Sandra Cisneros

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Sandra Cisneros American Literature Analysis

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In a 1991 interview, Cisneros spoke of the “deluge of voices” she heard upon returning to Chicago after studying in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She said she was “fascinated by the rhythms of speech.” Both her fiction and her poetry may be described as a deluge of voices, for virtually all of her fiction and some of her poems take the general form of the dramatic monologue.

A dramatic monologue is a literary work that consists of a speech such as one might hear in ordinary conversation, or especially in a play. A good example is “Los Boxers,” in which a talkative widower in a laundromat explains to a young mother how he has learned to do his laundry systematically, effectively, and cheaply, without any perception of the irony of his giving this information to a Latina—for whom such work is traditionally a life sentence and who presumably still knows a good deal more about doing laundry than he does.

Cisneros’s stories more often take the form of an internal monologue. The reader follows the speaker’s inner thoughts as if he or she were saying them out loud in a distinctive voice; often the speaker is engaged in some specific actions while thinking. An example is “My Friend Lucy Who Smells Like Corn,” a story that communicates the joys of youthful friendship in a poor neighborhood. The speaker breathlessly describes her friend while recounting past and current activities and adventures, including snatches of dialogue. She reveals her pleasures in playing at Lucy’s house with her friend’s eight sisters and tells of her wish for sisters of her own so that she could sleep with them “instead of alone on a fold-out chair in the living room.”

Almost every story and many poems seem to be spoken aloud, even if there is not a specific dramatic situation. Even when a story clearly consists of recorded writing, as opposed to speech, Cisneros emphasizes a particular writing voice. For example, in “Little Miracles, Kept Promises,” she presents notes left at shrines, notes thanking or making requests of various saints. Each note is a story told in a unique voice that reveals the personality of the writer, his or her situation and cultural background, and the writer’s conception of the addressed saint as a listener. Though forms of the dramatic monologue and closely related letter forms are favorites for Cisneros, she occasionally tells stories in the third-person voice, and many of her poems seem to be in her own voice, describing her own family and acquaintances.

Readers will recognize similarities between characters in her stories and members of her family. The Reyes family of Caramelo and the Cordero family of The House on Mango Street are based on her own family. While these novels and several of her stories contain autobiographical elements, Cisneros points out that these always are fictionalized and not literal stories from her life.

Cisneros’s main themes include the position of women in Latino culture, the problems of Latinas who want to live independent lives, and the complex relations between Anglo-Americans, Mexican Americans, and Mexicans. She also gives considerable attention to religious themes, reflecting her ambivalence toward her family’s Catholicism and her eventual conversion to Buddhism, which she says allowed her to maintain her devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Although Cisneros has clear political concerns that appear in virtually all of her work, her stories and poems are rarely political or moral tracts. Even the parable “There Was a Man, There Was a Woman” presents portraits without explaining the meanings readers should see in the depiction of the two characters.

As Cisneros has said in interviews, one of her purposes as an artist is to change the way in which people see their world. Her works thus often present a picture of Latino life from a point of view that reveals aspects that ordinarily might be hidden. For example, in “Los Boxers,” there is no moralistic voice that points...

(The entire section is 2,983 words.)