Last Updated on May 17, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1063
The Family of Little Feet: Grandpa, Grandma, Baby, and Mother: a family in Esperanza’s neighborhood
Bum man: a drunkard outside the local tavern
Gloria: Nenny’s friend
Nun: the nun in charge of the canteen at Esperanza’s school
Sister Superior: the nun in charge at Esperanza’s school
The Family of Little Feet
Esperanza describes the small feet of a family in her neighborhood. The mother of that family gives Esperanza, Rachel, and Lucy three pairs of old high-heeled shoes.
Because the mother has small feet, the shoes fit the girls perfectly. They put on the shoes and take off their socks to reveal their legs. They walk down to the corner in the shoes, practicing how to walk in high heels. On the corner, the men stare at them, and Mr. Benny tells them such shoes “are dangerous.” He threatens to call the cops, but the girls run.
On the avenue, a boy makes a suggestive comment to them. Rachel asks Esperanza and Lucy if they like these shoes, and they all agree that they’re the best shoes of all. In front of the local bar, Rachel asks a drunk man on the stoop if he likes their shoes. He says yes and flatters Rachel, who is intoxicated by all the attention she has gotten in the shoes. He offers Rachel a dollar for a kiss, and she considers it. Lucy quickly pulls her away, and they run back to Mango Street where they take off the shoes and hide them.
A Rice Sandwich
Esperanza wants to eat lunch in the school’s canteen, where the “special kids,” the ones who can’t go home for lunch, eat. She begs her mother to write a note permitting her to stay in the canteen instead of walking home for lunch. Esperanza’s mother is reluctant because packing lunch is more work for her, but Esperanza is persistent and finally convinces her mother to write the note.
At lunch time the next day Esperanza is sent to Sister Superior who must approve of Esperanza’s request. Sister Superior tells Esperanza that she doesn’t live too far to walk and she shouldn’t eat at school. She tells Esperanza to come to the window to point out her house but doesn’t give Esperanza the chance to do so. Instead, Sister Superior points to the ugliest houses in the neighborhood and assumes Esperanza lives there. Esperanza, because she is upset, simply nods “yes” and begins to cry. Sister Superior lets Esperanza eat in the canteen that day only, and Esperanza cries while she eats a greasy, cold rice sandwich.
In “The Family of Little Feet,” the girls suddenly discover the power—and danger—of their sexuality. The high-heeled shoes make them look and feel like the women they will soon become. Sassy, young Rachel masters the art of strutting in the heels and teaches the others how to make their bodies and shoes “talk.”
Already elated by their self-discovery (they’ve just learned that they “have legs…good to look at, and long”), they are further buoyed by the stares of the men on the corner. Mr. Benny warns them of the dangers of such shoes, but the girls are drunk on the attention they’re getting—so drunk, in fact, that Rachel cannot recognize the lewdness of the bum man’s offer. Lucy and Esperanza do, however, and they run back to Mango Street “the back way,” afraid now of what the shoes have gotten them into. Clearly they do not know how to handle their newly discovered sexuality. They realize the “baggage” that comes along with a certain way of dressing and that those shoes, especially on ones so young, set up certain expectations and perceptions about the wearer’s experience and availability. That is why “no one complains” when Lucy’s mother throws the shoes away.
This vignette opens with vivid imagery describing the family of little feet. (Noticeably, there is no father in this family.) Grandpa’s feet are “fat and doughy like thick tamales”; Grandma’s are “lovely as pink pearls”; the baby’s are “pale see-thru like a salamander’s”; and the mother’s feet “descended like white pigeons.”
This focus on feet—on the part of our body that connects us to the ground—calls attention to a body part that we often overlook, but whose adornment can alter us greatly. That shoes so change the girls also reveals how much our dress determines how others treat and perceive us—and how we treat and perceive ourselves.
In “A Rice Sandwich,” Esperanza believes the kids in the canteen—because they wear keys around their necks—are special. “Even the name sounds important,” she says. In reality, the kids eat there because there is no one at home for them during the day or because they live too far away to walk. Esperanza, however, desperately wants to belong to something, and she sees not a sad group of latchkey children but a select group of children who get special treatment every day.
After she finally convinces her mother to write the permission note, Esperanza goes to school with a rice sandwich—they’re too poor to afford lunch meat. When Esperanza seeks permission from Sister Superior, however, her dreams of belonging are shattered. Sister Superior assumes Esperanza’s house is only a few blocks away, in the worst part of the neighborhood, in the houses that “even the raggedy men are ashamed to go into.” For Esperanza, it is bad enough that she lives on Mango Street; now Sister Superior assumes that she lives in even more shameful conditions. Esperanza doesn’t protest ; instead, she just nods and cries. This is because she feels as if she is condemned both by the reality of her house on Mango Street and the judgment of those who live outside the barrio. Even if she did point out the right house, she would still be ashamed.
Later, in the canteen, Esperanza doesn’t feel the way she had hoped to—she doesn’t feel like she belongs. Instead, the others watch her as she cries and eats her cold, greasy sandwich. She realizes that the canteen is, after all, “nothing special,” and she goes home ashamed of her ethnicity and more ashamed of her house and her poverty than ever.
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