Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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?