What is the theme of "Hairs" from The House on Mango Street, and what lines describe the vignette's tone?

One theme of "Hairs" from The House on Mango Street could be the relationship between a person’s hair and the individual. Esperanza says her hair “never obeys barrettes or bands.” Her rebellious hair seems to link to her nonconformist personality. As for tone, you might say that the first paragraph has a more buttoned-up tone and that the second paragraph has a more free-flowing tone.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This short vignette or prose poem combines several themes. One is the diversity within a single family. The parents and their four children may have various resemblances that allow outsiders to identify their relationship, but they all have different hair.

Another theme is the connection of the family members' hair to other attributes, such as age and character. Nenny's exasperating qualities as Esperanza's immature little sister are reflected in her "slippery" hair. Kiki, the youngest, has hair like a baby animal. Esperanza's description of her own hair is significant for its internal contradiction. She refers to her hair as "lazy" but then says that "it never obeys barrettes or bands." This disobedience is the opposite of laziness, suggesting that the hair has a mind of its own. It is as though Esperanza's dissatisfaction with herself is focused through her hair, leading her to accuse it of all possible faults. Her mother's hair, by contrast, has every possible aspect of maternal warmth within it.

The vignette begins with a terse rhyming couplet. Despite the fact that it is laid out as prose, the "hair/air" rhyme establishes a brisk rhythm, and the following sentences are also short, crisp, and declarative. The second paragraph is a complete contrast. The change is marked by the repeated initial phrase, "my mother's hair," beginning a paragraph that has the dreamlike quality of a steam of consciousness.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on October 5, 2020
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One theme could be the link between a person’s character and their hair. I would advise you to think about how Esperanza connects the different kinds of hair in her family to the different kinds of personalities in her family, including her own.

In the first paragraph, Esperanza describes her sister’s hair as “slippery.” That seems to align with her personality. One of Esperanza’s responsibilities is to keep an eye on her younger sister. She has to make sure she doesn’t wander off into trouble.

Another way in which hair connects to personality is with Esperanza herself. She says her own hair “never obeys barrettes or bands.” Esperanza’s rather rebellious hair seems to reflect her nonconformist personality. Later on, in the “Beautiful & Cruel” chapter, Esperanza declares that she “will not grow up tame” like some of the other girls in her neighborhood.

Another theme could be mothers—specifically Esperanza’s mother. You might want to note the fact that Esperanza’s mom gets an entire paragraph to herself. Meanwhile, her dad, her brothers and sisters, and herself are all put into one paragraph.

The special treatment seems to suggest that Esperanza has a particular love for her mother. You might have noticed that Esperanza favorably compares her to “the warm smell of bread.” Like bread, it’s almost as if Esperanza’s mom nourishes her or figuratively feeds her in a way that no other family member can.

As for tone, I think there’s two types of tones in the chapter. In the first paragraph, the tone seems more practical and efficient. The sentences are shorter. It’s like Esperanza has a checklist. She has to describe the hair of her dad, herself, and her brothers and sisters. She does so in a rather methodical, restrained tone.

In the second paragraph, the tone is less efficient and more melodious. The short sentences have been replaced with much longer ones. In my copy of the book, the first sentence goes on for more than seven lines. It seems like once Esperanza shifts to her mom, her tone shifts. It’s hard for her to be laconic about her mom. She loves her too much.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on October 5, 2020
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The vignette entitled "Hairs" concerns the various types of hair each of Esperanza's family members has. Esperanza describes her hair as being "lazy," while her mother's hair is depicted as beautiful and comforting. Esperanza compares her mother's hair to little rosettes and says that it makes her feel warm and comfortable inside when she puts her head against her mother's hair. The theme of this short vignette concerns family and individuality. Esperanza elaborates on the different style of hair each family member has, which makes her siblings and parents unique. Esperanza's comments about how her mother's hair brings her comfort and security also correspond to the theme of family. The fact that Esperanza views her hair as "lazy" illustrates her low self-esteem and negative view of herself.

One line that depicts the peaceful, calming tone is located towards the end of the vignette and takes place when Esperanza is describing her mother's hair. Esperanza writes, "...sweet to put your nose into when she [mother] is holding you, holding you and you feel safe" (Cisneros, 6). Esperanza smoothly describes the serene feeling of putting her head against her mother's hair as she mentions that it provides her with a feeling of security and safety.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The theme of the vignette "Hairs" is family, the differences in each member of Esperanza's family as evidenced by their hair, and the special place her mother holds as the family's center. 

The narrator spends the first half of this short piece describing the hair of her father, herself, and her siblings, and through her descriptions, she gives each member a distinct individuality and conveys a sense of what each person is like.  Esperanza then goes on to describe her mother's hair, emphasizing the matriarch's importance to the family unit by devoting as much space to writing about her as she has to the rest of the family put together.  In talking about her mother's hair, Esperanza evokes a tone of peace and security and love.  She says,

"my mother's hair, my mother's hair...sweet to put your nose into when she is holding you, holding you and you feel safe, (it) is the warm smell of bread before you bake it...you sleep near her...Papa snoring...the rain, and Mama's hair that smells like bread" (Hairs).

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial