The House on Mango Street was written by Sandra Cisneros. She presented the story from a child’s point of view in a storytelling approach. The book highlights a girl’s awakening and discovering of one’s own identity. The novel focuses particularly on a community of Mexican-Americans in a populated American city, trying to survive and to find love and acceptance. The House on Mango Street revolves around the protagonist Esperanza’s life to show that people can shape their destiny and stand up for their rights, regardless of their racial origins, if they will it.
In the book, various characters are used to portray different personalities and outlook in life. These different people have their own ways of coping with circumstances in life or trying to elevate their standard of living. Some people like Sally and Mamacita have given way to tradition and isolation from society and community but they feet loneliness. Others, such as Alicia and Esperanza, make a determined effort to rise above the vicious cycle of poverty and reach for their dreams and also desire to change the women’s role at that time.
“She is happy, except sometimes her husband gets angry and once he broke the door where his foot went through, though most days he is okay. Except he won’t let her talk on the telephone […]
And he doesn’t like her friends, so nobody gets to visit her unless he is working” (Cisneros, 101). Even though Sally said that she likes being married because she can get the things that she want with the money that her husband gives to her, she absolutely loses her rights as a person and as a woman.
She lost her right for freedom. She traded her freedom with luxury through her marriage. Cisneros clearly depicts how the woman gives up her freedom and right. One other example is Mamacita. “No speak English, she says to the child who is singing in the language that sounds like tin. No speak English, no speak English, and bubbles into tears. No, no, no, as if she can’t believe her ears” (Cisneros, 78).
Mamacita always wanted to go back home and she doesn’t want to be in the U.S but she doesn’t have a choice because she can’t communicate, she doesn’t belong to the community and has chosen isolation from the community. She refuses to learn English so she basically locks herself to be alone and isolated. She doesn’t try to change by learning a new language. Cisneros used these two women, Sally and Mamacita, as examples to show how these women give up associating with the community and society and chose to be isolated.
However, one of the characters in the book, Alicia, claims herself to be good enough to go to a university and she doesn’t want to end up having her life be the same as her mother’s life or any other woman in their community. “Alicia, whose mama died, is sorry there is no one older to rise and make the lunchbox tortillas. Alicia, who inherited her mama’s rolling pin and sleepiness, is young and smart and studies for the first time at the university. Two trains and a bus, because she doesn’t want to spend her whole life in a factory or behind a rolling pin” (Cisneros, 31).
She doesn’t want to follow the traditional path of a woman’s role, which in her mom’s case, life in a factory or behind a rolling pin. She tries to change and shape her destiny to achieve a better life. Unlike other women, the author shows how Alicia desires a new life and defines her effort and passion about her life with Esperanza’s life. She discovers her weak self through her race and gender so she can move beyond the confines of her neighborhood and make something of herself.
The house on Mango Street itself actually symbolizes Esperanza. In several instances in the book, she feels ashamed of pointing to where she lives, “I knew then I had to have a house. A real house. One I could point to. But this isn’t it. The house on Mango Street isn’t it. For the time being, Mama says. Temporary, says Papa. But I know how those things go” (Cisneros,5). Deep inside, Esperanza knows that there is more to her than what people see on the surface.
The House on Mango Street is rife with symbolisms. The author uses imagery and figures to describe the physical attributes and describe immigrants who have settled in a Latino community in the US. Sandra Cisneros, who is of Mexican-American decent, not only draws from her rich ethnic heritage and crystallizes her own personal experiences into readable stories but also creates an engaging experience for readers using a unique writing style. Cisneros presents many realistic day life scenes, particularly people including Esperanza at the start of the novel, feeling somewhat resigned to their impoverished state.
Referring to the house on Mango Street as not the embodiment of the house she envisions, Esperanza quips, “I knew then I had to have a house. A real house… The house on Mango Street isn’t it. For the time being, Mama says. Temporary, says Papa. But I know how those things go” (Cisneros 5). Unlike the other characters who allowed themselves to be abused, like Minerva who is beaten up and left by her husband to sink in despair, Esperanza rises from temporary setbacks, learns her lessons, and understands that “we take what we can get and make the best of it” (Cisneros 33).
Esperanza’s maturation may also symbolize how women have evolved, from suppressed human beings dealing with the restrictions foisted on them by a male-dominated society to strong individuals who can make a positive contribution to their community. As Esperanza says at the end of the book, “One day I will say goodbye to Mango. I am too strong for her to keep me here forever” (Cisneros 110). This underscores the fact that people can determine their fate and rise above their wanting circumstances in life, regardless of their racial background.
Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: Vintage Books, 1984.
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