Sandra Cisneros Analysis

Discussion Topics

Sandra Cisneros says that one purpose of her stories is to help readers to see one another more sympathetically and so to be more forgiving. What are some examples of stories and incidents that serve this purpose?

Caramelo opens with this statement: “Tell me something, even if it is a lie.” Think of examples of characters telling stories about themselves and others, whether they are true or false. In which examples is the storytelling hurtful and in which is it helpful? What makes the difference?

Many of Cisneros’s stories offer comparisons between two or more cultures, especially Anglo-American, Mexican American, and Mexican. What features stand out as distinctive in each culture? What points of comparison does Cisneros emphasize?

Cisneros’s female characters, especially in The House on Mango Street and Caramelo, often struggle for self-realization against the expectations for women in traditional Mexican culture. What does traditional Mexican culture expect of women? Consider the motives of her main female rebels against tradition. What factors make their rebellions difficult and painful? What factors go into a successful rebellion?

Cisneros’s Mexican and Mexican American characters often seem ambivalent about their American Indian ancestry. What are some examples of these ambivalent feelings? What reasons does Cisneros suggest for this ambivalence?

In several of her stories, Cisneros mixes a good deal of Spanish in with the English. How does this mixing of languages affect the reading experience for an English-speaking reader? Why do you think Cisneros does this? For one example, what themes emerge when one studies the meanings and uses of the word, “caramelo,” in Caramelo?

Other Literary Forms

Sandra Cisneros is known for her poetry as well as her short fiction. She has published several collections of poems, including Bad Boys (1980), My Wicked, Wicked Ways (1987), and Loose Woman (1994); much of her poetry remains uncollected and unpublished, according to the author’s wishes. She has also published a series of essays explaining her own creative processes as a writer in The Americas Review. In addition, she published Hairs = Pelitos (1984), a children’s book illustrated by Terry Ybanez which expands on the chapter “Hairs” featured in The House on Mango Street.

Achievements

Together with authors such as Ana Castillo, Denise Chávez, and Alma Villanueva, Sandra Cisneros is one of the literary voices that emerged in the 1980’s and was responsible for securing for Chicana fiction a place in mainstream American literature. Her collection of short stories Woman Hollering Creek, and Other Stories was the first work by and about Chicanas—that is, Mexican American women—to receive a contract with a major publishing house (Random House). Cisneros was awarded the Before Columbus American Book Award and the PEN Center West Award for her first collection of short fiction, The House on Mango Street. She is a two-time recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Creative Writers for her poetry and fiction. In 1985, Cisneros received a Dobie-Paisano Fellowship. She was granted a MacArthur Fellowship in 1995.

Other literary forms

Sandra Cisneros (sihs-NEHR-ohs) is known largely for her fiction. Her first published novel, The House on Mango Street (1984), is canonical reading for middle school, high school, and college students in the United States. She received a $100,000 advance for her collection of short stories, Woman Hollering Creek, and Other Stories, published in 1991. Cisneros published a bilingual picture book for children, Hairs = Pelitos, based on a vignette from The House on Mango Street, in 1994. Her most ambitious work, the novel Caramelo: Or, Puro Cuento, was published in 2002. Vintage Cisneros (2004) includes selections of poetry and fiction from her other works.

Achievements

A graduate of the prestigious University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Sandra Cisneros received two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, one for fiction (1982) and one for poetry (1987), and a MacArthur Fellowship in 1995. She won the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation (1985) for The House on Mango Street; the PEN Center West Award for Best Fiction (1992), the Quality Paperback Book Club New Voices Award (1992), the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (1993), and the Lannan Literary Award (1991) for Woman Hollering Creeek, and Other Stories; the Mountains and Plains Booksellers’ Regional Book Award for Loose Woman (1995); and the Premio Napoli Award in 2005 for Caramelo. She was given the Chicano Short Story Award from the University of Arizona in 1986 and the Texas Medal of the Arts in 2003. She was awarded honorary doctorates from the State University of New York at Purchase in 1993 and from Loyola University in 2002.

Cisneros is one of the most popular and well-known Chicana writers and has used her recognition to improve the lives of people in her community. In 1995, she established the Macondo Foundation, an association that supports poets and writers working for social change. In 2000, she founded the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation, which provides financial support for writers connected to the state of Texas. Her work has been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Other literary forms

Sandra Cisneros (sihz-NAY-rohs), although primarily known for her longer works, has also tried her hand at other genres. She has published a collection of short stories, Woman Hollering Creek, and Other Stories (1991), as well as volumes of poetry, including Bad Boys (1980), My Wicked, Wicked Ways (1987), and Loose Woman (1994). She has also published a children’s book as well as nonfiction articles describing her life as a writer and sketches of the works of other writers, such as Ana Castillo and Luis Omar Salinas.

Poetry comes naturally to Cisneros, who is fond of sensory detail and metaphoric language. Loose Woman, for example, is a celebration of unbridled feminine sexuality. As a “bad” girl—a woman who wears black-lace bras and frankly describes sex and menstruation—Cisneros’s narrator allows herself the luxury of unfettered passion. Sounding at times like a Latina Allen Ginsberg in Loose Woman, Cisneros reveals her “dark” side through her need for sexual expression. Ironically, however, Cisneros’s poetic language has found its greatest acclaim not through her chapbooks but through her novels. Challenged to find a metaphor for her life as a Latina, Cisneros is most often viewed as a writer of sweeping autobiography rather than as a poet.

Achievements

Given the lyricism of her writing, it should be no surprise that Sandra Cisneros has garnered considerable critical acclaim since she published The House on Mango Street in 1984. She received an Illinois Artists Grant in 1984, which, like an award she received from the National Endowment for the Arts, encouraged her to write versions of poems that would later appear in such collections as My Wicked, Wicked Ways and Loose Woman, as well as a number of nonfiction articles.

The House on Mango Street, in particular, has been lauded by readers and critics alike. In 1985, it received the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award, and since then it has become a staple of many high...

(The entire section is 299 words.)

Bibliography

Brady, Mary Pat. “The Contrapunctal Geographies of Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories.” American Literature 71, no. 1 (March, 1999): 117-150. Particularly interesting essay outlines Cisneros’s work not just as Hispanic literature but also as American literature. Brady’s point seems validated by Cisneros’s support of specifically Texan writers through the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation (created in honor of her father).

Cisneros, Sandra. “On the Solitary Fate of Being Mexican, Female, Wicked, and Thirty-three: An Interview with Writer Sandra Cisneros.” Interview by Pilar E. Rodríguez Aranda. The...

(The entire section is 955 words.)