Last Updated on May 17, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1143
Davey the Baby, his sister and brother: residents of Esperanza’s neighborhood
Fat Boy: a resident of Esperanza’s neighborhood
Eddie, Refugia, Efren, Angel, and the other Vargas kids: residents of Esperanza’s neighborhood and children of Rosa Vargas
Rosa Vargas: a resident of Esperanza’s neighborhood and a single mother
Esperanza describes Marin, who is secretly engaged to a boy in Puerto Rico. Marin sells Avon products and is trying to save up money for her marriage. She will probably be sent back to Puerto Rico next year by Louie’s parents, but Esperanza hopes not because Marin is her source of gossip and feminine advice. Marin is always babysitting, but even when she’s not she is forbidden to leave the property. At night, Marin escapes to the front of the house so the boys can see her. Sometimes she dances alone under the street light, but always, it seems, she is waiting.
Those Who Don’t
Esperanza notes that people “who don’t know any better” expect her neighborhood to be dangerous, and they are afraid. But those who live on and near Mango Street know better, because they know each other and are comfortable in a neighborhood where everyone is “brown.” Esperanza admits, however, that when they—the “brown” people—go into a neighborhood of a different color, they, too, are afraid.
There Was an Old Woman She Had So Many Children She Didn’t Know What to Do
Rosa Vargas, one of Esperanza’s neighbors, has too many children—many more than she can handle. Her husband left her without an explanation and without any money. The children are reckless and disrespectful. The neighbors have gotten tired of worrying about the Vargas children and have given up trying to guide them. Now the neighbors are indifferent when the Vargas children hurt themselves, even when Angel Vargas kills himself one day while “learn[ing] to fly.”
Marin is a young woman who wants to grow up fast and is waiting for an opportunity to escape Mango Street. She is trapped inside all day and at night is allowed to go only as far as the front yard. Her boundaries are clear, yet within her boundaries, she rebels. She smokes, wears make-up and short skirts, flirts unflinchingly with the neighborhood boys, and dances alone under the streetlight. She also serves as a source of feminine “wisdom” for the other girls since she is a bit older. She plans to marry her boyfriend if she goes back to Puerto Rico, and, if not, to marry a nice man she’ll meet on the subway, someone who’ll take her “to live in a big house far away” from Mango Street, babysitting, and boundaries. What Marin doesn’t realize is that marriage brings with it its own boundaries, both figurative and literal.
Still Marin waits, Esperanza says, “for a car to stop, a star to fall, someone to change her life.” Marin is waiting for someone else to take her away, for someone else to change her life, instead of making the change on her own. Unless she herself makes the change, she will spend the rest of her life waiting for the next car, the next star, the next someone.
In “Those Who Don’t,” the novel’s second shortest vignette, Esperanza addresses two of the largest themes of the novel: stereotyping and prejudice. Esperanza notices that people “who don’t know any better”—non-Hispanics—are afraid in Esperanza’s neighborhood. They assume that because Hispanics are “different,” they are dangerous and ready to attack strangers who enter their neighborhood. But Esperanza knows better. She knows, for example, who Fat Boy and Eddie Vargas are, and she knows they are not dangerous people. Her familiarity with the people in the neighborhood—and the color of the people in her neighborhood—takes away Esperanza’s fear. Were “those who don’t know better” to spend some time in her neighborhood, they would no longer be afraid.
Esperanza acknowledges this prejudice against her neighborhood, and though it makes her sad, she is not angry about it. For she realizes that she, too, is guilty of the same thing. Unfortunately, color seems to be what draws the boundaries in the neighborhoods around Mango Street. When Esperanza leaves the familiar sight of brown faces and enters “into a neighborhood of another color,” she, too, is frightened. Esperanza calls those who are afraid in her neighborhood “stupid people,” but she is guilty of the same “stupidity.” She acknowledges the sad fact that this is, unfortunately, a part of human nature, something that has happened before, is happening now, and will continue to happen—“That is how it goes and goes.” The hope is that Esperanza will learn that if others needn’t be afraid in her neighborhood, she needn’t be afraid in theirs. But perceptions are hard to change, and prejudice dies hard.
Rosa Vargas and her children are ideal messengers for a number of ideas. First, the plight they’re in reflects the plight of women (to whom the book is dedicated), particularly women who are abandoned and/or abused by their husbands. Not only does Rosa’s husband leave her, but he also leaves without an explanation, without leaving money for his family, and apparently with no thought about the children. Though he’s fathered so many, he refuses to take responsibility for them.
As a result, the story is not the nursery rhyme the title suggests, but a tragedy. Rosa is too poor and exhausted to take care of the children properly, and they grow up “without respect for all things living, including themselves.” They risk their well-being and even their lives on silly stunts and “play.” Angel, in fact, dies when he falls—or jumps—from a building or treetop. Even with Angel’s death no one in the neighborhood seems to care—and therein lies the tragedy. Because of the children’s utter disrespect not only for their neighbors but also for themselves, because of their disregard for anyone who tries to help them, the neighbors give up and stop worrying about and trying to protect the Vargas children. Angel falls to his death “without even an ‘Oh’,” and his death, sadly, will draw little more than an “Oh” from the neighbors, who have chosen, perhaps out of a sense of emotional self-preservation, not to care.
This vignette is an indictment of men like Rosa’s husband, who deny their responsibility to their children and families and who, by leaving, make their children feel unwanted and unloved. It is no wonder the Vargas children have no respect for themselves—one of the people who is supposed to care for them most has deserted them, and the other is too overwhelmed with work, poverty, and grief to give them proper care.
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