The House on Mango Street Summary
The House on Mango Street is a collection of vignettes by Sandra Cisneros that explores Esperanza’s perspectives on the residents of Mango Street, a predominately Latino neighborhood. Esperanza is embarrassed by her family’s house, but she eventually embraces the neighborhood as part of her identity.
- Esperanza is new to Mango Street, and she lives with her family in a small and rundown house.
- Esperanza meets a variety of interesting characters, including the Three Sisters, who tell her fortune. She realizes that her experiences on Mango Street have shaped her identity and that it will always be with her, even if she leaves.
Last Updated on January 6, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 800
Esperanza and her family (Papa; Mama; her two brothers, Carlos and Kiki; and her sister Nenny) have moved around from rented house to rented house, until they were able to acquire their own home on Mango Street. Esperanza is the narrator of a series of vignettes about the street and its inhabitants, whom she observes closely and some of whom she befriends. Most, like Esperanza, are from a Latin American background. The white Cathy, whose house is full of cats, gossips about her neighbors and complains that the street is getting worse because families like Esperanza’s are moving in. Lucy and Rachel, two sisters with whom Esperanza clubs together to buy a bicycle, are friendlier. She also befriends Marin, an older, more sophisticated girl from Puerto Rico, who teaches her beauty secrets and talks about boys.
Mango Street is a poor neighborhood, but it is not dangerous, and Esperanza speaks with contempt of the strangers who are foolish enough to be frightened when they go there, though she feels similar fear when she goes to places that are strange to her. Many of the young people are unruly and unsupervised, like the many children of Rose Vargas, while others, like Alicia, have to work hard at domestic chores and study at the same time. The games Esperanza plays with her friends have a fluid quality, as they quickly become bored. They might begin by talking about the different words for snow and clouds, and end by calling each other names. As they jump rope, the girls talk about the development of their hips and make up rhymes on the subject. One day, a woman gives them a bag of old shoes, and they practice being adults, walking on high heels, but soon grow tired of this activity.
As she grows older, Esperanza has troubling glimpses of the adult world. When they are playing with the shoes, a vagrant approaches Rachel and asks her for a kiss. Later, when Esperanza has her first job, an older man makes the same request of her, claiming that it is his birthday. When she is about to kiss his cheek, he twists her face around and kisses her hard on the mouth. Esperanza also sees the pain and drudgery in her parents’ lives. When her grandfather dies, her father breaks down in tears, and she thinks for the first time about what it would be like to lose him.
Esperanza describes her Aunt Lupe, who was seriously ill and dies on the same day that the children play a game imitating her, making Esperanza think that she (Esperanza) may be going to hell. She has her fortune told by Elenita, the witch woman, but is disappointed by the vague prediction that she will have “a home in the heart,” when what she wants is a physical home away from Mango Street. She develops an interest in a boy called Sire, who stares at her whenever she passes his house, and imagines what it would be like to hold him and kiss him. Esperanza continually notices that the women on Mango Street lead severely restricted lives, while the men can do whatever they like. Her neighbor Earl brings a series of women back to his apartment, while Mamacita, across the street, never leaves the house, and Rafaela, a beautiful young woman, is locked up by her jealous husband.
Esperanza makes friends with Sally, a beautiful, sophisticated girl who is popular with the boys and is the subject of a great deal of gossip. Sally’s father is very strict, and Esperanza later discovers that he beats her. Minerva, who is only slightly older than Esperanza but is already married with two children, is similarly abused by her husband, who keeps leaving her but always returns. Like Esperanza, Minerva writes poems, and they show their work to each other.
As she grows older and witnesses the lives of the women around her, Esperanza becomes increasingly eager to escape from Mango Street. She knows that she will not achieve this through marriage; she is not beautiful, and her early sexual experiences are painful and distressing. When Sally leaves her alone at a carnival, a boy molests and perhaps rapes her. Esperanza’s mother encourages her to study and use education as a means of escape. Sally marries young, and Esperanza is confirmed in her view that this is a mistake when her husband proves to be jealous and controlling, refusing to allow Sally to entertain her friends, talk on the telephone, or even look out of the window of their house. Esperanza wants nothing more than to have a house of her own but knows that Mango Street will always be a part of her and that she will come back for those who cannot leave.