Most kids seem to think that going to school and getting an education is boring and even a waste of time but that was not the case for these two girls. Francie Nolan and Esperanza Cordero are two very different characters that come from very different backgrounds. However, for both of them, education played a pivotal role as they matured. It helped them escape reality, and opened the door for a better life.
For Francie Nolan education was something that was always stressed in her family. Her mother Katie made her and Neeley read either the encyclopedia or some of the works of Shakespeare, every night before they went to bed. This greatly expanded their knowledge and vocabulary. Also, since she started them doing this at a young age what they read would help shape their mind and the lessons and things they might have learned would stay with them forever.
Some things she read like A Midsummer Night’s Dream have very vivid descriptions of setting and very intriguing characters. I think that after Francie reads these novels she tries to come up with her own descriptions for Brooklyn, “Prairie was lovely and Shenandoah had a beautiful sound but you couldn’t fit these words into Brooklyn. Serene was the only word. Especially on a Saturday afternoon in the summer.”(Smith 1) These words show how Francie describes her city and the words she uses are far more advanced than what any other child her age would be Steers 2
saying. Therefore, this shows the positive effect that reading Shakespeare has had on her. Besides the books she is forced to read at night, Francie takes her education into her own hands. Every Saturday, while most other kids she knows, including her own brother Neeley, are outside playing or picking rags to give to the junkman, Francie goes to the library. “It was an old shabby place but Francie thought it was beautiful. The feeling she had about it was the same feeling she had about church.”(Smith 20) This shows me that Francie feels safe in the library and she goes there to escape reality, to dive into the new and exciting worlds those books present to her.
The books also help Francie escape reality in the sense that they give her peace in a time and a city where that was hard to find. “… She read, at peace with the world and as happy as a little girl could be with a good book and a bowlful of candy.”(Smith 24) As she watches from her perch on a tree outside her window, “Kids ran in and out, going to and returning from the butcher’s, the grocer’s, and the bakers”(Smith 24) From Francie’s perspective all the kids, most of them probably around her age, are very stressed as they run around doing errands for their parents. Francie is able to avoid that stress by reading.
Esperanza is slightly different from Francie. She uses her writing, not reading as a way for her to escape her reality. Specifically, Esperanza is interested in writing poems. She would always read her poems to her Aunt Lupe. Sadly, her Aunt Lupe dies of a mysterious disease and Esperanza no longer had anyone to share with. That was made even worse by the fact that Esperanza felt partially responsible for her Aunt’s death. That responsibility, even if it was not actually hers, was a big burden on Steers 3
Esperanza. Then Esperanza remembered something that her Aunt had said to her the last time that Esperanza had shared one of her poems with her aunt. “That’s nice. That very good she said in her tired voice. Esperanza, you must remember to keep writing. Always keep writing. It will keep you free.”(Cisneros 61) Esperanza had said that at the time she did not know what her Aunt Lupe meant, and when I first read that line, I had no idea either, but after reading it over I realized that she meant that Espeanza’s writing would keep her free from reality and that no matter what happened to her, she could always find relief in writing. In the last vignette in the novella Esperanza says, “ I make a story for my life, each step my brown shoe takes… I like to tell stories. I am going to tell you the story of a girl who didn’t want to belong.”(Cisneros 109)
This quote gave me the idea that the whole novella could have been Esperanza writing down her memories from Mango Street, as a way of letting go and moving on to the next place. However, that idea is not supported throughout the whole novella. In some vignettes, use of the resent tense makes it seem like Esperanza wrote things down as they happened and then later went back and edited them or added details. She is using her writing to set her self-free like her Aunt Lupe said. The last way that Esperanza is using writing to free herself and escape reality is that she is always going to be writing wherever she goes. One of the last lines of the novella is, “And I packed up my papers and pencil as I say goodbye to Mango Street.”(Cisneros 112) This shows that no matter where she goes or whatever troubles may befall her in her new home she will always have her writing to help escape reality and let go of the bad times.
Another way that education helped Francie as she matured was that it helped open doors for her that led to a better life than what she had in Brooklyn. Francie was excited for school but she found the local public school cruel and mean, “and her learning was juxtaposed with the cruelties of the teacher’s and students.”(Smith 156) This quote clearly shows that the public school was not a good place to learn and that Francie would not be able to get a good education there. However, that did not stop her from getting an education. Her mother largely supported this. She pretended that she lived in a richer section of town, and her mother paid extra tuition so that she could go to a better school and receive a better education. I think one of the main reasons for this is that Katie, one of the “proud and strong Rommely women”, was too proud so she would not allow her daughter to receive a sub-par education. In this new school, children were not judged based on how rich or poor they were.
Later on in the novel, after eighth grade graduation, when Katie is unable to support all three kids after Johnny’s death and Francie’s education is cut short so that she can get a job and help support her family. At first this seemed unjust that Katie would have Francie deprived of an education when she could clearly do more with a good education and would do more things than Neeley would. I thought that Francie would feel indignant, about this treatment, however, the job did not discourage Francie from pursuing her education. Even though the Nolan’s could only afford to send one child to high school,(and Katie chose to send Neeley), Francie still found a way to enroll in college summer classes and was still able to pursue her dream of higher education. When I reflected on this I realized that Katie probably knew that Francie would not ever stop her from getting an education whereas she would Steers have to force Neeley to go to school in order for him to get educated because he had an infinitesimal desire to learn.
This really reinforced how passionate Francie is about her education, which was shown in the first chapters where she would go to the library and read books rather than spend her Saturday outside with the neighborhood kids. “Francie liked school in spite of all the meanness, cruelty and unhappiness. The regimented routine of many children, all doing the same thing at once, gave her a feeling of safety.”(Smith 161) This quote shows how Francie likes school because in a busy world, it is one of the few places that mollifies her anxiety. Francie ends up matriculating to college at the University of Michigan where she will finally get the education she deserves. The novel comes together and Francie finally is able to leave Brooklyn. Education opened doors for her and allowed her to lead a better life.
Esperanza’s education and writing also opened doors for her and allowed her to leave Mango Street and let go of all the bad memories she had there. The writing helped very much as she matured and provided an outlet that she greatly needed in order to “let go” of Mango Street so she could move on and lead a good life. During her one year tenure on Mango Street Esperanza experiences and goes through many different and powerful things. She makes friends, hits puberty and becomes interested in boys, and even is sexually assaulted and betrayed by people who she thought were her friends. Many of these things would have been difficult to deal with, even traumatizing, if Esperanza did not have her writing to use as an outlet. At the end of the novella, days before Esperanza is due to leave Mango Street her friend Alicia says, “Like it or not you are Mango Street. It is a part of you now.”(Cisneros 107)
In this, Alicia is saying that Steers Esperanza may leave the house on Mango Street but she will never be able to leave behind all of the memories she has there. If this was true, I think that it would be detrimental to Esperanza as she matures even more in becoming a true adult because during her time on Mango Street, she had some adult experiences and went through too much too fast. I believe that if Esperanza were unable to truly leave behind Mango Street it would hinder her maturing greatly. However, because of her writing, Esperanza can write everything down as a way of distancing herself from her experiences on Mango Street. This will make so that she can mature as an adult without complications and eventually make her able to lead a successful and fulfilling life.
Both of these young women use education as the focal point of their coming of age. It helps them to escape their realities and let things go, and also to pursue higher education and a better life so that later they may come back and help others do the same.
Works Cited Page
• Smith, Betty. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. New York: HarperPerennial, 2006. Print. • Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1994. Print.