Esperanza probably not much better off. However,
Esperanza is torn between deciding whether she wants to escape Mango
Street. She is embarrassed by the superficial appearance of her identity,
but appreciates her roots. Her house is a wreck and the neighborhood,
probably not much better off. However, she has loving family and friends.
Although marriage has caused the suffering of many of the women in her
neighborhood, she realizes that she needs men to fulfill the new desires
she attains as she hits adolescence.
Through the novel, Esperanza matures both physically and mentally. The
first thing that struck me about this novel was that the chapters were
very short. I realized that the narrator is young and has a short
attention span, judging from her fragmented observations. However,
Esperanza begins to mature and to develop a desire for men. While she
senses that many women are caged by men, they cannot be truly free
Most of the women Esperanza knows on Mango Street are either trapped in
their marriages or tied down by their children. For example,
Esperanza’s grandmother. Esperanza does not want to “inherit her place
by the window.” She neither likes what she has already inherited from
her grandmother – her name. Esperanza plays with words when she first
expresses her dissatisfaction with her name. She says that in Spanish,
her name means “too many letters. It means sadness from the opposite
of esperar, which is desesperarse, it means waiting from the verb
esperar.” She settles on changing her name to “Zeze the X”. As
Esperanza observes, the Mexicans and the Chinese do not want their
women to be strong like horses. Esperanza hopes for a different future.
Although she likes to sleep near her mother’s hair, the novel
eventually reveals that she wants to escape Mango Street. Clearly,
Esperanza’s name suits her; she has hope.
In House on Mango Street, Cisneros constantly reminds the reader not to
judge a book by its cover. The idea of a dirty outside but appealing
inside is prevalent at many levels – the neighborhood, the household
and the individual. Cathy, Esperanza’s first friend in the
neighborhood, tells Esperanza that her family is moving because “the
neighborhood is getting bad”, because of the many immigrants like
Esperanza’s family beginning to move in. Cathy says that Lucy and
Rachel, who Esperanza eventually befriends, “smell like a broom.” Her
mentioning her distant relation to the queen of France makes her seem
very pretentious. In reality, she is not much better off economically
from the rest of the neighborhood. In her house, “The floors slant”
(21). “There are no closets” and the steps are “all lopsided and
jutting like crooked teeth” (22).
At the household level, Esperanza is ashamed by her house that has
“crumbling bricks”, “only one washroom” and “paint peeling” (4).
However, in the second chapter, “Hairs”, Esperanza writes about what
is inside the house on Mango Street: “her mother holding her”,
making her “feel safe” and the “warm smell of bread before you bake
Similarly, first impressions of individuals in the novel are based on
external factors: race, gender, and perhaps their name. Meme and his
dog each having two names highlights the neighborhood’s two cultures:
Hispanic and American, and two languages: Spanish and English.
Esperanza points out that everyone in the neighborhood is “all brown
all around”, suggesting that what makes people feel safe is being
around others who are of the same race. Esperanza is afraid to talk to
the owner, perhaps because “he is a black man”.
The second factor that causes Esperanza to experience difficulty in
deciding whether she wants to leave Mango Street is her physically and
mentally maturing simultaneously. She is old enough to realize that
there is much in the world to explore other than one, her house and
two, her neighborhood. Esperanza points out that “you don’t pick your
sisters” (8). She then proceeds to say that “someday she will have a
best friend” who she “can tell her secrets to” (9) and “who will
understand her jokes without her having to explain them. Until then,
she is “a red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor” (9). Later, she
realizes that Nenny, her sister, and her are “more alike than you
would know” (19). In “Laughter”, Esperanza points out that a house
“looks like Mexico”. Rachel and Lucy “look at her like she is
crazy”, but Nenny was thinking the exact same thing. Her own sister
sometimes understands Esperanza better than her friends do.
Most of the wives in the neighborhood are discontent with their
marriages. While many want to escape their husbands, Marin is
searching for one. Marin waits for “a car to stop, a star to fall,
someone to change her life”. Esperanza faces a dilemma: she cannot
have relationships with men unless she is married (and marriage has
caused most of the problems the women on Mango Street face). She must
choose between sex and freedom.