whether the mice exist or are merely the figments of Alicia's imagination.

What we do know is that Alicia works hard because she does not want to spend her whole life in a factory or behind a rolling pin. There is a sense of immediacy in the prose through the use of polysyndeton. Polysyndeton is the use of multiple conjunctions in close succession in a sentence. We can see this in the story:

Alicia, who inherited her mama's rolling pin and sleepiness, is young and smart and studies for the first time at the university.

In the above quote, the "rolling pin" represents domesticity and traditional femininity. Alicia is afraid that these will subtract from her happiness in life. So, as a mouse must be alert against threats to its existence, Alicia stays alert to the threat of poverty and what she considers unvarying tedium in her life. In the above quote, we learn that Alicia is young and smart. She is also ambitious, being the first in her family to study at the local university.

The mice also represent the threat of poverty, of course. Alicia believes that education will be her ticket out of poverty. She watches and bides her time. Concurrently, she studies and makes an effort to better herself. She takes two trains and a bus to school every day. Alicia's determination to stay "alive," so to speak, mirrors the determination of mice that must remain vigilant in a human world.

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In "Alicia Who Sees Mice," the mice represent Alicia's poverty:

"Alicia Who Sees Mice" is a young woman burdened by taking care of her family while attending college in order to escape her way of life in the barrio. She is only afraid of mice, which serve as a metaphor for her poverty.

She lives in a broken down home. The floors are "swollen floorboards nobody fixes." The mice run around at night while Alicia is studying. She is afraid of the "foor-legged fur." In reality, Alicia is afraid of her poverty-stricken life. She stays awake at night studying so that she can earn a college degree to help her escape the poverty she lives in.

While studying at night, the mice crawl about, interrupting Alicia's studies. She dreads seeing the mice. Her father who is not supportive of her studies tells her to close her eyes and sleep. Then the mice will go away. Of course, he is sexist and believes that she, as a woman, is to do two things: sleep and rise early to make tortilla lunches for her siblings.

Alicia overcomes of fears and attends college, even though she has to take two trains and a bus to get there. She is determined to rise above her poverty-stricken situation, which the mice symbolize.

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