The House on Mango Street
|Cover artist||illustration: Nivia Gonzalez
design: Lorraine Louie
lettering: Henry Sene Yee
|Genre||Coming-of-age story, novella, a book of vignettes|
|Published||1984 (Arte Público Press)
1991 (Vintage Contemporaries)
|Media type||Print (Hardcover, Paperback, & library binding), audio cassette, and audio CD|
|Pages||110 (2nd edition, paperback)|
|ISBN||0-679-73477-5 (2nd edition, paperback)|
|LC Class||PS3553.I78 H6 1991|
The House on Mango Street is a 1984 coming-of-age novel by Mexican-American writer Sandra Cisneros. It deals with Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina girl, and her life growing up in Chicago with Chicanos and Puerto Ricans. Esperanza is determined to "say goodbye" to her impoverished Latino neighborhood by turning to a life on the streets. Major themes include her quest for a better life and the importance of her promise to come back for "the ones [she] left behind". The novel has been critically acclaimed, and has also become a New York Times Bestseller. It has also been adapted into a stage play by Tanya Saracho.
The story begins with Esperanza, the protagonist, describing how her family arrived at the house on Mango Street. Before the family settled in their new house, they moved around frequently. The reader develops a sense of Esperanza’s observant and descriptive nature as she begins the novel with descriptions of minute behaviors and observations about her family members. 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 novel also includes the stories of many of Esperanza’s neighbors, providing a picture of the neighborhood and offering examples of 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. As the vignettes progress, the novel depicts Esperanza's budding personal maturity and developing world outlook.
Esperanza later slips into puberty and likes it when a boy watches her dance at a baptism party. Esperanza's newfound views lead her to become friends with Sally, a girl her age who wears 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 man 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; instead, it sets her free.
The House on Mango Street is made up of vignettes that are not quite poems and not quite full stories. Not wanting to write directly about herself, Cisneros constructs the book in a combination of genres pulling mantles of poetry, autobiography, and fiction. Certain parts of the book directly reflect Cisneros’ life, while others stray. 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. These 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 of the novel 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.
Cisneros asserts that the goal of The House on Mango Street was to make the novel accessible to everyone. She wrote the book initially as a catharsis, not realizing that it would eventually represent a voice for Latinos and become enveloped in the works of great Latino literature. She wanted it to be lyrical enough to be appreciated by poetry enthusiasts, but also accessible enough that laymen could read and enjoy the novel. She desired the book to resonate with children, adults, and ages in between, and in totality chose to keep the novel short so that even the busiest of parents and adults who worked long shifts like her father always had, could still find time to read it.
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 among seven children in her family. Cisneros’ family and father specifically did not initially support her writing. Her father never wanted her to be an author. When she was growing up, the only famous Latinas were those on TV, and in the seventies they were seen most often on television as weather girls. Cisneros and her father envisioned herself as a newscaster for that reason. Despite a lacking support system, Cisneros continued to pursue writing, and used her life to inspire her early works. The House on Mango Street includes information inspired by her life. 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. Cisneros first began writing about the protagonist, Esperanza, when she had just finished graduate school. Cisneros created Esperanza from personal feelings of displacement she had while writing. She had recently graduated from the University of Iowa and had felt marginalized as a person of color, a woman, and an individual of lower socioeconomic status. The House on Mango Street became a way for her to solidify her identities through reflection in writing. Esperanza is one of two children, with a younger sister. In reality, Cisneros was the middle child and only girl with six brothers, two older and four younger. While writing, Cisneros explains that because she was new to fiction, she initially craved simplicity, which resulted in Esperanza’s family being smaller than her actual family had been. She believed it would be easier to write about fewer family members.
Acclaimed by critics, The House on Mango Street has been translated into various languages and has 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 book won her the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation (1985).
After the initial release, the response to The House on Mango Street by the public and various academics was varied. Much of the critique surrounding Sandra Cisneros’ novel stemmed from the overall intention of the literary work. Leslie Petty, a Gender and Sexuality Studies professor at Rhodes College, constructed a literary review investigating the novel and its intentions. Petty identifies that Cisneros, through the various vignettes that construct the book’s storyline, highlights the conflict of “culturally defining the world by a rigid set of black/white, good/bad…versus the reality of individuality, uniqueness, and infinite differentiation." This notion of limited definition surrounding individuals and their qualities, as mentioned by Cisernos throughout the novel, is highlighted by two role models within Mexican Culture that profoundly limit the individuality of women; La Malinche and la Virgin de Guadalupe. These two characterizations of women, known as archetypes, define females within Mexican culture into binary roles that are solely based on sexuality and treatment of men. According to Petty, Cisneros shows how artificial and confining these cultural stereotypes are, and through her creation of Esperanza, imagines a protagonist who can embody both the violation associated with la Malinche and the nurturing associated with la Virgen de Guadalupe, all the while rejecting the feminine passivity that is promoted by both role models. In response to her distaste for the dualism among Mexican culture, Cisernos utilizes characters that successfully go against the societal norm and pursue goals that violate the expectations of their culture. Additionally, much of the critical reception surrounding the novel stems from the sexual content present throughout multiple scenes. During the “Red Clowns” chapter of the novel, Esperanza is raped by a male who repeatedly defines her as a “Spanish girl” whom he loves. Critics argued that the suspected audience of the book was perceived to be too young for this content. Some mature content and depictions of cultural differences and feelings of displacement, led to the book's banning in Tucson, Arizona.
Despite its high praise in the realm of Latino literature, The House on Mango Street has also received criticism and has been banned from school curriculums. The book was part of the Mexican-American studies program that began in public schools in Tucson, Arizona. State legislature ultimately banned the program and the books that composed the curriculum under statute H.B. 2281. In early 2012, the Governing Board of the Tucson Unified School District voted to suspend Mexican American Ethnic Studies Programs due to a supposed violation of Arizona law, AZ HB 2281, which prevents education of material pertaining to the idea of overthrowing the government. Multiple ethnic communities protested the ban due to the violation of their rights and declared the new law banning the Mexican American programs to be unconstitutional. Protesters advocated that the suspension of the Mexican American studies programs was blasphemous due to the fact that these programs did not differ from African American and other ethnic studies programs. In coherence with the suspension of the Mexican American studies program, the school board also banned texts relating to the multicultural curriculum. Books, including The House on Mango Street and Bless Me, Ultima, were removed from class curriculum and school libraries due to the discussion of Chicano Culture and various instances of graphic sexual content throughout the novel. Throughout the months following the ban, students and faculty members staged protests at various school locations to display the distaste for the suspension that took away a program intrinsic to the community’s demographic. Protesters have gone to extreme lengths to bring back the Mexican American Studies program including chaining themselves to chairs and blocking the entrances to school buildings. Much of the discussion surrounding the Tucson Unified School District revolves around the constitutionality of removing the ethnic studies program. The removal of the Mexican American Studies program is being categorized as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause which intends to alleviate the discrimination of a specific groups of individuals and protect the liberty of all. On the other hand, individuals advocating for the ban “didn’t like the idea of teachers telling students the apparently subversive facts that nonwhite people have at times suffered at the hands of white people, or that people of every color have at times acted with color-conscious solidarity." Currently, the Arizona Court of Appeals is looking into the various civil lawsuits against the Arizona law HB 2281 and determining whether to remove the law perceived by many to be discriminating against a specific ethnic group within the state.
In retaliation to the law, teachers, authors, and activists headed by Tony Diaz, a teacher from the MAS program formed a caravan in spring of 2012 that moved across the southwest conducting workshops in major cities. The caravan, called the Librotraficante Project, originated at the Alamo and ended in Tucson orchestrating workshops distributing the banned books, and informing attendees of H.B. 2281. It addition, Cisneros travelled with the caravan reading The House on Mango Street and ran workshops about Chicano literature. She brought numerous copies of the book with her, distributed them, and discussed thematic implications of her novel as well as talked about the book’s autobiographical elements.
Parents and education boards found the content to be too graphic/real for children of a young age. In response to this categorization as a children’s novel, Cisernos replies that even though it’s marketed as a young people’s book, the range of readers stems all the way to college level students. Cisernos’ novel has one general theme: to promote individuality and drive within individuals which will conversely promote a distaste for conformity and cultural labeling. Much of the critical reception surrounding the book today recants this theme due to its suspected negative effects on individuals challenging superior powers such as the government and educational institutions.
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
- Cisneros, Sandra (1991). The House on Mango Street. Vintage Contemporaries. ISBN 0-679-73477-5.
- Cisneros, The House on Mango Street, p.39
- Cisneros, The House on Mango Street, p. 5
- Cisneros, Sandra (2009-04-09). "House on Mango Street Celebrates 25 Years". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2016-11-13.
- Hijuelos, Oscar. "José Rubén De León Takes a Stab At 'The House on Mango Street". San Antonio Current. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
- American Booksellers Association (2013). "The American Book Awards / Before Columbus Foundation [1980–2012]". BookWeb. Archived from the original on March 13, 2013. Retrieved September 25, 2013.
1985 [...] The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros
- Petty, Leslie. "Literature Resource Center - Document - Re-Envisioning Chicano Cultural Archetypes: The 'Dual'-ing Images of la Malinche and la Virgen de Guadalupe in Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street". go.galegroup.com. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
- Cisneros, Sandra. "Spiritual Sustenance: Interview with Sandra Cisneros". go.galegroup.com. Susquehanna University Press. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
- Diaz, Tony. "The House on Mango Street Goes to Trial: #MayaVsAZ". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2016-11-13.
- Talk of the Nation (24 May 2010). "Arizona Ban On Ethnic Studies Divides Educators". go.galegroup.com. Literature Resource Center. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
- de Valdes, Maria Elena. "The Critical Reception of Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street". go.galegroup.com. Literature Resource Center. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
- Liu, Eric. "The Whitewashing of Arizona". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
- Hoinski, Michael (2012-03-08). "GTT, The Papers Trail, San Antonio". New York Times. Retrieved 2016-11-13.
- Fernandez, Valeria (2012-03-15). "Librotraficantes Bring Banned Books into Arizona". New America Media. Retrieved 2016-11-13.
- Satz, Martha. "Returning to One's House: An Interview with Sandra Cisneros". go.galegroup.com. Gale Cengage Learning. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
- Matchie, Thomas. "Literary Continuity in Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street". go.galegroup.com. Gale. Retrieved 2016-12-01.