Sandra Cisneros Sandra Cisneros Long Fiction Analysis

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Sandra Cisneros Long Fiction Analysis

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

One of the dominant ideas behind much of Sandra Cisneros’s work is the importance of autobiography in predominantly fictional work. For example, Cisneros’s mother, a Latin American born in Chicago, wanted her daughter to be independent, but her brothers and her father (who was born in Mexico) felt she should be a traditional Mexican wife and mother. With the heavy-handedness displayed by her brothers in their attempts to control her, as well as their patriarchal expectations, Sandra often felt like she had “seven fathers” rather than just one. She weaves these personal feelings into her fiction, giving the heroine of The House on Mango Street, Esperanza, the same sense of isolation within her family and yet giving her a name (esperanza is Spanish for “hope”) that represents the cheerful optimism with which her family sticks together through good and bad times. Similarly, Cisneros’s father was frequently homesick for his native Mexico while still being loyal to his American wife. Consequently, the family, like the Reyes family in Cisneros’s later novel Caramelo, moved often, alternating between squalid Mexican towns and the barrios of American cities.

Cisneros disliked the impermanence and decrepitude of her childhood—so much so, in fact, that when she recasts her youth in her fiction, she fills the writing with descriptions of introverted and lonely lives as well as cultural displacement. The stories in the collection Woman Hollering Creek, and Other Stories, although varying widely in style, all draw on Cisneros’s heritage for their themes and metaphors. Often plotless, the stories tend to be impressionistic; “Tin Tan Tan” seems almost poetic in form and has internal rhyme. Other stories carry themes particular to Catholic or Latina life. “Little Miracles, Kept Promises,” with its description of a series of letters left at the shrine of La Virgen de Guadalupe, resonates with lines that suggest older forces at work—the shrine being not just the Virgin’s home place but also the temple of an Aztec goddess. Symbolically, the book is rich with metaphors. The “real” Woman Hollering Creek is a creek (described as named for the folk-legend figure “La Llorona,” or “The Weeping Woman”) where, according to local lore, a jilted mother drowned her child. In the story, the main character, Cleofilas, a woman whose violent husband forces her to live as a very traditional Mexican woman and who has few choices in life, is able to overcome her anguish by leaving her abusive husband and her stifling home. Cleofilas represents a destiny that Cisneros had sometimes feared would be her own. As a child, she could not understand why her home could not be like the pristine, idealized ones she saw on television in such programs as Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver, but she sensed that the difference lay in her heritage.

The House on Mango Street

The House on Mango Street, the work that Cisneros created to define her understanding of what it means to be Latina, comprises a series of lyrical vignettes that are not quite poems but that sometimes lack the plotting expected for a work of prose fiction. Esperanza, the narrator, describes her daily life not as a series of distinct events but rather as poetic images.

Each vignette can be read independently, because the stories do not depend on each other for an overarching plot. Further, the problems that Esperanza and her family suffer are never fully resolved. The intimacy of the narrator’s first-person voice adds warmth to the portraits. Although Esperanza’s optimism sometimes wavers, her desire to grow up in a “real house,” deflated by her parents’ insincere declarations of their home’s squalor as temporary, is never fully crushed.

Her relationship with her mother is a close one, and Esperanza’s tender description of her mother’s ringletted hair, “sweet” like “rosettes,” reveals an affectionate acceptance of her despite her failings. The four...

(The entire section is 1,105 words.)