Last Updated on May 17, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 965
Mamacita and her husband: neighbors who live across the street from Esperanza
Four Skinny Trees
Esperanza describes the four skinny trees outside her window. The trees, she says, are the only ones who understand her, and she is the only one who understands them. Like her, they have been put on Mango Street where they don’t belong. The trees are skinny but strong, with deep roots, and they talk to Esperanza while she sleeps. When she feels weak, she gains strength by looking at the trees.
No Speak English
Mamacita, the obese wife of the man across the street, finally comes from somewhere in Latin America to be with her husband. He had worked very hard to earn enough money to bring her and their son to Mango Street. Mamacita is so big that they literally have to push and pull her out of the taxicab.
After her arrival, however, no one sees Mamacita outside anymore. Some say she doesn’t come out because she’s too fat, others because there’s too many stairs to climb; but Esperanza thinks it’s because Mamacita can’t speak English. Mamacita just sits inside by the window and sings songs about her native country. She is very sad and wants to go home. Her husband gets very angry about this because to him, Mango Street is home. He urges her to learn English, but she won’t. Her heart breaks when their child learns to speak English by watching TV.
The four skinny trees are a source of inspiration for Esperanza. More than any person or thing so far in the novel, the four trees give Esperanza strength and encouragement. This is because Esperanza sees herself in them, and them in her. The likeness is more than physical. Though they also have “skinny necks and pointy elbows,” the other similarities are more significant.
Like Esperanza, the trees do not belong on Mango Street. They belong somewhere else, somewhere better, somewhere with more room to grow; but, like Esperanza, they have been put on Mango Street against their will. Though they are skinny, they are strong—strong enough to grow even though they are surrounded by concrete instead of grass. Likewise, Esperanza is strong enough to grow in an environment in which she is restricted by her race, class, and gender.
What makes the trees—and Esperanza—strong is their roots, which are an important symbol. The trees’ roots are “ferocious,” and the trees “grow up and they grow down and grab the earth between their hairy toes and bite the sky with violent teeth and never quit their anger.” The trees hold on to earth and reach for the sky with all the strength that Esperanza holds on to her ¬anger—anger at being surrounded by the concrete that is Mango Street.
There are four trees, but they are all of one piece. If one tree “forget[s] his reason for being, they’d all droop.” All four must work to keep the others strong. Though Esperanza may not understand this yet, the trees are like the ideal community: the weakness of one weakens them all, for they are all one being. The trees understand that the welfare of the others is important to the welfare of each tree in the community and that they are all responsible for the welfare of the others.
The trees are also Esperanza’s teachers. “Keep, keep, keep,” they tell her: keep fighting, keep dreaming, keep reaching. When Esperanza feels overwhelmed by her poverty and her lack of freedom, she looks to the trees as an example of this keeping. The trees keep growing and reaching, despite their obstacles. This is their inspiration. They remind Esperanza to keep reaching, both up and down—into the future and into the past. Like the roots below nourish the tree branches that reach into the sky, Esperanza’s roots—both her immediate and distant past (her heritage)—are strong, and they provide Esperanza with the strength to keep reaching.
Significantly, no matter how high a tree may reach, it is always connected to its roots; if severed from them, it will die. Esperanza has to realize that if she tries to break her ties to Mango Street completely, her dreams, too, will perish.
Though the vivid image of an immense Mamacita being pushed and pulled out of a taxicab is humorous, the message in “No Speak English” is a serious one. Mamacita’s husband had been in the United States for a long time before she arrived. He worked two jobs to save enough money for his family to join him. No matter how much Mango Street has become a home to him, however, it is a foreign place for Mamacita, who doesn’t speak English. Unable to communicate with the world around her, she feels alien, isolated. It is impossible to feel at home under such circumstances.
Mamacita could learn the language, but she won’t. She refuses to accept this as her new home, to accept the fact that she is no longer in her native country. She remains inside, homesick, stuck on Mango Street. Like the other women before her, she is trapped, but not only physically. Mamacita is trapped linguistically, which keeps her physically isolated, as well, because she won’t come out.
It is hard to blame Mamacita’s husband for being angry with her. He had worked so hard to bring her to Mango Street, and all she wants to do is go “home.” But for him, because he speaks English and has assimilated, Mango Street is home. The question that arises, then, is what makes a “home”? For Mamacita, the answer is clear: Home is not where she lives, but where her heart is.
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