The House on Mango Street
|The House on Mango Street|
|Cover artist||illustration: Nivia Gonzalez
design: Lorraine Louie
lettering: Henry Sene Yee
|Genre(s)||Coming-of-age story, novella|
|Publisher||Arte Público Press (1st edition), Vintage Contemporaries (2nd edition)|
|Publication date||1984 (1st edition), April 1991 (2nd edition)|
|Pages||110 (2nd edition, paperback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-679-73477-5 (2nd edition, paperback)|
|Dewey Decimal||813/.54 20|
|LC Classification||PS3553.I78 H6 1991|
The House on Mango Street is a coming-of-age novel by Mexican-American writer Sandra Cisneros, published in 1984. It deals with a young Latina girl, Esperanza Cordero, growing up in Chicago with Chicanos and Puerto Ricans. Esperanza is determined to "say goodbye" to her impoverished Latino neighborhood. Major themes include her quest for a better life and the importance of her promise to come back for "the ones I left behind."
The House on Mango Street is made up of vignettes that are not quite poems and not quite full stories. Esperanza narrates these vignettes in first-person present tense, focusing on her day-to-day activities but sometimes narrating sections that are a series of observations. The vignettes can be as short as two or three paragraphs long and sometimes contain internal rhymes. In The Family of Little Feet for example, Esperanza says:
"Their arms were little, and their hands were little, and their height was not tall, and their feet very small Each vignette can stand as an independent story. The vignettes don't follow a complete or chronological narrative, although they often mention characters introduced in earlier sections. The conflicts and problems in these short stories are never fully resolved, just as the futures of people in the neighborhood are often uncertain. The overall tone is earnest and intimate, with very little distance between the reader and the narrator. The tone varies from pessimistic to hopeful, as Esperanza herself sometimes expresses her jaded views on life:
"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."
The set of vignettes charts her life as Esperanza Cordero grows during the year, both physically and emotionally. Though Esperanza's age is never revealed to the reader, it is implied that she is about thirteen. She begins to write as a way of expressing herself and as a way to escape the suffocating effect of the neighborhood. The novella also includes the stories of many of Esperanza’s neighbors, giving a full picture of the neighborhood and showing the many influences surrounding her. Esperanza quickly befriends Lucy and Rachel Guerrero, two Texan girls who live across the street. Lucy, Rachel, Esperanza, and Esperanza’s little sister, Nenny, have many adventures in the small space of their neighborhood.
Esperanza later slips into puberty and begins to like it when boys watch her dance. Esperanza's newfound views lead her to become friends with Sally, a girl her age who wears clothes like black nylon stockings, makeup, high heels, and short skirts, and uses boys as an escape from her abusive father. Sally, a beautiful girl according to her father, can get into trouble with being as beautiful as she is. Esperanza is not completely comfortable with Sally’s sexuality. Their friendship is compromised when Sally ditches Esperanza for a boy at a carnival. As a result Esperanza is sexually assaulted by a group of men at the carnival. Earlier at her first job, an elderly man tricked her into kissing him on the lips. Esperanza’s traumatic experiences and observations of the women in her neighborhood cement her desire to escape Mango Street. She later realizes that she will never fully be able to leave Mango Street behind. She vows that after she leaves she will return to help the people she has left behind. Esperanza exclaims that Mango Street does not hold her in both arms, it sets her free.
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Esperanza has dreams, hopes, and plans. These are symbolized by a house. Esperanza regards the house on Mango Street as simply a house she lives in with her family. When she was younger and constantly on the move from apartment to apartment, her parents promised her a real home with a green yard, real stairs, and running water with pipes that worked. She dislikes the house on Mango Street because its sad appearance and cramped quarters are completely contrary to the idealistic home she always wanted. Esperanza's becomes having a house of her own.
Esperanza is a keen observer of gender roles. Many of the other female characters spend their lives in isolation, trapped. Rosa Vargas can't do anything for herself because she has too many children and no one to help her raise the children. Alicia has found herself trapped in the kitchen, as she picks up where her deceased mother left off, cooking and cleaning for her younger siblings, although she would like nothing more than to just attend the university. Minerva has an abusive husband who she is constantly fighting with. She finally kicks him out but then lets him back into her life. Rafaela is stuck inside her house because her husband believes that she is too beautiful to go out. Sally is abused by her father, and she dreams of getting married. She eventually marries an older man who does not allow her to leave the house without him, and she is not allowed to have guests over. Esperanza's stories of all of these women make her certain that she will defy gender roles and remain independent. Esperanza, like most preteens, is searching for her identity. Esperanza is many things: she comes from a poor family, she is female, she is on the verge of adolescence, and she is Mexican. She sorts out all of these parts of herself through her writing, and she discovers that, although all of these things help define who she is, what is the most important part of her identity is her ability to write. After Esperanza has to grow up and explain to her sisters that their grandpa had died. Then, Esperanza goes to see a fortune teller. “Ah, yes, a home in the heart. I see a home in the heart.” Esperanza is disappointed in the result of the fortune telling.
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Acclaimed by critics, it has been translated into various languages and been taught in schools across the United States and Canada. The book received highly positive reception upon release and has been re-issued in a 25th Anniversary Edition. The novel has especially earned high praise from the Latino/Latina community. Oscar Hijuelos, the first Hispanic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, said that the novel has "conveyed the Southwestern Latino experience with verve, charm, and passion."
The novel is also renowned for its humor, despite dealing with serious and mature subjects.
Sandra Cisneros' early life was a subject she would later draw on as a writer in books like The House on Mango Street. She was the only daughter in a series of six kids. The story also is about the subject of migration, and about the struggles of her life during it, which included poverty, as well as misogyny.
1984, The United States, Arte Público Press ISBN 0-934770-20-4, Pub date 1 January 1984, paperback
1991, The United States, Vintage Contemporaries ISBN 0-679-73477-5, Pub date 3 April 1991, paperback
- The House on Mango Street study guide, themes, quotes, character analyses, literary devices, teacher resources