Part XIII Summary: Beautiful & Cruel, A Smart Cookie, and What Sally Said
Izaura and Yolanda: friends of Esperanza’s mother
Beautiful & Cruel
Esperanza says she is the ugly girl in the family, so no husband will come for her. Nenny, who is pretty, says she won’t wait around forever for a husband. She wants to be able to choose who or what takes her away from home. Esperanza says that Nenny can talk about choices because she is pretty. Esperanza decides not to “grow up tame” and grow old waiting for a husband. She wants to be powerful like the beautiful women in the movies, so she decides to get her power from a different source: she begins to behave like a man.
A Smart Cookie
Esperanza’s mother says that she “could’ve been somebody”—a singer, perhaps, or an artist—but she isn’t because she quit school. She confesses to Esperanza that she quit because she was ashamed of her clothes.
What Sally Said
Sally’s father has been beating her. She tells people at school that she fell, but no one believes that’s how she got her bruises. She says her father never hits her hard, but Esperanza knows that more than once he has lost control and beaten Sally very badly. He beats her because he doesn’t want her to bring shame on the family like his sisters did.
Once Sally tried to stay with Esperanza’s family for a while, but Sally’s father came to get her. He said he was sorry for what he’d done and that it wouldn’t happen again. A few days later, however, when he saw her talking to a boy, he beat her so badly she couldn’t come to school for several days.
Esperanza believes that beauty is a form of power: it allows women like Nenny, who “has pretty eyes,” to “pick and choose.” Esperanza isn’t beautiful, but she wants to be like the women in the movies: the “beautiful and cruel” women who are independent and powerful because their beauty gives them control of men.
Esperanza decides to rebel against the patriarchal society that expects her to suppress her individuality and “grow up tame.” She decides she won’t be “like the others who lay their necks on the threshold waiting for the ball and chain.” This is a powerful
image—waiting for marriage is like waiting for the guillotine, and marriage is a form of slavery. Given the marriages Esperanza sees around her, however, it should not be a surprise that this is how she views marriage.
To fight against the powerful force of machismo, Esperanza decides to wage a “quiet war.” She will not fill the traditional female role. Instead, she will behave like a man, leaving her dishes at the table instead of clearing them away. She is beginning to act like her independent, wild great-grandmother, and that should give us hope. Esperanza lives in a different world where a woman cannot simply be thrown over the shoulder like a sack and forced to marry. She is much more likely to win her war.
That is, if she doesn’t let shame stop her. In “A Smart Cookie,” we learn that shame—which Esperanza has felt so acutely in a number of vignettes—prevented Esperanza’s mother from being “somebody.” Her mother, who is a first generation Mexican-American, has many talents—she can sing, draw, and speak two languages fluently—but she has no diploma, and, hence, no inde¬pendence. Though she has lived in their city all her life, she can’t go on the train downtown without Esperanza’s help. She has built herself a small, “safe” world in the Chicano community and in her home, but she longs to see the world outside it.
Esperanza’s mother is adamant that...
(The entire section is 970 words.)