House on Mango Street

The House on Mango Street is a novel written by Sandra Cisneros, born in Chicago on December 20, 1954. The novel, first published in 1984, is a coming-of-age story or bildungsroman. It is divided into 44 short vignettes with different length — from less than one page to several pages. Other works of Cisneros include the novel Caramelo and two books of poetry — My Wicked Wicked Ways and Loose Woman.

The House on Mango Street describes a year in the life of a 12-year-old Mexican-American girl, or Chicana, called Esperanza. She has recently moved with her family to a house in a poor Latino neighborhood in Chicago. Esperanza does not like the house as it is far from her idea of a perfect home. The story, told by the girl herself, is written in short sentences and fragments while still illustrating that the child is aware of some of the rules of the adult world.

The major theme of the novel is Esperanza's growing up. During the year the girl matures both sexually and emotionally — she makes friends, experiences her first crush, becomes a victim to sexual assault and turns to writing as a way to express her views and emotions and to escape from the neighborhood.

During the summer Esperanza enters puberty. The new experience of sexual maturity together with the death of her grandfather and her Aunt Lupe bring her closer to the adult world.

Many of the vignettes in the second half of The House on Mango Street describe the lives of older women living in the neighborhood. They are stuck in different situations and have become prisoners in their own houses. The observation of these women combined with sexual assault on Esperanza further fuels her decision to leave Mango Street. Later she finds out that she will never leave the place completely as she is obliged to come back and help the women there.

At the end of the novel Esperanza remains in the neighborhood, but she is far more mature. She resorts to writing as a way to distance herself from the reality she is living in.

The power and importance of language represents a key theme in The House on Mango Street. The novel shows how the people who cannot communicate effectively remain at the bottom levels of society. In Esperanza's neighborhood many of the women who do not speak English become virtual prisoners inside their houses and apartments. The girl comes to the conclusion that if she is able to use and manipulate language, she will have more power.

At the same time Esperanza is struggling for self-definition throughout the novel. This remains her motif for every action and relationship. The girl seeks to define herself as a woman and as an artist. Early in the novel she even wants to change her name in order to be able to define herself in her own way. Eventually, Esperanza accepts her place in the community and arrives at the conclusion that defining herself as a writer is most important to her.

At a certain point in The House on Mango Street Esperanza's plan to escape from her current neighborhood and to live in her own house clashes with her sexuality. At first there is no conflict between her ambitions and her desire for men. Later, however, while observing the older women in the neighborhood, she begins to doubt that she can have her autonomy without sacrificing her sexual needs. The girl sees how most of the women she knows must remain on Mango Street as they are trapped in their relationships or marriages or because of their children.

Esperanza forms a strategy to have both relationships and autonomy by being beautiful and cruel like one of her friends and like women in movies. When she experiences sexual assault she reaches the conclusion that this dream is impossible in the male-dominated environment she lives in.

Another important theme in The House on Mango Street is the responsibility that women have to each other in the male-dominated society. At the beginning of the novel Esperanza observes that males and females are part of different worlds and this applies to every stage of their lives. According to the girl women have to protect and help each other so that life is easier for them. As Esperanza matures she takes more responsibility for the women in the neighborhood and faces the indifference among females more directly.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

U.S. Latino Literature: A Critical Guide for Students and Teachers
Harold Augenbraum; Margarite Fernández Olmos.
Greenwood Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: "Female Voices in Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street" begins on p. 101
Women in Literature: Reading through the Lens of Gender
Jerilyn Fisher; Ellen S. Silber.
Greenwood Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: "Girls and Women in Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street (1984)" begins on p. 141
Latino Literature in America
Bridget Kevane.
Greenwood Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "The Fiction of Sandra Cisneros: The House on Mango Street (1984) and Woman Hollering Creek (1991)"
Breaking the Rules: Innovation and Narrative Strategies in Sandra Cisneros' the House on Mango Street and Ana Castillo's the Mixquiahuala Letters
Rivera, Haydee.
Ethnic Studies Review, Vol. 26, No. 1, April 3, 2003
Women without a Voice: The Paradox of Silence in the Works of Sandra Cisneros, Shashi Deshpande and Azar Nafisi
Wilson, Sharon K.; Vaz, Pelgy.
Ethnic Studies Review, Vol. 33, No. 1, January 1, 2010
The "Dual"-Ing Images of la Malinche and la Virgen De Guadalupe in Cisneros's the House on Mango Street
Petty, Leslie.
MELUS, Vol. 25, No. 2, Summer 2000
Of Woman Bondage: The Eroticism of Feet in the House on Mango Street
Sugiyama, Michelle Scalise.
The Midwest Quarterly, Vol. 41, No. 1, Autumn 1999
Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writing and Critical Readings
Asunción Horno-Delgado; Eliana Ortega; Nina M. Scott; Nancy Saporta Sternbach.
University of Massachusetts Press, 1989
Librarian’s tip: "Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street: Community-Oriented Introspection and the Demystification of Patriarchal Violence" begins on p. 62
Humble Creator of an Iconic Novel
Martinez, Elizabeth Coonrod.
Americas (English Edition), Vol. 61, No. 3, May-June 2009
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