Last Updated on May 17, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1180
Geraldo: a young man Marin meets at a dance
Ruthie: Edna’s daughter
Earl: the man who lives in Edna’s basement
Earl’s “wife”: the different women Earl brings home
Sire: a neighborhood boy
Lois: Sire’s girlfriend
Geraldo No Last Name
Marin meets Geraldo, a young Hispanic man, at a dance. He dies later that evening in a hit-and-run accident. No one seems to know anything about him, and no one seems to understand why Marin is so upset if she only met him that evening. Geraldo was a wetback, a temporary and probably illegal immigrant worker who didn’t speak any English and didn’t have any identification. No one even knew his last name or where he lived. No one, in fact, knew that he worked hard and sent his money home to his family. Those he left behind in his native country will never know what happened to him.
Ruthie, Edna’s daughter, is the only “grown-up” Esperanza knows who “likes to play.” She laughs to herself, whistles beautifully, and is frightened inside stores. She has the ability to see beauty in common and unusual things, but she is also very indecisive. Once her mother’s friends invited her to join them for some bingo. Ruthie couldn’t decide whether or not to go, and after 15 minutes they left without her.
Ruthie says she is married, and Esperanza can’t understand why Ruthie is with her mother on Mango Street if she has a house and a husband outside the city. Ruthie keeps telling Esperanza that her husband is coming to get her, but he never comes.
The Earl of Tennessee
Earl rents the basement apartment in Edna’s building next door. He works at night, has a large record collection, and often gives records away to Esperanza and her friends. The neighbors say Earl has a wife, but those who’ve seen her don’t seem to be describing the same woman.
Esperanza notices that Sire, a boy from her neighborhood, has been watching her. Once she returned his stare and it made her feel wonderful to have someone look at her “like that.” Her parents tell her to stay away from him because he’s a “punk.”
Then Esperanza sees Sire with his girlfriend, Lois. She watches them together and wonders what they do when they’re alone. Esperanza expresses a desire to explore her sexuality, to do “bad” things instead of just thinking about them.
“Geraldo” is the tragic story of the death of an immigrant. Geraldo, whom Marin meets at a dance, is young, “pretty,” and works in a restaurant. That’s all Marin knows of him.
Because Marin is so upset by Geraldo’s death, those investigating the accident have a hard time believing that’s all Marin knows about him and that they only just met that evening. They are surprised that Marin stayed “for hours and hours, for somebody she didn’t even know.”
Though it is possible that Marin had met Geraldo before, the more likely conclusion is that Marin is upset because Geraldo is Hispanic, like her, and his death will go unmourned. They ask Marin “What does it matter?” But it does matter. To the authorities, who see Geraldo as “just another wetback,” his death is meaningless. Because he is Hispanic and because he appears to be an illegal alien (he has no identification), his death may even be welcome to them.
But in Marin’s eyes, Geraldo represents the thousands of braceros and wetbacks who, like Geraldo, have come to the United States to find work and a better life for themselves and their families. Esperanza imagines the tiny rooms Geraldo rented and the money he sent home to his family. She also imagines his family back home thinking that he’d deserted them, wondering why they never heard from him again. His life and work, in short, will go unappreciated. He dies slandered as a wetback rather than respected as a hardworking, family-oriented young man.
Ruthie is unique among the characters that populate Mango Street. She is the “only grown-up who still likes to play,” but not because she has a childlike disposition. Rather, it seems, Ruthie has some sort of disability that has left her stuck at a certain age of emotional development. Ruthie just appeared one day, Esperanza says, which may suggest she had been in an institution of some sort. While this is somewhat speculative, what is certain is that the husband Ruthie talks of either does not exist or has abandoned her.
Ruthie has a difficult time functioning in society: She is petrified by stores and decisions and has a rather short attention span. She is special to Esperanza because, like a child, she “sees lovely things everywhere.” She also shares Esperanza’s passion for books, but she cannot read them. She seems to have several ailments that she never takes care of, so it’s unclear if they are real or imaginary.
Earl is another interesting character. Like Ruthie, he is not thematically significant, but he is interesting all the same. He lives in an apartment that smells of “mold and dampness, like books that have been left out in the rain.” His dogs don’t just walk; they “leap and somersault like an apostrophe and comma.” These descriptions, in which Esperanza uses two similes that refer to writing, show how important words and writing are in Esperanza’s world.
The most interesting thing about Earl is not him but his “wife.” Everyone who has seen her gives a different account of what she looks like. Though no one directly says it, Earl’s “wife” is no wife at all but rather a series of women he brings home, women who “never stay long.” They always “walk fast into his apartment,” perhaps because Edna, who is notorious for evicting tenants, just might evict Earl for such questionable behavior.
Sire is the “punk” who awakens Esperanza’s sexual desire. She notices him looking at her and his look makes her “blood freeze.” She watches Lois, the kind of girl who goes “into alleys,” with interest to see what it is about her that Sire likes.
Esperanza is at the age where she is “waiting to explode”—she’s ready to experiment, to discover. She wants to be out there with the boys, but she is on the “wrong” side—inside, not outside; imagining, not doing. The closing questions lead Esperanza into a daydream about what it would be like to kiss Sire, which suggests that Esperanza has not yet been kissed by a boy.
In this vignette, “the trees” are mentioned twice. First, they talk to themselves, saying “wait, wait, wait.” The message, however, is clearly for Esperanza, who should wait before she decides to do the kind of things she dreams about with someone like Sire. Second, Esperanza spends her evenings “talking to the trees” outside her window instead of to the boys on the street. These trees are the four skinny trees of the next vignette.
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