The Poem

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 616

“The Blue Dress” consists of six short stanzas of brief lines in free verse. In spite of its brevity and informality, the poem successfully conveys a multitude of feelings. Cisneros looks at a young man’s breakup with his girlfriend, the events precipitating it, and his consequent anxiety and pain. The poet narrates the details of two final visits between the former lovers, suggesting metaphorically the distance and the lack of commonality the young man feels at separating from the woman for whom he had once felt a close bond but who now goes her way alone to wait out the final days of a pregnancy. The speaker of the poem is an observer uninvolved in the actions of the couple, so she identifies with both, understands the dynamics of their relationship, and urges the reader to meditate on the situation. By describing little more about the woman than the blueness of her dress, Cisneros makes her fuse with the horizon. Inherent in this fusion is a sadness about how the events of life have turned.

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In the first stanza the focus on the “curve of the belly” is the first clue to the details of the pregnancy that will be alluded to repeatedly. The emphasis is on external details, on objects: the bulging dress, the farewell, and the bouquet, all of which fuse and fade into the background. Nothing is stated directly about facial expressions, about feelings.The inexpensive (and possibly artificial) flowers from the “Five & Ten” (stores such as Woolworth, known for stocking myriad domestic products and clothing at inexpensive prices), point to the overall paucity or meagerness of the scene at all levels. The “you” referred to in the second stanza is the young man, who is living out the final details of his obligation to the young pregnant girl. His ambivalent emotions are made clear: “You . . .// Want to tell her that you love her/ You do not love her.”

In the next two stanzas one sees that each person lives in a different setting and world. They meet for a few hours on Sunday, each commuting to a common meeting place, going through the motions of socializing. Each offers a topic for conversation, but they no longer know the same places or the same people. The only moment of sharing occurs when she eats the food he cannot swallow because of his discomfort.

The last two stanzas seem to describe the final visit and parting. The woman has summoned him by letter, requesting that they meet at a museum, away from the residence for females, operated by nuns, where she is staying. The image of the whale exhibit in the museum parallels the gravid and sluggish image of the young woman’s final stages of pregnancy (the “curve” of her stomach has become a “swell”) as she arrives dressed again in the blue dress. Once again, the reader only perceives the appearance of the dress rather than a person with specific characteristics.

This rhetorical device of using the part to represent the whole (her blue eyes, her white skin), helps more to depict the situation than to portray characters and their sentiments, as would be more common in a lyric text. The poem describes the man as dressed formally, according to societal norms, wearing “your best suit/ and the tie your mother gave you,” signifying that this formal meeting is also only a polite ritual—more form than substance. No conversation, no details of sharing. The farewell and rupture become more definitive, as he purchases the airline ticket that will put even greater distance between the two. The speaker of the poem need say no more. This chapter is now closed.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 417

Sandra Cisneros began her writing career as a poet and continued to write poetry as she progressed into the writing of short stories. (In a later book of short prose, The House on Mango Street, 1983, one finds pithy stories in a prose so full of sound and visual images that they are akin to poems.) The reader senses that every word, every turn of phrase, is carefully chosen for sound, for metaphorical capacity, and for the image it can convey. “The Blue Dress” is among Cisneros’s earliest published work, written during her years in graduate school. It is the only poem in a brief chapbook entitled Bad Boys that does not reveal specific details of Cisneros’s Mexican American roots.

In this particular poem, the color blue of the dress is the dominant image. The color and garment evoke the image of the young woman. She is only a vague, fading image that fuses with the color of the surroundings, particularly the air (“blue wind”) and the horizon. The weight of the burden both people carry (their separation, single parenthood, guilt, imposed obligations, and the ruptured relationship) is in contrast to the poem’s brief, fragmentary lines, which are like brush strokes that barely suggest the essentials of the story. Cisneros’s style has been aptly described as minimalist.

The constant understatement of details serves to emphasize the impossibility of communication, reunion, or a positive outcome. The speaker takes the position of the young man as actor and observer. There is paucity at every moment, whether in the meagerness of the flowers, the lack of dialogue, the man’s lack of clear vision as he watches the approaching figure of the woman, or his oversight of surrounding details (“Someone offers his seat/ You never noticed”).

The tension mounts as the couple attempt to eat; the man does not know what to say, and when he speaks, he blurts out a statement about himself (his upcoming birthday). Both people seem to act as if directed by the norms and constraints of proper societal behavior. He wears the suit and tie given to him by his parents, the prescribed clothing for formal encounters. She, in turn, has only a few hours away from the rules of the institution and the nuns who house her. This portrait is dominated by the cool blue color of detachment, vagueness, and sadness. The blue and painful feelings of the protagonists and the situation are well represented by the repetition of the color.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 256

Brackett, Virginia. A Home in the Heart: The Story of Sandra Cisneros. Greensboro, N.C.: Morgan Reynolds, 2005.

Cisneros, Sandra. “The Authorized Sandra Cisneros Web Site.” http://www.sandracisneros.com/home .html.

Cisneros, Sandra. “From a Writer’s Notebook: Ghosts and Voices—Writing from Obsessions, Do You Know Me? I Wrote The House on Mango Street.” The Americas Review 15 (Fall/Winter, 1987): 69-73, 77-79.

Jussawalla, Ferosz, and Reed W. Dasenbrock, eds. Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1992.

Kevane, Bridget A., and Juanita Heredia. “A Home in the Heart—An Interview with Sandra Cisneros.” In Latina Self-Portraits: Interviews with Contemporary Women. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000.

Olivares, Julián. “Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street and the Poetics of Space.” In Chicana Creativity and Criticism: Charting New Frontiers in American Literature, edited by Maria Herrera-Sobek and Helena María Viramontes. Houston: Arte Publico Press, 1988.

Petty, Leslie. “The ’Dual’-ling Images of la Malinche and la Virgen de Guadelupe in Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street.” Melus 25 (Summer, 2000): 119-132.

Rodriguez-Aranda, Pilar E. “On the Solitary Fate of Being Mexican, Female, Wicked, and Thirty-Three: An Interview with Writer Sandra Cisneros.” The Americas Review 18 (Spring, 1990): 64-80.

Tompkins, Cynthia. “Sandra Cisneros.” In American Novelists Since World War II, 4th Series, edited by James and Wanda Giles. Vol. 152 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1995.

Valdéz, Maria Elena de. “The Critical Reception of Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street.” In Gender, Self, and Society, edited by Renate von Bartelben. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1993.

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Themes