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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What are six important metaphors from The House on Mango Street?

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One metaphor from The House on Mango Street is Angel Vargas. He might represent the normalization of harm and injury in Esperanza’s community. Two more metaphors might come from the high heels incident. The heels might represent the girls' burgeoning sexuality, while the homeless man might symbolize the dangers of expressing their developing sexuality. A fourth metaphor might be the warm bread.

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Before I can help you discuss some of the metaphors in The House on Mango Street, let’s be clear on what a metaphor means. A metaphor tends to refer to something that is representative or symbolic of something else.

For example, you might argue that Angel Vargas is a metaphor. You might say that his flight from Mr. Benny’s roof represents or symbolizes something else. It might represent the careless ways of some of the children in Esperanza’s community. You might also say that it symbolizes the normalization of injury and hurt in Esperanza’s community. When Angel appears to fall from the roof, Esperanza says, “Nobody looked up.” It’s like they don’t care or it’s no big deal.

Another metaphor might be the high heels. The heels that the girls wear might represent their developing sexuality. The homeless man who flirts with Rachel while she wears the heels might be a metaphor, too. He might be a symbol for the predatory way in which some men respond to female sexuality. In other words, he might be a symbol of danger.

One more metaphor I can identify for you is warm bread. You might want to look at the “Hairs” chapter and think about the ways in which warm bread might represent Esperanza’s relationship with her mom.

Now that I’ve provided you with four metaphors—Angel, the high heels, the homeless man, and the warm bread—I think you should be able to locate two more on your own.

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In The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, the house itself is a metaphor. "It's small and red with tight steps in front and windows so small you'd think they were holding their breath" (page 4). The house, and the other metaphors that the author regularly uses, stand for the pervasive sadness and occasional joy that characterize life as a poor latino family in the United States.

For example, even Esperanza's name is metaphorical. As Esperanza, the narrator of the novel, says, "It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing" (page 10). Her name, which means hope, is also tinged with sadness because her family hopes for a better life in the United States that they have not yet achieved. Her great-grandmother, described metaphorically as "a wild horse of a woman" (page 11), was also named Esperanza, but her future husband carried her off  "as if she were a fancy chandelier" (page 11). In other words, her great-grandmother's hope for something better was thwarted, and her name is ironic as a result. 

While many of the metaphors in the novel carry the sadness of Esperanza's life, many are also joyful or celebratory. For example, she says, "My hair is lazy. It never obeys barrettes or bands" (page 6). Her mother's hair, on the other hand,"smells like bread" (page 7). These metaphors convey the distinctiveness and joy of the family, as does the metaphor describing their laughter, which is "all of a sudden and surprised like a pile of dishes breaking" (page 17). The author's metaphorical language give a distinctive sense of what Esperanza's life is like on Mango Street. 

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The House on Mango Street is a novel narrated by Esperanza who, along with five members of her family, move into a barrio and must live in a red house that does not even have running water. She is so disgruntled with this house that she wants to go somewhere else. She narrates,

Someday I will have a best friend all my own. One I can tell my secrets to. One who will understand my jokes without my having to explain them. Until then I am a red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor.

In this metaphor Esperanza compares herself to a red balloon because her house in painted with red paint and it resembles a balloon that is tied down because she is trapped in that barrio with no hope for her future. 

Then, Esperanza remarks that she and her sister are alike in several ways, one of which is their laughter, which is 

Not the shy ice cream bells' giggle of Rachel and Lucy's family, but all of a sudden and surprised like a pile of dishes breaking.

In other words, her sister's and her laughter are not light and giggly, but sudden and crashing, like dishes breaking'

Another example of metaphor comes when Esperanza goes to "Elenita, witch woman..." who reads the tarot cards. After she deals some out, she says,

Here a pillar of bees and this a mattress of luxury

These are metaphor for hardships and times of comfort.

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Some examples of metaphors in The House on Mango Street are as follows:

"Until then I am a red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor." (9)

"You can never have too much sky." (33)

"Today we are Cinderella because our feet fit exactly. . ." (40)

"But I think diseases have no eyes." (59)

"Everything is holding its breath inside me.  Everything is waiting to explode like Christmas." (73)

"You will always be Mango Street." (105)

Metaphors are figures of speech that make direct comparisons between two seemingly unrelated things.  Explore your interpretation of the story to see how the above lines are metaphors in Esperanza's story.

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