Sandra Cisneros 1954-
American short story writer and poet. See also Sandra Cisneros Poetry Criticism, Sandra Cisneros Literary Criticism (Volume 193), Sandra Cisneros Literary Criticism (Volume 118), and Woman Hollering Creek Criticism.
Drawing upon her childhood experiences and ethnic heritage as the daughter of a Mexican father and a Chicana mother, Cisneros addresses poverty, cultural suppression, self-identity, and gender roles in her fiction and poetry. She is perhaps best known for her award-winning The House on Mango Street (1983), a volume of loosely structured vignettes focusing on adolescent rite of passage and the treatment of women in a distinctly chicano community. The House on Mango Street, as well as Cisneros's more recent collection Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (1991), have won critical acclaim for their realistic depiction of the condition of Hispanic women and for their innovative compositional style, which exhibits the overall completeness of a novel, the dynamic energy of a short story, the pointedness of a vignette, and the lyricism of poetry.
Born in Chicago, Cisneros was the only daughter among seven children. The family frequently moved between the United States and Mexico because of her father's homesickness for his native country and his devotion to his mother who lived there. Cisneros wrote poems and stories throughout her adolescence and college years at Loyola University but did not discover her literary voice until attending the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop in the late 1970s. During a discussion of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space and his metaphor of a house as a realm of stability, Cisneros realized that her experiences as a Chicana woman were unique and outside the realm of dominant American culture. She observed that with "the metaphor of a house—a house, a house, it hit me. What did I know except third-floor flats. Surely my classmates knew nothing about that. That's precisely what I chose to write: about third-floor flats, and fear of rats, and drunk husbands sending rocks through windows, anything as far from the poetic as possible." Shortly after participating in the Iowa Workshop, Cisneros returned to Loyola, where she worked as a college recruiter and counselor for minority and disadvantaged students. Troubled by their problems and haunted by conflicts related to her own upbringing, she began writing seriously as a form of release.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Noted for their powerful dialogue, vivid characterizations, and well-crafted prose, Cisneros's short story collections are unique in that they incorporate several genres. Of her short fiction, Cisneros has written: "I wanted to write a collection which could be read at any random point without having any knowledge of what came before or after. Or, that could be read in a series to tell one big story. I wanted stories like poems, compact and lyrical and ending with a reverberation." Therefore, while each story within her two collections is complete in itself, it is bound to the others by common themes that focus on Hispanic women, divided cultural loyalties, feelings of alienation, sexual and cultural oppression, and degradation associated with poverty. The House on Mango Street features the semi-autobiographical character of Esperanza, a poor, Hispanic adolescent who, humiliated by her family's poverty and dissatisfied with the repressive gender values of her culture, longs for a room of her own and a house of which she can be proud. Esperanza ponders the disadvantages of choosing marriage over education, the importance of writing as an emotional release, and the sense of confusion associated with growing up. Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories is a collection of twenty-two narratives revolving around numerous Mexican-American characters living near San Antonio, Texas. Ranging from a few paragraphs to several pages, the stories in this volume contain the interior monologues of individuals who have been assimilated into American culture despite their sense of loyalty to Mexico. In "Never Marry a Mexican," for example, a young Hispanic woman begins to feel contempt for her white lover because of her emerging feelings of inadequacy and cultural guilt resulting from her inability to speak Spanish.
Critics praise Cisneros's ability to explore conflicts directly related to her upbringing, including divided loyalties, feelings of alienation, and degradation resulting from poverty. Although she addresses important contemporary issues associated with minority status throughout her two collections, critics have described her characters as idiosyncratic, accessible individuals capable of generating compassion on a universal level. Commentators laud her lyrical narratives, vivid dialogue, and powerful descriptions, applauding her poetic depictions of life as a Chicana woman, as well as her deft treatment of such controversial themes as sexism, racism, and poverty.