What are some symbols in The House on Mango Street?

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One of the symbols in Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street is shoes. At least twice in the novel, shoes are mentioned as representing one's inner self and the conflict which can arise as a result of one's desire to be something she or he is not.

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One of the symbols in Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street is shoes. At least twice in the novel, shoes are mentioned as representing one's inner self and the conflict which can arise as a result of one's desire to be something she or he is not.

At one point in the text, Esperanza, along with two of her friends, receives a few pairs of old high heels. While all of the girls believe the heels make them feel older and look more mature, none of the girls appreciate the attention that comes with wearing them. As they try them on and decide to walk around in them, they come to realize that the feelings of maturity and adulthood do not always bring about positive things. Some men begin harassing the girls by calling out rudely to them. In order to escape the harassment, the girls discard the shoes and, with them, they leave behind their early attempt at womanhood.

At another point in the novel, Esperanza is going to a party and is wearing some new clothes. Yet, she is forced to wear her old shoes. Her embarrassment over the clashing of old and new, in the form of shoes, forces her to make the choice not to dance with a boy she likes. It seems that, at least for Esperanza, the shoes make the woman.

Even later, Esperanza feels jealous about Sally's new shoes, desiring them in the same way that she desires entering womanhood. Yet once again, Esperanza finds herself in inner conflict: while she wants to be mature and a woman, she is not ready for the other types of conflict which arise from sexual maturity.

The symbolism of shoes tends to hit home for many preadolescent and adolescent girls. As children, many young girls (and sometimes young boys) like to try on their mother's heels. These heels symbolize maturity and sexual attraction. The use of the heels as a symbol for womanhood helps readers connect with the 12-year-old character of Esperanza (the intent of most bildungsroman authors).

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Since the novel is about a girl's understanding of self and unlocking the keys to her emerging and evolving identity, it's going to be hard to pick out symbols because as she grows up, most anything and everything have symbolic meaning.  Certainly, language is one symbol.  Esperanza understands the symbolic quality of language and voice.  In not understanding English, the symbolic meaning is that one is placed at a distinct disadvantage in America.  At the same time, this cultural disadvantage might be symbolic as it silences voices, making them unable to be heard.  Esperanza understands this early on, which might feed into the powerful meaning of becoming a writer.  Pay attention to how language/ voice are symbolic of something more in the book.  The House itself is both a symbol of poverty and identity.  While it does represent poverty, it also serves a source of strength for Esperanza as it gives birth to her dreams, but also inspires her to understand from where to where she has come as she understands her own sense of self in greater detail.  Her name is also symbolic, meaning "hope."

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