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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In The House on Mango Street, what is the vignette entitled "The House on Mango Street" about?

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It is interesting how this opening vignette actually introduces some of the main themes of the novel as a whole. Let us consider how it does this. Key to the novel is the experiences of an immigrant Latino family living in the United States, coping with the variety of challenges that this presents. Note how Esperanza, the narrator, tells us about the previous accommodation and how they had to move:

We had to leave the flat on Loomis quick. The water pipes broke and the landlord wouldn't fix them because the house was too old. We had to leave fast. We were using the washroom next door and carrying water over in empty milk gallons.

Clearly the conditions for an immigrant family with a number of children are not great. However, note too how this vignette presents the idea of the American Dream and then the crushing reality. Esperanza has a very fixed idea of what their house that they would own would be like. Their vision is definitely influenced by images on the TV and pictures of nice white houses with trees around it. And yet, the house they finally own is nothing like "the way they told it." In spite of dreams of several bathrooms and bedrooms, there is only one bathroom and everyone shares one bedroom. The house is in such a dilapidated state that when a nun asks if it is the house where Esperanza lives, she can only nod:

There. I had to look to where she pointed--the third floor, the paint peeling, wooden bars Papa had nailed on the windows so we wouldn't fall out. You live there? The way she said it made me feel like nothing. There. I lived there. I nodded.

Note how the italics convey the surprise and shock at the living conditions in which Esperanza lives, and also indicates the way that a person is judged so much by the amount of money that they have and their accommodation. The way Esperanza is made to feel like "nothing" indicates her desire to find a "real" house and escape the community of Mango Street that will form such an important part of her childhood.

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