Black, white, and orange illustration of Esperanza standing in front of a building or structure

The House on Mango Street

by Sandra Cisneros

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Last Updated on January 10, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1154

Esperanza

Esperanza is the narrator of the stories, a young girl who is the eldest child in a Mexican American family, with two younger brothers and one younger sister. She is not particularly close to any of her siblings, and though she makes friends on Mango Street and at school, she is essentially a lonely, solitary child. Esperanza is highly observant, thoughtful, and sensitive. She is upset when adults misunderstand her and particularly when they appear to look down on the relative poverty of her family and friends. She writes poetry, and her descriptions of her surroundings display a poetic sensibility and a determination to find beauty everywhere.

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Mama

Esperanza’s mother is kindly and protective, though her busy life often leaves her little time to spend with her children, and she does not play a large role in the stories. Toward the end of the book, it becomes clear that she is dissatisfied and frustrated with her life, and feels trapped, wishing she had pursued a career and “been somebody.”

Papa

Papa, like Mama, is a background figure. Esperanza seldom sees him, and when he talks to her, it is generally to give advice or tell her what to do. He becomes a more human figure for his daughter when his own father dies and she sees him crying.

Nenny

Nenny is Esperanza’s younger sister. She often seems foolish and childish to Esperanza, but occasionally they understand one another instinctively. Nenny is prettier than Esperanza and more traditionally feminine.

Carlos

Carlos is Esperanza’s brother. He has little to do with the girls, and the reader discovers little about him, apart from the fact that he likes to appear tough and stoical.

Kiki

Kiki is the youngest in Esperanza’s family. His hair is described as being like fur, and he barely appears in the stories.

Cathy

Cathy is a snobbish white girl who likes to gossip about her neighbors on Mango Street. Her house, which is built crookedly out of wood, is full of cats.

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Lucy

Lucy is the elder of two sisters who live on Mango Street. She was born in Texas and is friendly to Esperanza, though more reserved than her sister.

Rachel

Rachel is Lucy’s younger sister, who was born in Chicago. She is more adventurous and outgoing than her sister and befriends Esperanza when she asks her to club together to buy a bicycle with them.

Meme

Meme and his family move into Cathy’s old house. He is clumsy and wild, and has a dog who resembles him. He won the Tarzan Jumping Contest, which took place in his backyard, but broke both arms in the process.

Marin

Marin is an older girl who comes from Puerto Rico, where she has a boyfriend. She lives with her aunt and uncle on Mango Street, though they think she is troublesome and are planning to send her back to her parents in Puerto Rico. Marin is pretty and vivacious, and wears short skirts and a lot of makeup, but seldom leaves the house, as she always has to take care of her cousins.

Alicia

Alicia is a university student who also has to do all the domestic chores in her family because her mother is dead. She is kind to Esperanza, for whom she serves as a role model, since she is intelligent, thoughtful, and academically gifted.

Darius

Darius appears to be a stupid and ill-mannered boy. He dislikes school and enjoys frightening the girls. However, he has a flash of insight one day when he says that a cloud is God, which makes Esperanza feel close to him.

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Aunt Lupe

Aunt Lupe was a pretty girl and an excellent swimmer in her youth. By the time Esperanza knows her, however, she is seriously ill, weak, and emaciated. She is kind to Esperanza and encourages her to write.

Elenita

Elenita is a fortune teller and “witch woman.” She surrounds herself with paraphernalia from various different religions, gives a plethora of advice on treating everything from headache to heartache, and tells Esperanza’s fortune using cards. Her predictions, however, are vague and unsatisfactory.

Geraldo

Geraldo is a recent immigrant who cannot speak English. He met Marin at a dance and died in a hit-and-run incident almost immediately afterward. No one knows anything about him except his first name.

Ruthie

Ruthie is an adult woman who laughs and plays like a child. She enjoys looking at books with Esperanza but cannot read them because she gets headaches. When she was younger, she married and moved away from Mango Street, but now she lives with her bad-tempered old mother.

Earl

Earl works at night as a jukebox repair man. He lives next door to Esperanza’s family, and Esperanza often hears him coming home with his two dogs, who follow him everywhere. He is from the South, smokes cigars, and wears a felt hat in all weather. A succession of women come to his apartment and never stay there for long.

Sire

Sire is a boy who stares at Esperanza when she walks past his house. She is embarrassed but intrigued by his staring and thinks about what it would be like to be held and kissed by him.

Lois

Lois is Sire’s girlfriend. She is small and pretty and seems rather helpless. She cannot tie her shoelaces, so Sire has to do it for her, and she often goes barefoot.

Mamacita

Mamacita is a very fat woman who lives across the street from Esperanza. When she first arrives on Mango Street, she seems flamboyant and colorful, dressed in pink. However, she refuses to leave the house, and Esperanza believes this is because she cannot speak or understand English.

Rafaela

Rafaela is a beautiful young woman whose husband keeps her locked up in the house for fear of losing her. She throws money down to the children from her window so that they can buy her drinks from the store, then sits alone, dreaming about the excitement she is missing.

Sally

Sally is a glamorous and attractive girl at Esperanza’s school. Her father is very strict, and Esperanza notices that Sally has to go straight home from school every day and that she loses her confidence and charisma as she does so. It later becomes clear that Sally’s father beats her, particularly when he sees her with a boy. Sally is the subject of gossip and has many relationships with boys. Esperanza tries to help and protect Sally, but Sally seems to care little for Esperanza.

Minerva

Minerva is a young woman, not much older than Esperanza, but she already has two children and an abusive husband, who often leaves her and then returns. Esperanza feels close to her because they both write poetry, and share their poems with one another, though she sees Minerva is terribly unhappy, and there is nothing she can do to help.

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