“The House on Mango Street”: Esperanza’s Character Development

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 4
Words: 1511
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: College

A famous and highly acclaimed novel The House on Mango Street by a renowned American writer Sandra Cisneros was published in 1984. The novel presents a set of vignettes that gradually reveals the story of the main character, the change in her perception of herself, her home and the community she lives in. It is a first-person narration that makes the whole story more intimate and sincere. The novel is claimed to be partially biographical since Cisneros grew up in America and being Latino herself she faced the same difficulties as the pivotal figure of the book. Thus, The House on Mango Street examines the pursuit of self-definition of a young Latino girl Esperanza who lives in the barrio in Chicago and there discovers her sexuality, realizes the responsibility for her community, and her love and ability for writing (Cucinella 60). Moreover, the book highlights the theme of “female independence despite male manipulation and cultural oppression” (Cucinella 62).

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The book dwells on the theme of Esperanza’s search for self-definition in the oppressed atmosphere of Mango street that is situated in the Latino neighborhood in Chicago. The story opens up with Esperanza and her family moving into the old cramped house on Mango street, the first that the family actually purchased. However, Esperanza is disappointed and tired of moving from one rented house to another, which makes her dream of a perfect gorgeous house without leaking pipes but with spacious rooms and a big yard. Living in the house on Mango street, the girl realizes the conflict between her personal inner world and the social world inherent in Mango street, the world of oppression and despair.

Moreover, Esperanza feels that she has to find her place in the world but in the restricted area of the street, where sexual and racial discrimination prevail over the norms of morality, she cannot define her own identity and space. In addition, the girl transmits her discontent with her life by pointing out that even her name doesn’t fit social norms as it is of Spanish origin which immediately determines her destiny as a Latino girl in America. In other words, Esperanza “links her cultural heritage to her desire to create a new name, to reinvent herself as someone who will not be captured and married” (Kevane 52).

Initially, Esperanza had no friends but eventually she met Lucy and Rachel with whom they explored neighborhood and found many things interesting for very young girls. However, Esperanza and her friends, together with Nenny, Esperanza’s little sister, soon discover their sex appeal as they decide to walk in the high heels along their street. At first, a feeling of being attractive gives them some power, but later, Esperanza realizes that the world in her street is not so safe for a girl. When Esperanza gets her first job in the photo store, a man takes advantage of her weakness and kisses her. Thus, Esperanza understands that “with growing mental maturity, there is a physical change that marks the danger of female sexuality and of becoming an object to men” (Giles 73). The plot thickens when Esperanza meets Sally, a girl who is not afraid of her sexuality and uses it to attract boys and to escape from her home, where her father often beats her. At that time, Esperanza begins to like her new look and the way the boys react to her dances. But even more mature now, she cannot comprehend the Sally’s undisguised sexuality. One unfortunate day at a carnival, Sally leaves Esperanza alone but promises to go back. This is when Esperanza gets sexually abused by several boys. A boy swears to her: “I love you, Spanish girl” (Cisneros 52). This part of the story unfolds the truth about the relations between male and female worlds, man’s abuse over woman. That’s why it is necessary for women to help each other. But Sally didn’t help: “Sally, you lied, you lied. He wouldn’t let me go. He said I love you, I love you, Spanish girl” (Cisneros 52). The deep emotional trauma together with her discontent with her home and life results in Esperanza’s decision to leave Mango street, to break the chain of poverty and abuse.

Another problem that Esperanza stresses in her stories is the oppression of women in the patriarchal society of Mango street. Observing the life of women in the neighborhood, Esperanza comes to realize that their houses are as poor and old as hers and their lives are so tightly connected to Mango street that for them it is inescapable. Moreover, the girl observes that the difficulties that Latino immigrants face, such as unemployment, poverty, sexual discrimination of women, are triggered by social and cultural oppression and the fear of the dominant culture (Kevane 50). However, Esperanza is determined. Thinking about her great-grandmother she says: “She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window” (Cisneros 43). This story illustrates that Esperanza doesn’t want to follow traditional gender model inherent in patriarchal Mexican tradition that denigrate the role of women who often become slaves for their husbands. The book provides the stories of many female who got trapped in their houses locked inside with their children by jealous husbands or have to stay at home unable to communicate in English. The story of Minerva is one of the numerous examples of unbearable life of women in the neighborhood. Minerva is a girl a little older than Esperanza who has a child and a husband who repeatedly beats her. Moreover, Esperanza observes “the vicious circle – Minerva letting her husband continue to return ensures the same life to her daughter who “will go that way too” (Cisneros 84). Sally also gets married and there is little hope that her life can be different from the lives of other women in Mango street. On the whole, all the female characters in the book suffer from male’s oppression that is dictated by traditions of the street.

Esperanza is very ashamed of where she lives and the people in her neighborhood, but as she becomes more familiar with them she begins to care and feel responsible for them. Esperanza is ashamed of the poverty she lives in but she also understands that this is where she comes from but whole-heartedly wishes it wasn’t true: “No, this isn’t my house I say and shake my head as if shaking could undo the year I’ve lived here. I don’t belong. I don’t ever want to come from here” (Cisneros 87). Esperanza is convinced by the Three Sisters that she’ll be able to leave Mango street but the horrors of it will always be present in her heart: “When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are” (Cisneros 74).

Encountering all these obstacles in her life, the girl understands that she must do something to help other women to leave Mango street and get back later as a new person not bound by difficulties experienced in the childhood. Talking to Alicia, who also tries very hard to attend college and to do her female duties in the house, Esperanza comes to realize that only people who can get away from this cursed street and become successful can get back and change the way people live in Mango street. Esperanza’s urge towards social justice is emerging alongside her sense of female identity (Fisher 142). “After observing the women of her barrio – most trapped, abused, and virtually imprisoned by husbands and fathers, and by lack of opportunities – Esperanza declares war” against traditional female roles (Kevane 54).

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By the end of her story, Esperanza has become more keen and insightful observer (Giles 75). She depicts the characters very earnestly and provides very detailed true-to-life images. Telling the stories of her neighbors she, like a real artist, she forgets about herself and gives the description of their problems. At the end of the novel, Esperanza finds her inner self with the help of her writings. In addition, she sets aside Mango street from her life, thought still living there. In other words, she finds a spark of hope in the writings that can help her to change her life: “I put it down on paper and then the ghost does not ache so much. I write it down and Mango says goodbye sometimes. She does not hold me with both arms. She sets me free” (Cisneros 5).

In the concluding chapters we see that Esperanza has grown as a person through the year, she has become a determined girl and not a child. On top of that, she has become driven by her desire to change her life, to find her home and to help women in Mango street as no one else can do that.

References

Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.

Cucinella, Catherine. Contemporary American Women Poets. London: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002.

Fisher, Jerilyn, Silber, Ellen S. Women in Literature: Reading through the Lens of Gender. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2003.

Giles, James Richard. Violence in the Contemporary American Novel: an End to Innocence. South. Carolina. Columbia: Univ of South Carolina Press, 2000.

Kevane, Bridget A. Latino Literature in America. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003.

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