Esperanza is torn between deciding whether she wants to escape MangoStreet.
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 herneighborhood, she realizes that she needs men to fulfill the new desiresshe attains as she hits adolescence. Through the novel, Esperanza matures both physically and mentally.
Thefirst thing that struck me about this novel was that the chapters werevery short. I realized that the narrator is young and has a shortattention span, judging from her fragmented observations. However,Esperanza begins to mature and to develop a desire for men. While shesenses that many women are caged by men, they cannot be truly freewithout them. Most of the women Esperanza knows on Mango Street are either trapped intheir marriages or tied down by their children. For example,Esperanza’s grandmother.
Esperanza does not want to “inherit her placeby the window. ” She neither likes what she has already inherited fromher grandmother – her name. Esperanza plays with words when she firstexpresses her dissatisfaction with her name. She says that in Spanish,her name means “too many letters. It means sadness from the oppositeof esperar, which is desesperarse, it means waiting from the verbesperar. ” She settles on changing her name to “Zeze the X”.
AsEsperanza observes, the Mexicans and the Chinese do not want theirwomen to be strong like horses. Esperanza hopes for a different future. Although she likes to sleep near her mother’s hair, the noveleventually 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 tojudge a book by its cover.
The idea of a dirty outside but appealinginside is prevalent at many levels – the neighborhood, the householdand the individual. Cathy, Esperanza’s first friend in theneighborhood, tells Esperanza that her family is moving because “theneighborhood is getting bad”, because of the many immigrants likeEsperanza’s family beginning to move in. Cathy says that Lucy andRachel, who Esperanza eventually befriends, “smell like a broom. ” Hermentioning her distant relation to the queen of France makes her seemvery pretentious. In reality, she is not much better off economicallyfrom the rest of the neighborhood. In her house, “The floors slant”(21).
“There are no closets” and the steps are “all lopsided andjutting 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 whatis inside the house on Mango Street: “her mother holding her”,making her “feel safe” and the “warm smell of bread before you bakeit”. Similarly, first impressions of individuals in the novel are based onexternal factors: race, gender, and perhaps their name.
Meme and hisdog 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 brownall around”, suggesting that what makes people feel safe is beingaround others who are of the same race. Esperanza is afraid to talk tothe owner, perhaps because “he is a black man”. The second factor that causes Esperanza to experience difficulty indeciding whether she wants to leave Mango Street is her physically andmentally maturing simultaneously. She is old enough to realize thatthere is much in the world to explore other than one, her house andtwo, her neighborhood.
Esperanza points out that “you don’t pick yoursisters” (8). She then proceeds to say that “someday she will have abest friend” who she “can tell her secrets to” (9) and “who willunderstand her jokes without her having to explain them. Until then,she is “a red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor” (9). Later, sherealizes that Nenny, her sister, and her are “more alike than youwould know” (19).
In “Laughter”, Esperanza points out that a house”looks like Mexico”. Rachel and Lucy “look at her like she iscrazy”, but Nenny was thinking the exact same thing. Her own sistersometimes understands Esperanza better than her friends do. Most of the wives in the neighborhood are discontent with theirmarriages.
While many want to escape their husbands, Marin issearching for one. Marin waits for “a car to stop, a star to fall,someone to change her life”. Esperanza faces a dilemma: she cannothave relationships with men unless she is married (and marriage hascaused most of the problems the women on Mango Street face). She mustchoose between sex and freedom.