The House on Mango Street
By Sandra Cisneros
The House on Mango Street takes place in Chicago in the 1960’s and is told from the point of view of Esperanza Cordero in a series of vignettes. Esperanza’s stories relate the classic tale of life in a Mexican-American neighborhood in the inner city. Through her own coming-of-age journey, Esperanza experiences racism, sadness, joy, rape, identity, loss, and the ongoing desire to get our of her neighborhood in order to find herself a different and “better” home. While each vignette is concise and quick, every story told in The House on Mango Street promises a vivid portrayal of Hispanic-American life in the United States.
From the first vignette of the novel, Esperanza (whose name means “hope”) expresses her disdain for The House on Mango Street and how she knew that she had to eventually live in a “a real house”. Hope (and the loss of hope) is a theme that runs throughout the book, and Esperanza’s longing to own her own house coupled with her often depressing observations of her neighborhood fuel her need to leave. Esperanza observes and recounts the problems of the inhabitants of her area: lovesick lovers separated by distance, women who have “too many” children, the feeling of living in a neighborhood where people were scared to visit, the loss of identity and language, and the regrets expressed by her own mother who believes that she “could’ve been somebody”. Additionally, Esperanza is growing up and is exploring her own curiosity in boys, until her innocence is robbed from her when a man takes her virginity at a carnival. However, while certain that she needs to leave, she vows that she must come back to help “the ones that (she) has left behind”. This depicts a clear, personal growth within Esperanza, as she realizes that Mango Street played an important role in her life, and finds herself indebted to the people that she loves on that very street. No longer is her focus on the shame of being there, but rather on the desire to come back to help those who cannot get out.
The House on Mango Street raises a number of questions and issues that pertain to lives of many of our own students, particularly those who have migrated here from other countries (or who have parents who have). Where is the line between respecting and honoring your culture and wanting to make something “better” out of life? And should Cisneros be criticized for her depicting Hispanic culture in the way that she does in the novel, or should she be praised for inspiring young people to want to pursue the “best” for themselves?