Coming of Age
Through various themes in The House on Mango Street Esperanza reveals herself as both a product of the community in which she lives and one of the only figures courageous enough to transcend her circumstances. Like all adolescents, Esperanza struggles to forge her own identity. In many respects, Esperanza's own keen observations and musings about the women in her neighborhood are her way of processing what will happen to her in the future and what is within her power to change. On the one hand, she is surrounded by adolescent myths and superstitions about sexuality. In the story "Hips," the adolescent Esperanza contemplates why women have hips: "The bones just one day open. One day you might decide to have kids, and then where are you going to put them?" Esperanza boldly experiments with the trappings of womanhood by wearing high heels in "The Family of Little Feet," and in "Sally," she looks enviously to the girl as an image of maturity: "My mother says to wear black so young is dangerous, but I want to buy shoes just like yours." However, Esperanza's brushes with sexuality are dangerous and negative in "The First Job" and "Red Clowns," and she feels betrayed by the way love is portrayed by her friends, the movies, and magazines. Esperanza observes characters such as Sally, Minerva, and Rafaela, who, through early and abusive marriages, are trapped in the neighborhood and into identifying themselves through their male connections. After witnessing this, Esperanza says in "Beautiful & Cruel," "I have decided not to grow up tame like the others who lay their necks on the threshold waiting for the ball and chain." Esperanza also forges her identity through the metaphor of the house. Her longing for a house of her own underscores her need for something uplifting and stable with which she can identify. Throughout the book there is a tension between Esperanza's ties to the barrio and her impressions of another kind of life outside of it. Ultimately, Esperanza's ability to see beyond her immediate surroundings allows her to transcend her circumstances and immaturity.
Culture and Heritage Difference
Esperanza keenly observes the struggles of Hispanic Americans who wish to preserve the essence of their heritage while striving to forge productive lives within American culture. It is through the sordid details of the lives of Esperanza's neighbors that we glimpse the humorous, moving, and tragic sides of these struggles. Esperanza's community serves as a microcosm of Latinos in America, and her own identity is interwoven with the identity of the neighborhood. People in the barrio relate to one another because of a shared past and current experience. In "Those Who Don't," Esperanza considers the stereotypes and fears that whites have of Latinos and vice versa. Cisneros weaves together popular beliefs, traditions, and other vestiges of the countries from which she and her neighbors trace their ancestry. In "No Speak English," for example, an old woman paints her walls pink to recall the colorful appearance of the houses in Mexico, a seemingly hopeless gesture in the drab underbelly of Chicago. She wails when her grandson sings the lyrics to an American television commercial but cannot speak Spanish. The tragic Mamacita risks losing her identity if she assimilates, like her little grandson, into American culture. In "Elenita, Cards, Palm, Water," the so-called "witch woman" of the neighborhood preserves the old wives' tales, superstitions, and traditional remedies for curing headaches, forgetting an old flame, and curing insomnia.
Despite these ties to the past, Esperanza leaves no doubt that she is destined to leave this neighborhood for a bigger world outside the barrio, an allusion to her dual cultural loyalties. Esperanza believes that one day she will own her own house outside the neighborhood. However, she also leaves no doubt that she will return one day for those unable to leave the environment on their own. In "Bums in the...
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