Women in Literature: Reading through the Lens of Gender

By Jerilyn Fisher; Ellen S. Silber | Go to book overview

Girls and Women in Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street (1984)

Darlene Pagán

Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street consists of a series of vignettes set in a Chicago suburb that poignantly, and often painfully, reveal the joys and difficulties for young girls approaching womanhood. From observation and experience heightened by her coming of age, the narrator, Esperanza, begins questioning the distinctive situation of girls and boys and how this is reflected in and elaborated by the actions and interactions of women and men in her neighborhood. Through Esperanza’s eyes, Cisneros provides teachers with a wealth of material for discussion of gender roles and issues that are often inextricably connected to race, class, power, and violence; the social construction of sex; female empowerment; and the feminization of poverty.

Esperanza recognizes immediately, in “Boys and Girls,” that boys and girls live in separate universes where communication, particularly name calling and humiliation, maintains that separateness. From experience, however, Esperanza begins to recognize how gender distinctions continue into adulthood, for young girls, in a guise that appears to be both the object of their dreams—marriage and family—and the source of their pain and domination. In “Hips,” for example, Esperanza and her friends imagine the day they will have hips and learn to move them to attract men, to dance, and to rock children to sleep; but, in “Rafaela Who Drinks Coconut & Papaya Juice on Tuesdays,” the girls are saddened by the fate of a young bride who arrives at womanhood only to be physically locked inside, isolated from family and friends, by a possessive husband.

The most important symbol in the novel is the titular house which represents young girls’ dreams for their own happy homes but also the prison that many homes are, guarded first by domineering fathers, and second by domineering husbands. The house also indicates a gender trap fortified by the cycle of

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