Sandra Cisneros’ “The House on Mango Street” is not just another coming-of-age story; it is also a story that has been written to conquer the personal difficulties of a Latina writer. Being Latina, she does not have many “Chicano role models” (Klein 21), but she has strived to express herself in writing, nonetheless. In the 1988 collection of fifty four vignettes, Cisneros makes the narrator, Esperanza, come alive through experiences ultimately caused by being poor, female, and a minority, while giving the house the title role as it encompasses the dreams of families from any race: having a home to call their own.
It is Cisneros’ way of dealing with the issues she herself has faced as a Latina is through her perseverance that they do not remain mere issues (O’Malley 35), but full-blooded experiences of a girl named Esperanza. In the short story with the same name, Cisneros focuses on the dream of acquiring a home. Therefore, this coming-of-age short story emphasizes on the importance of the physical house to the emotional growth and identity of its residents.
Esperanza relates the many times her family has to move from rented house or apartment to another: “We didn’t always live on Mango Street. Before that we lived on Loomis on the third floor and before that we lived on Keeler. Before Keeler it was Paulina, and before that I can’t remember. But I remember most was moving a lot” (Cisneros 290).
Mango Street is a change from all the moving because the family finally does “not have to pay rent”; the house is supposed to be theirs (Cisneros 291). However, the house still has some disappointments in store for Esperanza and her family. The house is not what Esperanza imagines a real house that they can proudly call their own to be.
“In the United States in particular, the house is more than just shelter; it is a national institution almost as sacred as the American flag. In home ownership, the American dream and the American way are manifest: the civic values of individualism, economic success and self-sufficiency are asserted” (Kaup 361).
Esperanza and her family are striving to reach that American dream, to stop being substandard citizens who get to be asked disbelievingly by people “You live there?” (Cisneros 291). According to Esperanza the way it was asked made her “feel like nothing”. This is how sometimes people are judged by the house they live in. The house also affects the psyche of its residents. A clean, well-kept house may contribute to a clearer outlook while a house which reflects poverty can be a cause for shame, such as in the case of Esperanza and her family’s house on Mango Street (Klein 23).
The short story “The House on Mango Street” may be very brief, but according to Thomas O’ Malley, an English teacher, he considers “Cisneros’ writing” as “poetry” and thinks that “her characters speak poetic dialogue” that has not been heard “since Shakespeare moved out of the hood (O’Malley 35). It is probably Cisneros’ identification with Esperanza’s experiences that make her write them vividly and with the right tone.
She understands what Esperanza is going through, and she makes sure that she uses simple language as appropriate to that of a little girl’s. It is also important to note that like other Latin American writers, Sandra Cisneros emphasizes on the “reinvention” of the English language when put side by side with other languages (Wolf 61). Esperanza is not just a little girl, she is also a bilingual girl therefore there are two reasons behind the use of simple language.
The story being added to a curriculum may be questioned by some English Literature students (Romero and Zancanella 26), but studying the story is not a waste of time at all even for non-Latinos. In fact, other students are curious about “the line between fiction and reality” in the short story, having known Sandra Cisneros’ somewhat similar background (O’Malley 37). It not only opens the eyes to the world of Latinos but also expresses the universal need to feel secure with both shelter and identity. The house on Mango Street is not a useless location for the story; it develops a character of its own. It is used as a symbol for a person’s status in life, and possibly the person’s emotional state.
The House on Mango Street relates a story of poverty and of a family’s search for a home to call their own. However, what makes this story worth reading is that although there are many trials for Esperanza’s family, their story ends with Esperanza thinking hopefully: “I knew then that 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 things go” (Cisneros 291). The last sentence diminishes that hope but the desire to have a real house is already in Esperanza’s heart. She has the desire to improve her family’s situation and she does not want to remain trapped in rented houses, or even houses like the house on Mango Street. However, this does not mean that Esperanza does not recognize the irony in what her parents have promised.
Rudolfo Anaya is another Chicano writer who, like Cisneros, creates “protagonists who, like themselves, have no models, but were possessed by destiny, by inclination and by courage (Klein 22)…” to reach their goals. He differs from Cisneros in his more active childhood and his stories which focus more on the development of a male protagonist.
Related article: Arguments Made in Take the Tortillas Out of Your Poetry
As a conclusion, “The House on Mango Street” is a story that does not only explore the development of a young girl called Esperanza, it also tells how the different houses she has lived in, including the house on Mango Street, contribute to her emotional growth and recognition of self-worth. The house on Mango Street is not only present to provide a literal roof over the head of Esperanza’s family, it affects their very identity.
Cisneros, Sandra. “The House on Mango Street.” n.d. 290-291.
Kaup, Monika. “The Architecture of Ethnicity in Chicano Literature.” American Literature, Vol. 69, no. 2 (June 1997): 361-397.
Klein, Dianne. “Coming of Age in the Novels of Rudolfo Anaya and Sandra Cisneros.” The English Journal Vol. 81, No. 5 (September 1992): 21-26.
O’Malley, Thomas F. “A Ride Down Mango Street.” The English Journal Vol. 86, No. 8
(December 1997): 35-37.
Romero, Patricia Ann and Don Zancanella. “Expanding the Circle: Hipic Voices in
American Literature.” The English Journal, Vol. 79, No. 1 (January 1990): 24-29.
Wolf, Dennie Palmer. “Of Courses: The Pacesetter Initiative and the Need for Curriculum-Based
School.” The English Journal, Vol. 84, No. 1 (January 1995): 60-68.
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