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

The House on Mango Street

by Sandra Cisneros

Start Free Trial

Assessement of The House on Mango Street

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Sandra Cisneros is a Chicago-born Chicana activist, poet, and fiction writer. She has published two collections of poems, Bad Boys (1980) and My Wicked Wicked Ways (1987), and a collection of short stories entitled Woman Hollering Creek (1991). Her novel, The House on Mango Street, (1983) was awarded the Before Columbus American Book Award.

The House on Mango Street is the fictional autobiography of Esperanza Cordera, an adolescent Mexican American girl who wants to be a writer. Unlike the chapters in a conventional novel, the forty-four vignettes, or literary sketches, which make up the novel could each stand on its own as a short story. Read together, they paint a striking portrait of a young Chicana struggling to find a place in her community without relinquishing her sense of self.

Critics have identified the novel as an example of the growing up story, or bildungsroman, which forms a general theme of Chicano and Chicana literature. But Cisneros's text differs from the traditional Chicano bildungsroman, in which the boy becomes a man by first acquiring self-sufficiency and then assuming his rightful place as a leader in the community. It also differs from the traditional Chicana bildungsroman, in which the girl must give up her freedom and sense of individuality in order to join the community as a wife and mother. The goal of Esperanza, this novel's protagonist and narrator, is to fashion an identity for herself which allows her to control her own destiny and at the same time maintain a strong connection to her community.

The novel's central image is the image of the house. The book begins with a description of the Corderos' new house on Mango Street, a far cry from the dream house with "a great big yard and grass growing without a fence" they'd always wanted, the house that would give them space and freedom. Instead, the house on Mango Street is "small and red with tight steps in front and windows so small you'd think they were holding their breath." Though her parents insist they are only there temporarily, Esperanza knows the move is probably permanent. This is the house, the street, the identity she must now come to terms with one way or another.

As evidenced by her reaction to the new house, Esperanza has a very strong sense of place: both of where she is and of where others are in relation to her. In the opening vignette she tells of when a nun from her school passed by the ramshackle apartment the Cordero family lived in before Mango Street and asked Esperanza in surprise if she lived there. Esperanza confesses "The way she said it made me feel like nothing." Esperanza also struggles with being "placed" by her race and class in houses that are not hers, as in "Rice Sandwich," when another nun assumes she lives in "a row of three-flats, the ones even the raggedy men are ashamed to go into."

Mango Street is populated by people who feel out of place, caught between two countries—like Mamacita in "No Speak English," who wants to return to Mexico. When her husband insists that the United States is her home and she must learn to speak English, Mamacita "lets out a cry, hysterical, high, as if he had torn the only skinny thread that kept her alive, the only road out." Esperanza herself feels caught between two cultures because of her name: "At school they say my name funny as if the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth. But in Spanish my name is...

(This entire section contains 1649 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

made out of a softer something, like silver." Rather than be defined by either pronunciation, however, Esperanza asserts: "I would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees. Esperanza as Lisandra or Maritza or Zeze the X."

As a girl on the cusp of adulthood, Esperanza is particularly concerned with the place of women in Latino culture. In "My Name," she describes how her great-grandmother, also named Esperanza, was forced to marry her great-grandfather and then placed in his house like a "fancy chandelier." The house became for her, as it is for many of the women Esperanza observes, a site of confinement: "she looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow." This image of the ventanera or woman by the window, recurs throughout the novel. As Esperanza looks around Mango Street, she sees other women trapped in their houses, women like Rafaela, who gets locked indoors when her husband goes out to play poker because she is too beautiful. Rafaela, who has traded in her own sexuality and independence for security and respectability, wishes she could go to "the dance hall down the street where women much older than her throw green eyes easily like dice and open homes with keys."

Another ventanera is Esperanza's friend Sally, who marries before she has finished eight grade in order to escape her father's house. Rather than freedom, however, a house of her own merely means more restrictions for Sally: her husband does not allow her to talk on the telephone or have friends visit or even look out of the window. Instead, Sally looks at "all the things they own--the towels and the toaster, the alarm clock and the drapes." But she, too, must give over control of her life to her husband. Cisneros employs conventional romantic imagery to describe her new home: "the linoleum roses on the floor, the ceiling smooth as wedding cake," but in Sally's case the romance is a trap, the roses and the wedding cake are the floor and ceiling of her cage.

By making the narrator of her novel a preadolescent girl, Cisneros represents Mango Street from the point of view of someone who is not yet placed, not yet put into position. Esperanza's is a voice that can question, a voice of hope (Esperanza), a voice of transition. She is not inside the house looking out, like many of the other girls and women, nor is she outside the community looking in with strange eyes, like the nuns. Often she is out in the street, looking in at the other women—observing, analyzing, evaluating their situation.

In an interview with Pilar Rodriguez-Aranda in the America's Review, Cisneros discusses what she perceives to be the two predominant and contradictory images of women in Mexican culture: La Malinche and la Virgen de Guadalupe. The La Malinche myth figures women as sexual, evil, and traitorous. The way history tells it, Malinche was an Aztec noblewoman who was presented to Cortes, the Spanish conqueror of Mexico, and served as his lover, translator, and strategist. This is the historical Malinche, but she has come to stand in Mexican culture for the prostitute, the bearer of illegitimate children, responsible for the foreign Spanish invasion which put an end to the Aztec empire. The Malinche myth is the reason the pretty young women of Mango Street are locked in their houses when their husbands go out. The other image Cisneros mentions in her interview, that of the Virgen de Guadalupe, or Mexican Madonna, encourages women to be self-sacrificing wives and mothers. As demonstrated above, however, it hardly works better for the women in her novel.

There are women in the community, however, who encourage Esperanza to resist both images. There is Alicia, who takes two trains and a bus to her classes at the university because "she doesn't want to spend her whole life in a factory or behind a rolling pin." There is her mother, who in "Smart Cookie" warns Esperanza against letting the shame of being poor keep her from living up to her potential: "Shame is a bad thing, you know. It keeps you down. You know why I quit school? Because I didn't have nice clothes. No clothes, but I had brains." There is her Aunt Lupe, who encourages her to write poems, telling her "it will keep you free." There are also the "three sisters," three old aunts of Esperanza's friends Lucy and Rachel who come to Mango Street to attend the funeral of their baby sister. Like supernatural beings, the three sisters appear out of nowhere, possessed of mind reading and fortune telling powers. With the image of three sisters Cisneros makes reference to the Fates of Greek mythology, three old crones who know the fate of all human beings. The sisters look at Esperanza's palms and tell her she will go far, but they also tell her that wherever she goes, she will take Mango Street with her. They remind her, too: "You must remember to come back. For the ones who cannot leave as easily as you."

While Esperanza may not accept the house on Mango Street as her home—that is to say, while she may refuse to accept the self that is handed to her—she does ultimately accept Mango Street as a part of herself. She comes to identify with the street itself, that border space which is within the community (within Chicano culture), but outside of the house (outside of the traditional feminine gender role). As the novel draws to a close, Esperanza begins to realize that storytelling, or writing, is one way to create this relationship between serf and community, to carve out her own place in the world: "I put it down on paper and then the ghost does not ache so much. I write it down and Mango says goodbye sometimes. She does not hold me with both arms. She sets me free." But, Esperanza reminds us and herself," I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out." Like Cisneros, Esperanza will free them with her stories.

Source: Janet Sarbanes, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1997.

Literary Continuity in Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

In 1963 in a collection of articles entitled Salinger, Edgar Branch has a piece in which he explores the "literary continuity" between Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. Branch claims that, though these two books represent different times in American history, the characters, the narrative patterns and styles, and the language are strikingly similar, so that what Salinger picks up, according to Branch, is an archetypal continuity which is cultural as well as literary. I would like to suggest a third link in this chain that belongs to our own time, and that is Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street. Published in 1989, this novella is about an adolescent, though this time a girl who uses, not the Mississippi or Manhattan Island, but a house in Chicago, to examine her society and the cultural shibboleths that weigh on her as a young Chicana woman.

Though not commonly accepted by critics as "canonical," The House on Mango Street belongs to the entire tradition of the bildungsroman (novel of growth) or the kunstlerroman (novel inimical to growth), especially as these patterns apply to women. One can go back to 19th-century novels like Harriet Wilson's Our Nig (1859), where a black woman working in the house of a white family in Boston is treated as though she were a slave Later, Charlotte Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper (1889) depicts a woman who goes crazy when she is confined to a room in a country house by her husband, a doctor who knows little about feminine psychology. Finally, in Kate Chopin's The Awakening (1899), the protagonist literally moves out of the house to escape her Creole husband, but cannot find a male with whom to relate in this patriarchal culture.

In Mango Street, a hundred years later, Esperanza is actually part of a six-member family of her own race, but that does not prevent an enslavement parallel to Nig's. Though not limited to a single room as in Yellow Wallpaper, Esperanza's house is a symbol of sexual as well as cultural harassment, and she, like the narrator in Gilman's story, is a writer whose colorful images help her create a path to freedom. And as in The Awakening, Esperanza dreams of leaving her house, an action that like Edna's is related to all kinds of men who make up the power structure in her Chicana world.

So in a general way Cisneros's novel belongs to a female tradition in which culture and literary quality are important. But for her, far more significant as literary models are Huck Finn and Holden Caufield, primarily because they are adolescents growing up in culturally oppressive worlds. Cisneros's protagonist, like them, is innocent, sensitive, considerate of others, but extremely vulnerable. Like them, Esperanza speaks a child's language, though hers is peculiar to a girl and young budding poet. And like her predecessors, she grows mentally as time goes on; she knows how she feels, and learns from the inside out what in Holden's terms is "phony," and what with Huck she is willing to "go to hell" for. There are, of course, other Chicano novels that are bildungsromans, such as Tomas Rivera's ... y no se lo trago la tierra, but none presents a better parallel to Huck and Holden than Cisneros's Esperanza.

It may seem that the two boy's books are really journeys, while Mango Street is limited to a house, and therefore set—the opposite of a geographical quest. But when one looks at the patterns of the novels, what the boys go out to see simply comes past Esperanza, so that the effect is the same. She is simply a girl, and does not have the cultural opportunity to leave as they do. What is more important is that Mango Street continues a paradigm of growth where a young person encounters an outside world, evaluates it in relationship to herself, and then forges an identity, something that includes her sexuality and the prominence of writing in her life....

Esperanza actually loves her father, though as with Holden's he is virtually absent from the narrative. As Marcienne Rocard points out [in "The Remembering Voice in Chicana Literature (Americas Review)] Chicanas concentrate intensely on "human relationships between generations"— something not stressed in Twain and Salinger. Esperanza thinks her father is brave; he cries after the death of a grandmother, and his daughter wants to "hold and hold and hold him." But this same father perpetuates a structure that traps women. The girl's mother, for instance, has talent and brains, but lacks practical knowledge about society because, says Esperanza, Mexican men "don't like their women strong." Her insight into an abusive father comes through her best friend Sally, whose father "just forgot he was her father between the buckle and the belt." So Sally leaves home for an early unhappy marriage. Another friend, Alicia, goes to the university to break the pattern of her dead mother's "rolling pin and sleepiness," but in studying all night and cooking, too, she begins to imagine that she sees mice, whereupon her father belittles her. Esperanza says Alicia is afraid of nothing, "except four-legged fur. And fathers." Gradually, Esperanza comes to see that the pressure on women in Chicana families comes from a system she simply, though painfully, has to leave.

Truly, all three books are wrought with violence, which the protagonists seem to forgive...

Esperanza also feels for the victims of violence. What is interesting is that she sometimes interprets violence in a broad sense as injustice, or something in society that keeps people homeless, or in shabby housing In the attic of her new house she'll have, not "Rats," but "Bums" because they need shelter. She has visions of the violence done to Geraldo, "another wetback," who rented "two-room flats and sleeping rooms" while he sent money back to Mexico; killed one night by a hit-and-run driver, he (in the minds of his people) simply disappeared. That violence becomes worse when individuals are confined to their homes. Mamacita, the big woman across the street, is beautiful but cannot get out because she "No speak English"—a phenomenon doubly tragic because her baby sings Pepsi commercials. But mostly Esperanza identifies with wives mistreated by men who confine them to their homes. Raphaela is locked in because she is too beautiful for her jealous husband. Earl, a jukebox repairman, and Sire, who drinks beer, hold their wives tight lest they relate to anybody else. Things like this make Esperanza's "blood freeze." She dreams of being held too hard. Once, after letting a man kiss her because he was "so old," she says he "grabs me by the face with both hands and kisses me on the mouth and doesn't let go." So, like Holden and Huck, this girl cares for others because of the violence done to them (and herself) in all kinds of contexts...

Ironically, Esperanza already has a family whom she loves, but that does not free her, for her father is gone and her mother stuck. She ... longs for friends, talking first about a temporary friend Cathy who then moves away. Later, she takes some of her sister's money to buy a share in a bike with her neighbors Rachel and Lucy so she can play with them, but that is fleeting. As she matures and sees what is happening to people, she picks four trees, which like her have "skinny necks and pointy elbows." Others, like Nenny, do not appreciate those trees, but for Esperanza, they "teach," helping her to realize that like them she is here and yet does not belong. And like the trees Esperanza, who thinks in images, must continue to reach. Her goal, like that of Huck and Holden, is not to forget her "reason for being" and to grow "despite concrete" so as to achieve a freedom that's not separate from togetherness.

All three protagonists have friends who fail them, usually in some kind of romantic context....

Esperanza's best friend Sally is... a kind of romantic. She paints her eyes like Cleopatra and likes to dream.... Tragically, it is Sally who betrays her friend and admirer in the monkey garden (an animal pen turned old car lot) where she trades the boys' kisses for her lost keys, while all concerned laugh at Esperanza for trying to defend her friend with a brick. Later, Sally leaves Esperanza alone at the fair next to the "red clowns" (at once comical and tragic figures) where she is molested because her romantic friend "lied." Actually, the whole experience is a lie, given what she had been led to expect.

Still, all three have a moral center, a person they can count on, or should be able to....

[Esperanza] has a little sister, Nenny, for whom she feels responsible. Nenny, however, is... too little. Esperanza often refers to her as "stupid" and in the chapter on "Hips," where Esperanza is becoming more aware of the sexual role of a woman's body, she says Nenny just "doesn't get it." Her real hope comes in Aunt Lupe who is dying—"diseases have no eyes," says the young poet. In a game the girls invent, they make fun of Lupe, and for this Esperanza, like Huck, feels she will "go to hell." Actually, it is Lupe who listens to the girl's poems and tells her to "keep writing." That counsel becomes the basis of Esperanza's future apart from Mango Street.

It is important to recognize that the three novels contain religious language that at once seems to undercut traditional religion, and in the mouths of the young seems to say more than they realize....

For Esperanza, religion is a cultural thing; in her Catholic world, God the father and Virgin Mother are household terms. But for this young poet, religion takes on mythic or poetic dimensions. She sees herself, for instance, as a red "balloon tied to an anchor," as if to say she needs to transcend present conditions where mothers are trapped and fathers abusive. She even sees herself molested in a monkey garden (a modern Eden) among red clowns (bloodthirsty males). She appeals to Aunt Lupe (Guadalupe, after the Mexican Virgin Mother), who tells her to write, to create. In the end, when Esperanza meets three aunts, or sisters (her trinity), she in effect has a spiritual vision, one which she describes in concrete language. One is cat-eyed, another's hands are like marble, a third smells like Kleenex. The girl uses these sights, smells, and touches to envision poetically her future house. As with Huck and Holden, there is something she does not fully understand. What she knows is that through these comadres (co-mothers) she will give birth to something very new. Like the two male protagonists, she longs for a respect and compassion absent in her experiences on Mango Street, and these women are her spiritual inspiration.

The ending of Mango Street is also very significant in terms of literary continuity. Just prior to the end Esperanza meets the three aunts at the funeral of a sister of her friends Lucy and Rachel; they tell her she cannot forget who she is and that if she leaves she must come back. In the end the girl recognizes that she both belongs and does not belong to Mango street. Then she vows to return to the house because of the "ones who cannot" leave. One reason for this is her writing, which has made her strong. She plans to "put it down on paper and then the ghost does not ache so much." What this means relative to other women's novels is that she reverses a trend. In Our Nig, Nig is dissipated in the end. The protagonist of Yellow Wallpaper goes crazy before literally crawling over her dominating husband's body. Edna in The Awakening swims to her death rather than face a culture that will not recognize her identity. Not so with Esperanza. She is strong (something Mexican women should not be), perfectly aware of the problems with a patriarchal culture, and because of her love for her people, albeit abused and dehumanized, vows to return, and it is the writing which gives her the strength....

There is one other way in which Cisneros seems to look to her predecessors for literary and cultural continuity, and that is the way she as an author comes into the text....

In Mango Street Cisneros has created the voice of a child, who is also a poet, a writer. For the most part that voice is consistent, but sometimes not. Once when Esperanza is playing an outside voice puts her friends and herself in perspective:

Who's stupid?

Rachel, Lucy, Esperanza and Nenny.

In this case it is the author who seems to be speaking. And when Lupe is dying, and Esperanza helps lift her head, suddenly we are inside Lupe: "The water was warm and tasted like metal." Here the author's presence is unmistakable. Perhaps Cisneros's most significant intrusion comes when Esperanza says that Mexican men do not "like their women strong"—a comment that belongs more to an adult than a child, and it seems to underpin the whole novel....

So Cisneros, like Twain and Salinger, seems to enter the narrative to help define its ultimate meaning. Unlike the boys' quests, however, this novel is a collection of genres—essays, short stones, poems—put together in one way to show Esperanza's growth, but in another to imitate the part-by-part building of an edifice. Indeed, the house on Mango Street does not just refer to the place Esperanza is trying to leave, but to the novel itself as "a house" which Esperanza as character and Cisneros as author have built together. Huck may go out to the territory, rejecting civilization, and Holden may tell his story to gain the strength to return, but Esperanza through her writing has in fact redesigned society itself through a mythical house of her own.

In this regard, Lupe once told Esperanza to "keep writing," it will "keep you free." At that time the girl did not know what she meant, but in the end Esperanza says "she sets me free," so in a sense the house is already built—a monument to her people and her sex.... Indeed, Esperanza is very different from the other women in the text. She has learned from them and not made their mistakes. So she is not trapped like her mother, Alicia, or Sally, or the others. Like Huck and Holden, she is the example for other Chicana women whom Cisneros would have us take to heart. Indeed, as the witch woman Elenita predicted earlier, Esperanza elects to build a "new house, a house made of heart." And in the tradition of, but distinct from Huck and Holden, that is just what she has accomplished.

Source: Thomas Matchie, "Literary Continuity in Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street" in The Midwest Quarterly, Vol. XXXVII, No 1, Autumn, 1995, pp. 67-79.

Coming of Age in Novels by Rudolfo Anaya and Sandra Cisneros

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

At birth, each person begins a search to know the world and others, to answer the age-old question, "Who am I?" This search for knowledge, for truth, and for personal identity is written about in autobiographies and in bildungsroman fiction. For years, though, the canon of United States literature has included predominantly the coming-of-age stories of white, heterosexual males. Where are the stories of the others—the women, the African-Americans, the Asian-Americans, the Hispamcs, the gay males and lesbians? What differences and similarities would we find in their bildungsromans? Many writers, silenced before, are now finding the strengths, the voices, and the market for publication to tell their stones

Chicano/a writers, like African-Americans, Asian-Amencans, and others, are being heard; in autobiography and in fiction, they are telling their coming-of-age stories.... The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (1989) [is one] such Chicano/a [work] of fiction. [In this text,] Cisneros show[s] the forces—social and cultural—that shape and define [her] characters.... [The novel shows] the struggle of the Chicano/a people to find identities that are true to themselves as individuals and artists but that do not betray their culture and their people.

This is no mean feat, considenng that Anglos did not teach them to value their cultural heritage and experiences, that they were shown no Chicano/a role models, that, in fact, they were often discouraged from writing. Cisneros says [in her book, From a Writer's Notebook] that as a wnter growing up without models of Chicano/a literature, she felt impoverished with nothing of personal merit to say.

As a poor person growing up in a society where the class norm was superimposed on a tv screen, I couldn't understand why our home wasn't all green lawn and white wood .. I rejected what was at hand and emulated the voices of the poets ... big, male voices all wrong for me ... it seems crazy, but I had never felt my home, family, and neighborhood unique or worthy of writing about ..

Cisneros, being an only daughter in a family of six sons, was often lonely She read, in part, to escape her loneliness. Cisneros reflects that her aloneness "was good for a would-be writer—it allowed ... time to think . to imagine to read and prepare." Cisneros in "Notes to a Young(er) Writer" [The Americas Review] explains that her reading was an important "first step." She says she left chores undone as she was "reading and reading, nurturing myself with books like vitamins "...

Cisneros' House on Mango Street is ... narrated by a child protagonist. Esperanza, the protagonist, tells about her life on Mango Street; we see her family, friends, and community, then: daily troubles and concerns. By the end of the story, she has gained understanding about both herself and her community/culture.... The House on Mango Street is the story of growing awareness which comes in fits and starts, a series of almost epiphanic narrations mirrored in a structure that is neither linear nor traditional, a hybrid of fictive and poetic form, more like an impressionistic painting where the subject isn't clear until the viewer moves back a bit and views the whole. Esperanza tells her story in a series of forty-four, individually titled vignettes. Ellen McCracken [in Breaking Boundaries] believes that this bildungsroman, which she prefers to label a "collection" rather than a novel, "roots the individual self in the broader ... sociopolitical reality of the Chicano/a community."

For Esperanza in The House on Mango Street, the notion of "house"—or a space of her own—is critical to her coming of age as a mature person and artist. Ramón Saldívar says [in Chicano Narrative], that this novel "emphasizes the crucial roles of racial and material as well as ideological conditions of oppression." At the beginning of the novel, Esperanza explains how her parents talk about moving into a "real" house that "would have running water and pipes that worked." Instead she lives in a run-down flat and is made to feel embarrassed and humiliated because of it. One day while she is playing outside, a nun from her school walks by and stops to talk to her.

Where do you live? she asked.

There, I said pointing to the third floor.

You live there?

There I had to look where she pointed-the third floor, the paint peeling, wooden bars. Papa had nailed in the windows so we wouldn't fall out. You live there? The way she said it made me feel like nothing.

Later in the novel, in a similar occurrence, a nun assumes that Esperanza lives in an even worse poverty-stricken area than, in fact, is the case. Julian Olivares says [in Chicana Creativity and Criticism] thus the "house and narrator become identified as one, thereby revealing an ideological perspective of poverty and shame." Esperanza desires a space of her own, a real home with warmth and comfort and security, a home she wouldn't be ashamed of. For Esperanza, the house is also a necessity; echoing Virginia Woolf, she needs "A House of My Own" in order to create, a "house quiet as snow ... clean as paper before the poem."

Other houses on Mango Street do not live up to Esperanza's desires either, for they are houses that "imprison" women. Many vignettes illustrate this. There is the story of Marin who always has to baby-sit for her aunt; when her aunt returns from work, she may stay out front but not go anywhere else. There is also the story of Rafaela whose husband locks her indoors when he goes off to play dominoes. He wishes to protect his woman, his "possession," since Rafaela is "too beautiful to look at." And there is Sally whose father "says to be this beautiful is trouble.... [H]e remembers his sisters and is sad. Then she can't go out." Sally marries, even before eighth grade, in order to escape the confinement and abuse of her father's house, but in the vignette, "Linoleum Roses," we see her dominated as well in the house of her husband.

She is happy . except he won't let her talk on the telephone. And he doesn't let her look out the window....

She sits home because she is afraid to go outside without his permission.

Esperanza sees, as Olivares notes, that "the woman's place is one of domestic confinement, not one of liberation and choice." And so, slowly, cumulatively, stroke by stroke, and story by story, Esperanza comes to realize that she must leave Mango Street so that she will not be entrapped by poverty and shame or imprisoned by patriarchy.

Another element of the bildungsroman is the appearance of a mentor who helps guide the protagonist...

In The House on Mango Street there is an ironic twist to the guidance of mentors, for often Esperanza is guided by examples of women she does not want to emulate, such as Sally and Rafaela. [There] are several role models who sometimes give her advice. They nurture her writing talent, show her ways to escape the bonds of patriarchy, and remind her of her cultural and communal responsibilities. Minerva is a young woman who, despite being married to an abusive husband, writes poems and lets Esperanza read them. She also reads Esperanza's writing. Aunt Lupe, dying of a wasting illness, urges Esperanza to keep writing and counsels her that this will be her freedom. Alicia, who appears in two stones, is, perhaps, the best role model. While she must keep house for her father, she still studies at the university so she won't be trapped. Alicia also reminds Esperanza that Esperanza is Mango Street and will one day return. McCracken says that Alicia fights "what patriarchy expects of her" and

at the same time represents a clear-sighted, non-mystified vision of the barrio. . [S]he embodies both the antipatriarchal themes and the social obligation to return to one's ethnic community

The story, "Three Sisters," is a kind of subversive fairytale. Esperanza attends the wake of her friends' baby sister and is suddenly confronted by three mysterious old women. These women examine Esperanza's hands, tell her to make a wish, and advise, "When you leave, you must remember always to come back. [Y]ou can't forget who you are.. [C]ome back for the ones who cannot leave as easily as you." They direct her to remember her responsibilities to her community. In this bildungsroman, Esperanza is reminded consistently that the search for self involves more than mere personal satisfaction. All of these women offer guidance to help Esperanza in her coming of age.

[The protagonist] must endure other rites of passage to reach full personhood and understanding....

Esperanza's rites of passage... speak through the political realities of Mango Street... Her major loss of innocence has to do with gender and with being sexually appropriated by men. In the vignette, "The Family of Little Feet," Esperanza and her friends don high heels and strut confidently down the street. They are pleased at first with their long legs and grown-up demeanors, then frightened as they are leered at, yelled to, threatened, and solicited. McCracken says, "Cisneros proscribes a romantic or exotic reading of the dress-up episode, focusing instead on the girls' discovery of the threatening nature of male sexual power."

Perhaps Esperanza's "descent into darkness" occurs in the story "Red Clowns." Unlike the traditional bildungsroman, the knowledge with which she emerges is not that of regeneration, but of painful knowledge, the knowledge of betrayal and physical violation. In this story, she is waiting for Sally, who is off on a romantic liaison. Esperanza, all alone, is grabbed and raped. Afterward, she says, "Sally, make him stop. I couldn't make them go away. I couldn't do anything but cry. I don't remember. It was dark.... [P]lease don't make me tell it all." In this story, Esperanza is also angry and calls Sally "a liar" because through books and magazines and the talk of women she has been led to believe the myth of romantic love. [In "The Politics of Rape," (The Americas Review)] Maria Herrera-Sobek calls this story a "diatribe" that is directed not only at Sally,

but at the community of women in a conspiracy of silence silence in not denouncing the "real" facts of life about sex and its negative aspects in violent sexual encounters, and complicity in romanticizing and idealizing unrealistic sexual relations.

Esperanza, triply marginalized by race, class, and gender, has lost her innocence. Yet, despite this pain and violation, she manages to tell her story. She has come of age, and she understands that in the future she must serve both herself and her community.

I will say goodbye to Mango... Friends and neighbors will say, what happened to that Esperanza? .. They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out.

Source: Dianne Klein, "Coming of Age in Novels by Rudolfo Anaya and Sandra Cisneros," in English Journal, Vol 81, No. 5, September, 1992, pp 21-6.


Critical Overview