Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 712
The House on Mango Street offers a feminist view of society. Significantly, the book is dedicated “A las mujeres,” to women, which seems to indicate that the experiences portrayed pertain especially to women. From the beginning, the reader perceives Esperanza as a member of a marginal minority group, one that traditionally has upheld the most conservative tenets of patriarchy. The narrator, although she is only in early adolescence at most, is aware that she does not wish to follow the steps of any of her female predecessors. Her observations and conclusions reveal that she is preparing to challenge traditional ideologies concerning the status of women. In the section entitled “My Name,” among the earlier vignettes in the book, she comments on the origin of her Spanish name, Esperanza. She states that this was the name of her great-grandmother who, like her, was born in the Chinese Year of the Horse. She adds that according to the Chinese zodiac, it is bad luck to be born in that year if one is female, but she does not believe in this superstition. She thinks that the Chinese make such claims because they, like the Mexicans, do not like their women to be strong.
Esperanza opposes some of the traditional tenets of patriarchy. As a direct consequence of this opposition, she rebels against the concept of marriage as the only future available to a woman. Her rejection of oppressive marriages is apparent in several vignettes, such as the one in which she relates an unfortunate event in her great-grandmother’s life: She did not want to marry, but a man who wanted her for his wife captured her by placing a sack over her head and carrying her off. Her great-grandmother was then an unhappy woman who “looked out the window all her life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow,” states the narrator.
Esperanza also opposes traditional gender roles. She does not welcome the idea of having women be exclusively responsible for domestic tasks and having to spend their lives waiting on men. She confesses that she is fighting a war in this regard, which she makes evident by leaving the table “like a man, without putting back the chair or picking up the plate.”
A woman’s freedom to select her own destiny and her right to receive earned respect are prominent ideas in The House on Mango Street. Although there is an abundance of images of women in the book, these women’s lives are not successful. On the contrary, the narrator enumerates the multiple failures of these characters. All the women in the novel can be placed into one of two categories: either those who depend economically on husbands and fathers or those who have been abandoned by men. Esperanza’s mother falls in the first group. She has many regrets, such as having to abandon her studies at an early age and neglect the growth of her artistic talent because of the family’s poverty.
Among the female characters is Minerva, a poet who is only somewhat older than the narrator and who already has more responsibilities that she can handle. She has two small children and an irresponsible, abusive husband. The most appropriate feminine role model for Esperanza appears in “Alicia Who Sees Mice.” The central character of this vignette is a young woman who is determined to overcome poverty and oppression through education. After rising early to prepare her father’s lunch box of tortillas, Alicia takes two trains and a bus to go to college. Alicia is a good girl, says the narrator.
Since the narrator cannot see herself in the other characters, she engages in self-analysis and meditates on the house that will make her free. The House on Mango Street, however, offers more than revelations about the inner world of one teenage girl; it is also a striking disclosure of the inner workings of the Hispanic family and the strong support system its relatives create. Significant expressions of encouragement for the narrator come from her home and from the members of her extended family. Hence, the reader surmises that Esperanza will be successful in her quest for self-sufficiency, which will become tangible when she has a special house of her own.
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