Last Updated on May 17, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1336
Aunt Guadalupe (Aunt Lupe): Esperanza’s invalid aunt
Frank and Totchy: Aunt Lupe’s children
Elenita: a fortune teller in Esperanza’s neighborhood
Ernie: Elenita’s son
Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark
Esperanza’s father wakes her up early one morning to tell her that her grandfather has died. She is the first child he tells because she is the oldest, and she will have to tell the others. Esperanza wonders what she would do if she lost her father, who is always up and off to work before they even wake up. She has never seen him cry before, and she takes him into her arms and holds him.
Esperanza claims that she’ll probably go to hell and that she deserves to go because she was “born on an evil day” and because she, Rachel, and Lucy made fun of her Aunt Lupe, an invalid, who died soon after.
Aunt Lupe had been sick for a long time, but from old photographs Esperanza knew Aunt Lupe used to be strong and pretty. Esperanza wonders why Aunt Lupe was chosen to “go bad” and acknowledges the indiscriminate nature of disease.
Esperanza, Lucy, and Rachel liked Aunt Lupe. Esperanza often read library books to her aunt. Once, Esperanza recalls with shame, she tried to show Aunt Lupe a picture in one of her books. She didn’t realize that Aunt Lupe was blind.
Aunt Lupe also listened to Esperanza’s own stories and poems, and she encouraged Esperanza to keep writing. Still, they had become so used to Aunt Lupe’s illness that it was “easy” to imitate her in their mimicking game.
Elenita, Cards, Palm, Water
Esperanza goes to Elenita’s house to get her fortune told. Esperanza, who has been there before, fills up a glass with water for Elenita to look into. Elenita also reads Esperanza’s palm and a deck of cards. She tells Esperanza’s fortune: She will go to a wedding soon, and she has lost an anchor of arms. Esperanza asks Elenita about a house, because that’s what she really wants to know. Elenita answers that Esperanza will find “a home in the heart.” Esperanza doesn’t understand what this means.
Often it is difficult for us to accept that someone we love has died, and sometimes the loss doesn’t become real for us until we articulate it to others. That is what happens with Esperanza’s father, the “brave” man who suddenly “crumples like a coat and cries” when he tells Esperanza about his father.
Esperanza’s father has not been a prominent figure in the novel thus far (her mother has been a much stronger presence), but we realize, as does Esperanza, that her father is very important to her. He may be macho (this is the first time Esperanza has seen him cry), but he is also a hard worker. Every morning he “wakes up tired” and leaves before the children awake, already off to work a long, demanding day that leaves him exhausted. Though he is macho, he doesn’t seem to believe in machismo—he doesn’t imprison his daughter or wife like other men in the novel do.
The death of someone else’s father makes Esperanza realize—as death so often does—how much her own father means to her. She must also realize she is lucky to have the kind of father she has.
In “Born Bad,” Esperanza tells the story of the death of someone else who was very important to her. “Born Bad” is one of the longest vignettes in The House on Mango Street and also one of the most descriptive. It is the only vignette that includes a sample of Esperanza’s poetry.
Esperanza draws a sharp contrast between the Aunt Lupe that was—the strong, pretty, “[g]ood to look at” swimmer—and the Aunt Lupe that is: a sickly, blind “little oyster, a little piece of meat on an open shell.” Esperanza feels a great deal of guilt for making fun of Aunt Lupe, especially because Aunt Lupe died soon afterwards; but her reason for telling this story is not to absolve herself of the guilt. Rather, she is trying to understand why Aunt Lupe had been chosen to “go bad” in the first place.
The cause of Aunt Lupe’s illness is speculative at best—Esperanza provides many “maybe’s” and some “might have been’s”—but “[there] was no evil in her birth.” Esperanza comes to the remarkably mature and accurate conclusion that “diseases have no eyes. They pick with a dizzy finger anyone, just anyone.” Some people may, of course, be more predisposed to certain illnesses than others, but Esperanza recognizes that no matter how good we are or how careful we are, nothing can protect us from the random nature of disease.
Esperanza realizes that Aunt Lupe had been a positive force in her life. She had always listened to Esperanza read, whether the stories and poems were Esperanza’s own or from the library. More importantly, Aunt Lupe is the only character so far who encouraged Esperanza to write.
Esperanza’s poem reflects her desire to be someone else, her dissatisfaction with herself (“but I’m me,” she laments). She desires to be “like the waves on the sea,/like the clouds in the wind,” two natural forces that are ever moving and changing. Waves and clouds are constantly redefining themselves, always shifting their shape and altering their movements. Esperanza doesn’t want to be held to one way of being.
Aunt Lupe encourages Esperanza to keep writing—in fact, she tells Esperanza, “you must keep writing. It will keep you free.” Though Esperanza confesses she didn’t know what Aunt Lupe meant at the time, this book is evidence that she eventually understood. Aunt Lupe knew the power that words, shaped into stories and poems, have to keep us free from what hurts and haunts us.
The vignette concludes with a cryptic “And then we began to dream the dreams.” There is no further reference to these dreams, so the reader is left to decide on his or her own what Esperanza means. The dreams are likely dreams about Aunt Lupe, dreams brought on by guilt. Esperanza’s guilt is, of course, heightened by the fact that her mother is superstitious. Her mother claims Esperanza was born “on an evil day,” so it is likely that she fears some sort of retribution for what they did to Aunt Lupe.
Esperanza has inherited some of her mother’s superstition and is a regular customer of Elenita, the “witch woman.” Elenita’s homemade brand of fortune-telling (for example, “reading” warm tap water in a glass with a beer slogan on it) suggests at first that she may be something of a quack, but her fortune is more accurate than Esperanza could have hoped for. Esperanza doesn’t—and perhaps the reader doesn’t—understand the significance of “a home in the heart” at first, but this phrase is the key to Esperanza’s happiness.
Esperanza’s greatest longing since the beginning of the novel has been for a house of her own, a house of which she will be proud rather than ashamed. Elenita’s fortune suggests that Esperanza’s house will not be a house outside of her, one that Esperanza will inhabit, but rather a house inside of her. Compared to Elenita’s superstitious remedies like rubbing “a cold egg across your face” to get rid of a headache and her cliche fortune “You will go to a wedding soon,” this is remarkably insightful. It is only within her heart—within herself—that Esperanza will find her true home. A “real” house is not something material, but rather something spiritual: A home in the heart means being at home with, comfortable with, one’s self and one’s identity. When one’s home is in the heart, one can be “at home” anywhere.
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