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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When do race and gender come into conflict in The House on Mango Street? Does one triumph as the more important concern, or do both issues receive equal consideration?

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The conflict between gender and race seems to center around the fact that misogyny is embedded in the machismo of Esperanza's Latino culture. In the third vignette, Esperanza discusses how she sees this gender inequality early in her life.

The boys and girls live in separate worlds. The boys in...

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their universe and we in ours. My brothers for example. They've got plenty to say to me and Nenny inside the house. But outside they can't be seen talking to girls.

Not only do the girls see the difference at a young age, the boys are also aware of the unspoken rules in their culture regarding gender; girls are not spoken to in public.

Esperanza also faces racism because of the stereotypes that others have regarding Latinos—for example, that they are all in gangs and carry knives.

Those who don't know any better come into our neighborhood scared. They think we're dangerous. They think we will attack them with shiny knives. They are stupid people who are lost and got here by mistake.

Esperanza faces discrimination and oppression not only from those outside of her culture, but from within her own culture as well, leaving her soul doubly wounded.

In the vignette "The Family of Little Feet," Esperanza and her friends are playing dress-up with a selection of high-heeled shoes that they received from their neighbor when they suddenly become aware that grown men in their neighborhood are noticing them in a prurient way. Mr. Benny, the grocer, says,

"Your mother know you got shoes like that? Who give you those? ... Them are dangerous," he says.

Esperanza soon learns that even a woman's clothing has a different meaning than a man's clothing. She learns the lesson early that what she wears has unspoken rules.

It is her own culture that promotes gender stereotypes and misogyny, and this is what creates the conflict for Esperanza.

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In The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, the conflict of race/culture and gender recurs often. Primarily, Cisneros writes about the intersection between Mexican-American culture and gender. Esperanza, the narrator/protagonist of the vignettes, is a young girl at the start of the stories, and her race and culture color her interaction with both men and women.

The conflict within the stories generally derives from the machismo culture that is pervasive in the barrio where Esperanza lives. Esperanza mostly focuses on the battles she faces because of her gender in the book, but race/culture is also a key factor in these conflicts. However, Esperanza does not analyze the impact of race on her struggles because her race and culture are generally things she is living in and through, rather than things she is struggling against.

For Esperanza, the struggle of being a woman is generally embedded in struggling against a set of stereotypes that exist in her culture. Mainly, she is supposed to act a certain way; she is not supposed to pursue reading and writing. Despite this, she flouts the expectations people hold of her and reads and writes continuously.

She explains that she will rule her own life and make her own choices, choosing to find her way within her Mexican culture. She writes about her struggle to define herself as a woman in the vignette "Beautiful & Cruel":

I have begun my own quiet war. Simple. Sure. I am the one who leaves the table like a man, without putting back the chair or picking up the plate.

Esperanza's struggle with gender roles within her cultural community is far more central to the story than her struggle with understanding her place as a Mexican in America is. Her decision to do as a man does shows how she is struggling to create her own sense of gender identity that goes against prescribed gender norms within the her community.

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The book is filled with references to both race and gender. The two often go hand in hand. I'm not sure I'd say they "come in conflict". Gender, definatly seems the more important issue. Race is only a conflict in one or two vignettes ("Those Who Don't"). Race, in particular hispanic culture, are more of a character in the book than a conflict. A few cultural and language barriers arrise as conflicts, but they tend to be small in comparison to the sexual/gender conflicts.

A third theme that comes up frquently and is closely related to these two, is poverty.

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Gender: In general, Cisneros paints hispanic men in a negative light. She paints most hispanic men in the novel as abusive, cheaters who hold "their women" back. One exception to this is Esperanza's father, he however, is rarely home, and when he is, he sleeps.

A few women are painted as strong and determined to "make it", i.e. Esperanza and Alice Most, however, are co-dependant and in relationships that are abusive. i.e. Sally, Minerva, Rafaela, Ruthie

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