The House On Mango Street
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In The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros has successfully taken several controversial issues such as immigration, poverty, religion, and rape and brought those issues into human form. Cisneros shows us that these are not just issues with statistics attached to them. They are issues with people and families attached to them. They are issues that affect everyone they touch; even a young girl who through her naivete, innocence, and insight shows us her understanding of this world.
Esperanza and her family didn't always live on Mango Street. From the beginning, she says she can't remember all the houses they've lived in but "the house on Mango Street is ours and we don't have to pay rent to anybody, or share the yard with the people downstairs, or be careful not to make too much noise, and there isn't a landlord banging on the ceiling with a broom. But even so, it's not the house we thought we'd get." Esperanza's childhood life in a Spanish-speaking area of Chicago is described in a series of spare, poignant, and powerful vignettes. Each story centers on a detail of her childhood:
- A greasy cold rice sandwich
- A pregnant friend
- A mean boy
- How the clouds looked one time
- Something she heard a drunk say
- Her fear of nuns
Esperanza's friends, family, and neighbors wander in and out of her stories; through them all Esperanza sees, learns, loves, and dreams of the house she will someday have, her own house, not on Mango Street.
Esperanza, an innocent Chicana girl, yearns to escape from Mango Street, a male dominant community. Unable to find happiness in Mango Street, Esperanza explores her sexual desires as a way to relief her sufferings and pain. Having a tough time becoming a mature woman, longing to go through puberty, Esperanza questions the sad lives of women in Mango Street, wondering whether their submissive and gentle qualities has caused their sorrows. Observing her female neighbors' demises, Esperanza starts to question her own sexuality. Abandoning her womanly accouterments, ultimately rejecting her femininity, Esperanza uses her masculinity to free herself from the oppressive world of Mango Street.
Poverty can be perpetuated by many factors. Esperanza observes her femininity as a possible key to success. She often imagines herself as a robust femme fatale. "In the movies there is always one with red red lips who is beautiful and cruel. She is the one who drives the men crazy and laughs them all away. Her power is her own. She will not give it away."(89) Under the influence of media, Esperanza feels compelled to become the glorious actresses, falsely believing it is the only way to get approval in her community. However, knowing the tragic lives of her friends like Minerva and Sally, Esperanza begins to doubt the images of women portrayed in the media. Perceiving herself as neither beautiful nor cruel, Esperanza knows that becoming the femme fatale can only exist as a dream. In reality, Esperanza more consistently rejects her feminine sexuality. Femininity usually implies daintiness and gentleness; while masculinity suggests the opposite. Esperanza views toughness and strength as traits of masculinity. Evolving into a strong woman, Esperanza slowly loses her femininity, in turn becoming more masculine, gaining a new sense of direction in life. "I [Esperanza] have begun my own quiet war. Simple. Sure. I am one who leaves the table like a man, without putting back the chair or picking up the plate." (89) Esperanza will set her own standards rather than submitting herself to the social standards that are imposed upon her. She does not desire to become a man physically, but rather having the qualities of men, and becoming a manly woman.
The people of Mango Street not only oppress women, but they also feel irritated by Esperanza's physical demonstration of masculinity. "...the Mexicans, don't like their women strong." (19) Under these circumstances, Esperanza must escape from Mango Street. Men don't belong in Mango Street. Unlike the women, they come and leave as they wish. They wear sturdy brown shoes. Her papa having "thick hands and thick shoes," and her grandpa wearing "white socks and brown leather shoes.", Esperanza identifies herself with men by wearing brown shoes. "I make a story for my life, for each step my brown shoe takes." The sad brown shoes, not the fancy high heels, marches Esperanza away from Mango Street like a man.
Poverty and race have been bedfellows since the birth of our country. Esperanza, a Hispanic American, demonstrates the struggle to rise out of poverty with her desire for a house. She is dissuaded in many forms throughout the book. The fortune teller that tells her "home is in the heart" (64) and her aunt that echo's this sentiment. The facts of urban poverty are stacked against those of varying ethnic backgrounds.