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The House on Mango Street

by Sandra Cisneros

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In The House on Mango Street, how does Esperanza change throughout the story?

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Mexican-American writer Sandra Cisneros’s 1983 novel The House on Mango Street presents the narrative of Esperanza Cordero, a 12-year-old Chicana girl living in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago. This novel contains a series of vignettes and contains elements of Mexican-American culture, specifically with regards to gender, sexuality, race, and...

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socioeconomic class. Thegenre is bildungsroman, which focuses on the moral and psychological growth between adolescence to adulthood.

At the start of the novel, the reader learns that Esperanza has no desire to stay on Mango Street over the long term. However, as Esperanza matures, she becomes more aware of the socioeconomics of her family and her neighbors. She comes to realize that their poverty is what keeps them on Mango Street. Even when she leaves the street eventually, her poverty will follow her, and as such, Mango Street will not leave her as long as she is poor.

Additionally, Esperanza becomes more aware of her body and her sexuality throughout the novel. She is aware of her growing hips, which will one day bear children, and she takes romantic interest in boys. This theme of sexuality is perverted by instances of sexual assault. At the carnival, Esperanza is sexually abused by a group of boys. Esperanza’s friend Sally marries an older man in an attempt to escape her abusive father, but she is unsuccessful as her husband perpetuates the domestic abuse.

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"The House on Mango Street" takes us as readers through a period of time (about a year) in the life of Esperanza, a Mexican-American girl who moves in to a house on Mango Street at the beginning of the novel. The novel is told in a series of vignettes, and from the beginning, we are aware that Esperanza does not plan on staying on Mango Street for the rest of her life.

Throughout the year, Esperanza matures mentally, sexually, and emotionally. Several events occur throughout the novel that points us towards this fact, such as her becoming aware of her growing hips, making friends, developing crushes, and writing as a means of escape. We read about her grandfather (Abuelito) passing away, the way she perceives her own name, and being assaulted after she befriends Sally.

Esperanza quickly goes from a girl who loves playing outside, jumping rope, and telling stories to a young woman who dreams about boys, deals with people she loves passing away, and has to come to terms with her family's poverty. By the end of the novel, she knows that even if she leaves Mango Street, Mango Street will never leave her. Her writing has become a part of her, and she will use it to overcome any obstacle she faces.

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Although the book only covers a year, Esperanza starts out as a young girl and ends the book as a young woman. A number of things contribute to her coming of age in so short a time. One thing that happens is puberty. Over the course of the novel, Esperanza's body begins to change, and with that the way she relates to others begins to change as well. This culminates with her betrayal by her friend Sally and her assault at the carnival in the chapter "Red Clowns." But the real change Esperanza goes through is not physical or sexual, but one of understanding. She becomes more aware of her surroundings, the people around her, herself, and her relationship to the neighborhood. She learns that all the people around her are trapped on Mango Street in one way or another. She also learns that she is not like them. I think this awareness is neatly expressed in Esperanza's comment on her great-grandmother: "She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window."

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The House on Mango Street is a bildunsgroman, or coming of age story, so the reader can observe Esperanza mature throughout the course of the book.  She begins as a little girl, concerned with petty things like playground arguments.  Later vignettes show Esperanza becoming aware and interested in womanhood.  This is first evidenced in "Hips" when she notices this defining mark of a woman and ponders why they exist. She later comes of age in "Sire" when she begins to show interest in the opposite sex.  Esperanza also faces many experiences that strip her of her innocence.  No vignette is more powerful in showing this than "Red Clowns" where Esperanza is raped by a man at a carnival.

Esperanza also starts off the book as a selfish girl only concerned with her own desires.  Her focus is on the type of house she wants to live in and how she wants to leave the ghetto.  However, by the end she realizes her dream has to go beyond her own self- interestes.  This mature way of thinking is fully established in "The Three Sisters" when one of the sisters tells her that she must come back to Mango Street to help others like her succeed in escaping.

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In The House on Mango Street, how does Esperanza's environment affect her? 

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is a coming-of-age novel told in vignettes from the point of view of Esperanza, a young girl who grows up in a barrio neighborhood in Chicago. How the environment of the neighborhood affects Esperanza’s perceptions of life and herself is a theme throughout the stories.

In the chapter “My Name,” Esperanza indicates that she doesn’t like her name because it sets her apart from mainstream society. She associates her heritage and living conditions with sadness in contrast to the optimism and prosperity of post-war America.

In English, my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting.

Esperanza experiences a loss of hope in the chapter “Gil’s Furniture Bought & Sold.” She describes the neighborhood junk store run by a cheapskate owner who doesn’t turn on the lights unless there is a sale. At the insistence of her sister Nenny, the store owner demonstrates for the girls how to operate a “music box” which appears to be a wind-up Victrola. The effect of the music on Esperanza is immediate: the sounds evoke in her otherworldly scenes and emotions until it becomes too much.

And then I don’t know why, but I have to turn around and pretend I don’t care about the box so Nenny won’t see how stupid I am.

The junk store owner then flatly declares the music box isn’t for sale and shuts the lid, thus shutting Esperanza off from a connection to a bigger, more creative life.

The chapter “There Was an Old Woman She Had So Many Children She Didn’t Know What to Do” shows how the environment of the neighborhood creates a careless and even callous attitude in Esperanza and the other residents.

Esperanza describes with embarrassment her neighbor Rosa Vargas, whose husband abandoned the family, leaving a lonely and exhausted Rosa to raise their children. The Vargas kids have little supervision and tear about the neighborhood “without respect for all living things, including themselves.” Esperanza makes an effort to help Rosa and finds that:

But after a while you get tired of being worried about kids who aren’t even yours.

At the chapter’s end, Esperanza describes the death of Angel Vargas in a detached manner, suggesting that she has become worn down by the stress of living in the neighborhood.

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In The House on Mango Street, how does Esperanza's environment affect her? 

The House on Mango Street is a narrative about a girl who lives in the barrio and finds it an environment that is repugnant to her because she realizes early on that people are often judged by the house in which they live. Further, she finds the barrio a dangerous place as well as an environment in which her poetic spirit cannot flourish.

Esperanza is embarrassed about her house as being the worst place in her neighborhood. When a nun from her school passes by and sees Esperanza playing in her front yard, she remarks,"You live there?" as she notices that

Bricks are crumbling in places and the front door is so swollen you have to push hard to get in....
[On the third floor there are] wooden bars Papa had nailed on the window so we wouldn't fall out....

There is a certain fear instilled in Esperanza as she is warned about various people in her neighborhood. One day when she and her friends put on small high heels that a woman has given them and walk about, men make lurid comments to them. There is, for instance, the lecherous "Bum Man" who asks one of them to come closer.

"You are a pretty girl....What's your name, pretty girl?
....If I give you a dollar will you give me a kiss?"

The girls turn and run in fear.

Because her family is poor, Esperanza must go to work at a young age. In the vignette entitled "My First Job," she dresses in a navy blue dress to make herself seem older and is hired to place camera negatives in envelops for shipping. The job is not too strenuous, although Esperanza tires of standing. After gobbling down her lunch privately because she is afraid to sit down where so many women and men look at her, she later sees a man from the next shift who comes in early. She thinks he has "friendly eyes," so when he talks to her Esperanza engages in conversation with him. The man tells her it is his birthday and asks if he could have a little kiss for his birthday. Since he is old, Esperanza acquiesces and moves closer to place her lips on his cheek; however, as she narrates,

...he grabs my face with both hands and kisses me hard on the mouth and doesn't let go.

Esperanza is shaken by this experience in which, again, an older man seeks to rob her of her innocence.  

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In The House on Mango Street, how does Esperanza's environment affect her? 

Esperanza's environment affects her in profound ways.  The physical elements of her community as well as the social relationships she finds there leave a mark on Esperanza as she grows up.  First, Esperanza feels shame because she lives in a run-down house.  Before the family moved to Mango Street, she was shunned by a nun because her house had boarded windows.  She believed that moving into a house of their own would solve the family's problems.  However, Esperanza soon learns that poor communities are still poor even if the houses are owned by their inhabitants.  As Esperanza meets people in her new neighborhood, she learns about sorrow, abuse, and the desire for hope and freedom.  She describes Marin who "under the streetlight, dancing by herself, is singing the same song somewhere.  I know.  Is waiting for a car to stop, a star to fall, someone to change her life."  Esperanza learns that others around her are all waiting for something to come rescue them and make their dreams come true.  By the end of the book, Esperanza vows to leave Mango Street to find her dreams and return to rescue the others.

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