Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The House on Mango Street is presented in forty-four vignettes that run from a fragment of a page to two or three pages. The young narrator, Esperanza, provides coherence to the book: Her voice, in a scarcely interrupted monologue, is present throughout. The predominant point of view of the narrative is the first-person singular, but the narrator makes extensive use of the third-person singular while describing the other characters in the work.

One can view The House on Mango Street either as a nontraditional novel made up of sketches or as a series of thematically related short stories. In addition to the constant presence of the narrator, which brings together the vignettes as chapters of the same book, the work presents other structural features that define it as a novel—for example, the recurring image of a comfortable house, which becomes a metaphor for the independence that Esperanza desires. As in short stories, however, there is limited character development within the vignettes.

Esperanza was born in the bosom of a loving Mexican American family of modest resources. She recalls having moved frequently and having lived in rundown apartment buildings. Although her family owns their current house located on Mango Street, Esperanza does not feel satisfied in it.

The narrator provides descriptions of both the house in which she lives at the present and the house that her parents have promised their children. The house on Mango Street has no front yard and is small and constructed of red brick. It has small steps leading to the front door, and the windows are so small that the family does not seem to have space to breathe. The lack of enough room prevents the family members from having the privacy that they need; every time someone takes a bath, he or she must make an announcement first so that no one will accidentally walk in. The size of this house, however, is not the only problem. The reader perceives that it is an old building in which some of the bricks are crumbling, a detail that perhaps points to the material decadence of the neighborhood.

Esperanza’s parents talk about having a home like those on television. It will be a comfortable white house, with a large open front yard planted with trees. It will have an interior staircase, three bathrooms, and abundant running water. Esperanza realizes that a home like this is only a dream for her family and decides that it will be up to her to get the house she wants in the future.

Esperanza’s dream home becomes synonymous with individual economic and social independence, which one can obtain through education and the cultivation of one’s native talents.

In addition to developing gradually the metaphor of a house as symbolic of a self-reliant existence, the narrative relates Esperanza’s childhood games, alludes to the loving relationship that she maintains with her family, and describes the activities of the neighbors.

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Mango Street

*Mango Street. Street in the Hispanic neighborhood of Chicago, where author Sandra Cisneros was born. The young narrator of her novel, Esperanza, lives with her family in a small, redbrick house at 4006 Mango Street. Its bricks are crumbling in places, and its front door is swollen and hard to move. The house has no front yard, only four skinny elm trees the city has planted by the curb, trees that manage to grow in the cement. The house’s small backyard looks even smaller because it is enclosed by buildings on either side. Esperanza is ashamed of her house and longs to move away from Mango Street to a larger house in a better neighborhood.

The neighborhood is a busy place filled with children and adults engaged in a number of activities. Children play volleyball in the alley, and boys riding homemade bicycles shout at girls walking by. Kids bend trees, bounce between parked cars, and hang upside-down from their knees. A boy pushes Esperanza into an open water hydrant, and other boys sit on bikes in front of a house pitching pennies. Neighbors come out to see the crash of a big yellow Cadillac, listen for the sirens, and watch as cops handcuff the driver. In front of the tavern, a bum sits on a stoop. People wait to take the subway train to downtown. Strangers to the neighborhood fear that it is dangerous; however, the neighborhood is a place in which Esperanza feels safe.

Precious Blood Church

Precious Blood Church. Center of social life for Esperanza’s family and neighbors. On the day of a cousin’s baptism, the family members dance in the church basement, which has been rented out for the occasion. People wear their finest clothes and enjoy the party, the dancing, and eating tamales as children run all over the place.

Monkey Garden

Monkey Garden. Secret place in a neighborhood yard where a family that owned a monkey once lived. After the family left, Esperanza and her friends make a clubhouse of the yard, using the back of an old blue pickup. Filled with sunflowers, spiders, worms, beetles, ants, ladybugs, and a hibiscus tree, the Monkey Garden is a place where the children’s mothers cannot find them.


*Mexico. Original home to many people in the neighborhood whose culture continues to influence their lives. Esperanza’s father flies to Mexico for the funeral of his mother after she dies. When Mamacita’s husband brings her to Chicago to be with him, she becomes homesick for Mexico and does not come out of the apartment because she does not speak English.

White house

White house. Esperanza’s dream home. One day Esperanza wants to escape her dreary surroundings and move to a home of her own, not a flat or apartment, not a man’s house, or a daddy’s house, but her own house—one with a porch and pretty purple petunias. She yearns for a house as quiet as snow, a white house surrounded by trees with a big yard and no fence. Her dream house would have running water, a basement, and at least three washrooms. It would have no nosy neighbors watching, no motorcycles and cars, no sheets and towels and laundry, only trees and plenty of blue sky. Esperanza wants a house on a hill like the one with a garden where her father works. She thinks that people who live on hills sleep so close to the stars they forget the people who live on earth. As she describes the house she wants to own, she points to the dismal surroundings of her present life. Esperanza’s dream house becomes synonymous with individual economic and social independence, which one can obtain through education and the cultivation of one’s native talents.

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Based on Sandra Cisneros’ experiences growing up in a Latino neighborhood of Chicago, The House on Mango Street is the story of a girl’s search for identity as she comes of age. The narrative covers one crucial year in her life. Esperanza Cordero, a young Chicana, draws her identity from her parents’ Mexican heritage and from the culture of the Mexican American community in which she grows up. She narrates the stories, describing herself, her neighbors, their dreams, and the world of Mango Street. In the process, she gains an understanding of herself and her community.

Cisneros has described the forty-six vignettes that make up the novel as crosses between poems and short stories. The tiny chapters are written in intensely lyrical prose, highly charged with metaphor, like prose poetry. Esperanza’s voice unifies the narrative. Her search for identity shapes the plot, which is otherwise loosely defined.

Esperanza’s descriptions focus on the women whom she knows, their lives often made difficult by the men who dominate them. Her childish yet mature perspective illuminates the ways in which society-at-large oppresses Latin Americans. The Latina women whom Esperanza describes bear a double yoke. They live in a strongly patriarchal society, often in fear of violence. Their choices for survival and self-expression are limited. Meanwhile, many suffer along with their men from living in poverty. Their burden is the fate that the narrator wishes to escape. Esperanza describes her family’s house on Mango Street as sad. She feels ashamed of it, as she did of the old apartment, and dreams of having her own house someday.

Keenly observant and intuitive, Esperanza describes her world with a child’s innocence which is beginning to fade. She is approaching puberty, with its longings and confusion. Her older friend Alicia, a college student who wakes up with the “tortilla star” every morning to pack her younger siblings’ lunchboxes, helps her and encourages her to write about herself. Esperanza’s ruminations are emotional, troubled, and exuberant. In many vignettes, she tests her sexuality, marvels at her body’s changes, and savors her adolescent emotions.

Sally, the beautiful girl in the neighborhood, influences Esperanza because she seems to know how to express her sexuality. Esperanza calls herself the ugly daughter, and Sally’s self-assurance impresses her. One night, however, Esperanza is humiliated when she tries to rescue Sally from a group of boys only to find that Sally does not desire to be saved. Sally completes her betrayal by disappearing at the carnival. She leaves Esperanza, who is raped that night. Sally’s marriage to a traveling salesman frees her from her abusive father but brings her to a new kind of prison.

As Esperanza matures, her interest in her identity grows. Latino society limits her to traditional roles. Esperanza calls marriage a ball and chain, and she recalls her grandmother pining for freedom at her windowsill. Esperanza is her grandmother’s namesake, but she does not want to share her circumstances. Consequently, Esperanza rejects traditional roles and seeks those who can help her write. Her Aunt Guadalupe, who is terminally ill, encourages her. Minerva, a struggling mother her own age, exchanges sad poems with Esperanza. Elenita, the “witch woman,” tells her that she will have “a home in the heart.” Only later does Esperanza understand that this cryptic message means Mango Street will always be with her, even after she goes away, with her books and papers. The young writer will represent her community, becoming its voice and historian. She is devoted to the women of the community. She says in the end that she will have “gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot get out.”


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Sandra Cisneros dedicates The House on Mango Street “A Las Mujeres: To the Women.” The feminism of these stories is not tied to the mainstream feminist movement in the United States, however, but to the struggle of poor, working-class, uneducated women of American Latino culture. Her fiction exposes male violence and deception from a girl’s point of view, making the suffering of these women at the hands of the men in Chicano/Mexican culture seem even more devastating. Yet the female characters appear that much stronger in their opposition to these hindrances.

At the same time, Cisneros’ novel exposes the myth of the traditional role of Mexican and Latina women. While her female characters may at first seem humble, tied to household duties, and self-effacing—exemplary of the so-called traditional Latina—they are actually tough fighters. Their fierceness and strength is evident in Guadalupe, Minerva, Alicia, and the narrator herself. They are underprivileged women; nevertheless, they fight patriarchy, fight for selfhood, and fight for education. Even Sally resists the role that her father—or society—plans for her, however unfulfilled she remains in her marriage bedroom (which the narrator describes in an ironic aside: “the ceiling smooth as a wedding cake”).

The House on Mango Street, published in 1984, was Cisneros’ first book of fiction. With its appearance, she becomes recognized as one of the most powerful of the young Chicana writers—writers such as Ana Castillo, Denise Chavez, and Gloria Anzaldua whose work first emerged in the 1980’s. Cisneros has also published Woman Hollering Creek (1991), a collection of stories, and My Wicked, Wicked Ways (1987), a volume of poetry. These works also explore the themes of feminism, biculturalism, classism, family violence, artistic creativity, and personal identity. Cisneros’ work offers insights into the lives of contemporary Latina women, and grapples with issues of power and selfhood that concern all women.

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Mexican Immigration to the United States
Cisneros plays on her dual Mexican American heritage throughout her work, and The...

(The entire section is 1036 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Point of View
The House on Mango Street is narrated by the adolescent Esperanza, who tells her story in the form of short,...

(The entire section is 1049 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In forty-four short tales, or vignettes, placed under one cover, Sandra Cisneros tells the life of Esperanza and her Mexican American family...

(The entire section is 106 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The House on Mango Street, which appeared in 1984, is a linked collection of forty-four short tales that evokes the circumstances and...

(The entire section is 1007 words.)

Glossary of Spanish Terms

(Novels for Students)

Terms found in The House on Mango Street and in these eNotes:

A las Mujeres (dedication)— To the women


(The entire section is 143 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Characterize the social constraints of the women in Esperanza's neighborhood, and describe how Esperanza both responds to and transcends the...

(The entire section is 58 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Cisneros wrote the vignettes in The House on Mango Street while struggling with her identity as an author at the University of Iowa's...

(The entire section is 145 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

A collection of poems that expresses the themes Cisneros explored in her early writing career is My Wicked Wicked Ways, published as a...

(The entire section is 243 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The House on Mango Street was adapted as a sound recording entitled House on Mango Street; Woman Hollering Creek, published by...

(The entire section is 30 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

My Wicked Wicked Ways, published as a book in 1987 by Sandra Cisneros, is an adaptation of her master's thesis from the University of...

(The entire section is 261 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Cisneros, Sandra. Interview by Reed Way Dasenbrock. In Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World, edited by Feroza Jussawalla and Dasenbrock. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1992. Cisneros discuses the genesis of her first novel, her use of voices, the effect that bilingualism has on her writing, her life in Texas, her parents’ lives, feminism, her favorite writers, and her novel in progress.

De Valdés, Maria Elena. “In Search of Identity in Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street.” Canadian Review of American Studies 23, no. 1 (Fall, 1992): 55-72. De Valdés systematically charts the stages of Esperanza’s search for identity, which is complicated by her “double marginalization” in being both a Chicana and a woman. Reviews key chapters to suggest what ideas they contribute to major themes in the novel.

Ganz, Robin. “Sandra Cisneros: Border Crossings and Beyond.” Melus 19, no. 1 (Spring, 1994): 19-29. Ganz uses biographical information drawn from many sources to show how Cisneros’ stories successfully cross borders of gender and ethnicity.

McCracken, Ellen. “Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street: Community-Oriented Introspection and the Demystification of Patriarchal Violence.” In Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writing and Critical Readings, edited by Asunción Horno-Delgado et al. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989. McCracken considers the novel from a feminist perspective, finding that it criticizes capitalistic and patriarchal social structures that oppress Latin women.

Olivares, Julián. “Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street and the Poetics of Space.” In Chicana Creativity and Criticism: Charting New Frontiers in American Literature, edited by Maria Herrera-Sobek and Helena María Viramontes. Houston, Tex.: Arte Público Press, 1988. Olivares argues that the house motif represents Cisneros’ “house of story-telling”; the narrative charts a young writer coming into her own. Whereas her real house represents confinement, the imaginary one represents her ability to transcend the conditions of her life by writing stories about them.

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Bebe Moore Campbell, "Crossing Borders," New York Times Book Renew, May 26, 1991, p. 6.


(The entire section is 600 words.)