Last Updated on May 17, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1233
Tito’s mother: who Esperanza runs to for help
Man at carnival: a man who molests Esperanza
Sally’s husband: a salesman
The Monkey Garden
Esperanza describes the monkey garden, a neighborhood garden where the previous owners kept a pet monkey. The garden has since grown wild and is now a place where they can play and disappear for a while. Esperanza describes the last time she went there, the time she wanted to die.
Esperanza wanted to play in the garden with the other children, but someone said she was too big to play. She urged Sally to join her, but Sally wanted to stay with Tito and his friends. Sally flirted with the boys and they stole her keys. To get them back, they said, Sally had to give them each a kiss. Sally agreed.
This infuriated Esperanza. She ran to Tito’s mother and told her what was happening, hoping Tito’s mother would stop them. Tito’s mother, however, was unconcerned. When Esperanza tried to “save” Sally herself, Sally and the boys told her to go away. Esperanza hid herself in the garden and cried. She wished her heart would stop beating. When she left the garden, it no longer seemed like a good place to her.
Esperanza says Sally lied to her about what it is like to be with a man. Esperanza had been waiting for Sally at the carnival while Sally went off with a boy. Esperanza waited for a long time, but Sally never came back. Then a man grabbed Esperanza and she couldn’t get away from him. He kissed and touched her and told her he loved her. Esperanza tried to make him stop, but he wouldn’t. She says everything Sally and all the others had told her about love was a lie.
Sally marries a marshmallow salesman. She tells Esperanza she married him because she’s in love, but Esperanza thinks she married him “to escape.” Sally says she’s happy—she has a lot of nice things now—but her husband sometimes loses his temper and he won’t let her talk to or see her friends. He won’t even let her look out the window. All she can do is look at the things inside.
The monkey garden used to be a sanctuary for Esperanza, but in this long, descriptive vignette, it becomes a symbol of her childhood and innocence, something that Esperanza must leave behind.
The garden had been a place of freedom, a place where they could hide from each other and their mothers, where things could be hidden “for a thousand years.” But Esperanza cannot hide from the fact that Sally has crossed a line that Esperanza does not want to cross. Esperanza is still being pulled by the garden, a place Sally won’t go anymore because her stockings might get muddy. But Esperanza still wants to run with the others; she doesn’t listen to whoever it is that tells her she is “getting too old to play the games.” To Sally, those who play in the garden are kids—and she is not a kid anymore.
The distance between Sally and Esperanza here is wide. Sally has “her own game” now, a game Esperanza doesn’t understand. She is angry when Sally decides to play Tito’s game because it indicates Sally’s readiness to move on and become a woman, something Esperanza is not ready to do. It seems natural enough to Tito’s mother, but then, she is the mother of a boy. Had it been Sally’s mother Esperanza had gone to, the mother’s reaction would have been quite different. There is a suggestion of a double standard here, where boys are free to explore their sexuality but girls are not.
Esperanza’s attempt to save Sally makes her look ridiculous to Sally and the boys, and she feels ashamed. Hidden in the garden, she tries to will her heart to stop—but it won’t. When she gets up, her feet, which were so significant in two other vignettes that deal with Esperanza’s developing awareness of her sexuality (“Chanclas” and “The Family of Little Feet”), don’t “seem to be [hers] anymore. And the garden that had been such a good place to play didn’t seem [hers] either.”
This is the last time Esperanza goes to the garden. She leaves it feeling as if it had rejected her wish to die. But in reality, a part of her did die there—her childhood. She leaves the garden, having crossed the line she must cross in order to be accepted by her peers. It is time for Esperanza to stop playing in the garden.
Esperanza is not ready to be initiated into “womanhood,” but in “Red Clowns,” she is literally forced into it. Esperanza had been angry at Sally for playing with the boys instead of in the garden, partly because she was afraid that Sally would abandon her for boys. And that’s precisely what happens at the carnival. Sally runs off with a boy and leaves Esperanza waiting alone. Before Sally’s tryst is over, Esperanza is raped, her innocence wrenched away from her.
This vignette is an indictment of a society that glorifies sex, making young ones like Sally yearn for a man’s touch while leaving them unaware of the dark, aggressive side of male sexuality that is suggested much earlier in “The Family of Little Feet” and in “The Monkey Garden,” where Sally must offer her body to get her keys back. No one has warned Esperanza of the brutal power of male sexuality, to control and destroy her own sexual development. In this act Esperanza not only loses her virginity, she also loses part of her identity and independence.
Significantly, the man who rapes Esperanza says “I love you,” but what he does to her shows not love for Esperanza but self-love. The man who rapes her cares only about his own satisfaction and absolutely nothing about Esperanza. He seems to think that his desire for Esperanza’s body is love, but it is merely violence. This desire, however, is what Sally and others have mistaken for love. This is the lie they have told Esperanza.
It is clear that Sally doesn’t know what love is. She claims to be in love with the marshmallow salesman, but it’s easy to see that she married him, as Esperanza says, “to escape”—to escape her father, his beatings, his prison of a home, and his shame; to escape the eyes of all those waiting for her to get into trouble. But Sally leaves her father’s house only to find herself in another jail. She has a house, and pillowcases, and plates, but they are no comfort to her when her husband loses his temper, when she can’t talk on the phone, when she can’t even look out the window. From her father’s house to her husband’s, she is transferred from one jail cell to another—another place where she is “afraid to go outside.”
Esperanza says Sally likes to look at the walls, at “how neatly their corners meet,” and at the roses on her shiny linoleum floor. Her house may be beautiful and neat, but it is still a jail.
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