Last Updated on February 16, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1303
Esperanza discusses her likeness to Nenny. They don’t look too much alike, but they are similar in other ways, like their laughter. Esperanza describes how one day, when they were with Lucy and Rachel, they passed a house that reminded Esperanza of Mexico. Esperanza said that the house looked...
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Esperanza discusses her likeness to Nenny. They don’t look too much alike, but they are similar in other ways, like their laughter. Esperanza describes how one day, when they were with Lucy and Rachel, they passed a house that reminded Esperanza of Mexico. Esperanza said that the house looked “like Mexico,” and though Lucy and Rachel looked at her as if she were crazy, Nenny knew exactly what she meant.
Gil’s Furniture Bought & Sold
Esperanza describes Gil’s junk store, which she and Nenny often explore. Nenny once discovered a music box, which Gil started up for them. Though the box itself wasn’t pretty, the music mesmerized the girls. Nenny tried to buy the music box, but Gil said it wasn’t for sale.
Meme, whose real name is Juan, moved into Cathy’s house after she moved away. Esperanza describes Meme and his dog, who also has two names, and Meme’s house, which Cathy’s father built. His yard has a huge tree that the neighborhood children decided to use for a Tarzan jumping contest. Meme won the contest, but he broke both of his arms.
Louie, His Cousin & His Other Cousin
Louie, who lives downstairs from Meme, has a cousin, Marin, who lives with them and is always babysitting his little sisters. She can never come out, so she stands in the doorway, singing. Louie’s other cousin only came to Mango Street once. He rode up in a big fancy Cadillac and took Esperanza and others for a ride around and around the block. Then the police came, and Louie’s cousin ordered everyone out of the car. He tried to outrun the police but crashed in an alley too skinny for his Cadillac. The police handcuffed him and took him away.
Esperanza’s similarities to Nenny demonstrate that although two people may not look very much alike (have no visible similarity), they can be very much alike on a deeper and more profound level. The similarities that Esperanza points out are significant. First, their laughter: Both laugh “all of a sudden and surprised like a pile of dishes breaking” (a shattering, incidentally, of domestic wares). Second, they both share a past, a history—a sense of place and belonging in Mexico. Only the two of them know what Esperanza means when she says that the house “looks like Mexico.” In a sense they are both outsiders, for no one else knows what they mean, but they are also insiders, for they are the only ones who understand.
Gil’s store may be a “junk” store, but it is also a treasure shop, calling to mind the aphorism “one man’s shack is another man’s castle.” Esperanza and Nenny are too poor to buy much there, but they like to go there because they can see “all kinds of things.” Gil is a member of a minority group too, but of a different kind—he is Black, not Latinx, and this may explain why he “doesn’t talk too much.”
It is significant that the one thing Esperanza does buy from Gil is a miniature Statue of Liberty. The statue is perhaps the ultimate American symbol of independence. But even for a small replica of this statue, Esperanza must pay. It is significant that despite her poverty, she makes the purchase, indicating that she is willing to pay a price for her freedom.
The music box, too, is significant. Esperanza and Nenny are amazed at what comes out of the plain old wooden box. When Gil winds it up, “all sorts of things start happening.” The music triggers something in the sisters, making them both want to buy it. Esperanza, who perhaps understands the value of such a box, assumes that she can’t afford it, so she turns away and pretends not to care. She calls herself stupid, and Nenny too, for wanting something they can’t have. That the music sounds like marimbas suggests that the music reminds them of Mexico, something else they can’t have. Gil does not want to sell the music box; perhaps for him, too, the music connects him to a place in his past.
In “Meme Ortiz,” Cisneros returns to the issue of names. Meme’s real name is Juan, but he has apparently given himself another name, like Esperanza wants to do. Meme’s dog also has two names, one in English and one in Spanish, which demonstrates the bilingual world of these children. Cisneros paints a vivid picture of Meme and his dog and how they run with “limbs flopping all over the place like untied shoes.”
Esperanza’s description of the house that Cathy’s father built—slanted, crooked, and impractical (there are no closets)—reflects the way Cathy’s family dealt with Mango Street. It is impractical and off-balance to keep moving away from places like Mango Street, to keep avoiding those who are different.
Esperanza’s description of both the house and its yard, which is mostly dirt, reflects the poverty of the other families on Mango Street. Meme’s house isn’t the kind Esperanza dreams of, either. The one positive aspect of Meme’s house is the tree in his backyard, from which they can see most of the neighborhood and from which Esperanza’s house seems “smaller still,” sitting “with its feet tucked under like a cat.”
Cisneros, here and in many other vignettes, writes in “ungrammatical” constructions, like fragments. In the last paragraph of “Meme Ortiz,” this type of construction effectively sets Meme’s victory apart from his defeat: “Meme won. And broke both arms.” It also reflects Esperanza’s bilingualism, for in Spanish, it is grammatically correct to write a sentence without a subject. Translated into Spanish (“Meme gano. Y rompio los brazos”), this construction would be perfectly correct.
Louie’s large family—Louie, his parents, his sisters, and his cousin Marin—all live crowded in the basement apartment of Meme’s house. Marin is of particular interest. She’s a little older than Esperanza, or at least tries to look older. She dresses to go out in dark nylons and thickly layered make-up, but, like many other women in The House on Mango Street, she is stuck inside. Marin is always babysitting Louie’s little sisters, playing a traditional female role, but she feels trapped by it. She stands near the door of her “cage,” singing songs of love.
It is the story of Louie’s other cousin, however, that dominates the vignette. He drives up in a fancy, expensive Cadillac that has all the trimmings: a radio, automatic windows, and whitewalls. This is possibly the most extravagant car Esperanza and many of her neighbors had ever seen and certainly the nicest car Esperanza has ever ridden in. But the ride doesn’t last long, for Louie’s cousin is soon chased and arrested by the police. The fantasy is brief.
Although Esperanza never tells us why Louie’s cousin was arrested (perhaps she never knew), it is likely that Louie’s cousin did something illegal to obtain the car. Esperanza says “we all asked for a ride and asked where he got it,” but Louie’s cousin doesn’t answer the latter question. He also tries to outrun the police. Whether Louie’s cousin stole the car or earned the money for it some other way, the police were quick to track him down and arrest him. In the end, the car, like the fantasy of someone like Louie’s cousin (someone who is Latinx) owning such a car, ends up smashed: too big, it seems, to get out of Mango Street. Like Esperanza’s dreams, it is big enough to get in, but too big to get out.