The characterization of Esperanza Cordero, a young Mexican-American girl in her early teens who lives in the Mango Street and who is also the main protagonist in the novel, and what the house symbolizes helps one to acquire the themes and messages of this particular literature. Esperanza, whose name means hope, is confronted with her American dream of owning a spacious, private and secure house like the ones she sees in Television; one that she is not ashamed to own and one in which she has complete control of —and her Mango Street reality.
Initially, she believes that she does not belong in such place like the Mango Street where everyone in the family sleeps in one room, where men prey on young girls and where parents mistreat their children due to poverty. In her desperation to escape such a kind of life, Esperanza promised herself to say goodbye to her impoverished Latino neighborhood.
But in the course of the narrative, Esperanza’s struggles and encounters with herself as she observes the realities around her, the neighborhood boys, the married life of women and her sexual awareness, she comes into the realization that she has a greater responsibility for the people around her. As she matures as a woman, her perception of her sense of identity changes over the course of the novel.
Initially, she wants to separate herself from her parents and her younger sister in order to create her own life, a life that she can completely dominate but Esperanza decides she does not need to set herself apart from the others in her neighborhood. Community for her becomes a medium to fulfill her passion as a writer because as she communicates and interacts with the people, she acquires new identity and discovery every time. Community then, though you would hate its externalities, is a place where you can find art, where you can discover yourself and where you can act for a greater purpose in order to make it better.
In simple language, the novel recounts the complex experience of being young, poor, female, and Chicana in America. Throughout the novel, the writer Sandra Cisneros explores themes of cultural tradition especially in terms of extended family, gender roles and the coming of age society that struggles to detach him self onto its collective past of traditional lifestyle while integrating itself into the American modern landscape. The novel is basically about dividing cultural loyalties and the feeling of alienation and degradation associated with poverty.
Esperanza, influenced by media about what a comfortable lifestyle should be often seen in American setting, is completely dissatisfied with her new house and doesn’t want to stay there. She describes her present house as “bricks … crumbling in places… ” and where “Everybody has to share a bedroom… ” (Cisneros 1991, p. 4) she desperately says to herself “I knew then I had to have a house. A real house with trees around it, a great big yard, and grass growing without a fence” (Cisneros 1991, p. 5). But Mango Street is her home now and she has no choice but to accept it for the moment.
As she inevitably sets out however and as she experience maturity, she is able to slowly understand it. In the Mango Street, the author introduces us with people of different life stories, stories of both hope and despair. Examples are; Alicia who is trying to achieve her dreams and goals through attending a university, Darius though a rough kid sees God in the clouds and that every time he looks up he feels inner peace and Ruthie used to seat around in Edna’s building reminiscing her past dreams to be a song and dance girl.
Apparently, poverty affects the character’s view of life, view of their future and how it affects their place in the world. Moreover, poverty is the physical obstacle that motivates Esperanza to leave the community. Meanwhile, Esperanza’s identity can be described as multifaceted which is inevitable because her character progresses as she matures in age and experience with the community. Her naivete and inexperience is evident when she often based her dreams from making a point of comparison from what she sees in TV and from what she imagines—which are often artificial and thus deceiving.
In the Red Mango community, Esperanza observes many of life’s most joyous and harsh realities in meeting and involving herself with her Mango Street neighbors. There she meets Cathy, her first friend, though their friendship did not last long because they have to move to another place eventually because the neighborhood is becoming worst as more and more lower class Latinos inhabits the place. Later on though, two young sisters adopt Esperanza in their circle who teaches her to invent rhymes about hips and to parade around Mango Street in high heeled shoes.
The Mango Street community is also full of young people who faced various kinds of hardships due to poverty and desperation. “Louie’s cousin’s car-theft, the hit-and-run death of a boy Marin meets at the dance, and Marin’s own desperate attempts to find a husband to take her away” from their unfortunate circumstance. Meanwhile Alicia has to attend a university and studies at night for self betterment and in order to be a woman more than her father’s housekeeper.
Esperanza also saw many young women in the neighborhood who is unhappy towards their marriage life. Rafaela for example, since beautiful, is being locked up by her husband every time he leaves, afraid that she may escape and find another way out. Similarly, Ruthie run away from her husband to find another purpose but almost lost her sanity or senses after doing it. Ultimately Sally, though underage, marries a traveling salesman in order to escape her father who used to beat her.
But the abuses continue since her husband too abuses her. In terms of Esperanza’s sexuality, she soon realizes that one should not indulge oneself to the illusions of true love. The sexual violence she experience makes her more cautious in terms of love and intimate relationships. The community of Mango Street is apparently a community who experience many kinds of isolation due to poverty and attachment to tradition. The characters are often imprisoned with unfulfilled dreams and desires, and who wanted to be liberated from it.
They often seek for an escape but as they escape more problems arise; some marries early, some especially men indulge themselves in crimes in order to affirm their other side of identity as they struggle for self definition, some are pursuers of lust as they try to escape through sexuality, some are half sleep accepting that their situation can not be altered anymore and some mothers just stay in their married life for the sake of their children forgetting their own self.
Apparently, poverty alienated and isolated these people with various comforts and opportunities. Their race and attachment to their own cultural heritage makes them approach things differently; in terns of gender, dreams, sexuality and individuality. But imperfect as it is, the main character Esperanza realizes that they are all part of her. She can use her experience with them in writing.
Esperanza still has a strong desire to leave and understands that writing will help her put distance between herself and her circumstance. Though for now writing helps her escape only emotionally, in the future it may help her to escape physically as well. Meanwhile, her attachment with them makes her promise to come back for “the one I left behind” (Cisneros 1991, p. 110) given a chance to sets out for development. Reference: Cisneros, S. (1984). The house on Mango Street. Chicago, USA. Vintage Books