Critical Analysis for The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
People may perceive that a home and a house is the same, but by reading the novel deeply, readers would come to realize that the interpretation of a home in the novel is different from the interpretation of a house to Esperanza.
The protagonist name is Esperanza, she was young hen the novel started and as the novel progress, the progress of her creativity and personality is created. The novel doesn’t only focus on the protagonist itself, it also wants the readers to know how and what influence the young protagonist in her everyday interaction with life. The novel has showed its readers a glimpse of the neighborhood where Esperanza’s family lived and other families who lived in Mango Street; the novel also showed different women in which Esperanza observes and interacts with, gaining knowledge and insights on how she would soon live her life, the different situations of women shown in the novel can be her if she walks the same path they’ve gone through.
The author of the novel has similarities with the protagonist, like Esperanza, Sandra Cisneros is also a Spanish descendant that lived her life in American territory. The novel has been sold over two million copies and has also acquired quite a few critics; most of the critics felt like the male portrayal in the novel were cruel and unjust. Sandra Cisneros claimed that since she is a woman, she cannot write the experience of male Mexican-American and that she only writes what she has seen and experienced.
The novel wants the readers to analyze the importance of having a home and how it women are treated in their houses, how men sees them and wants them to act, the novel also wants to show its readers the power of words, the impact of knowing them and not knowing them.
Analytical interpretation of the novel
The novel starts with its protagonist Esperanza, they have traveled and stayed in Mango Street, because the previews apartment they have stayed in have leaks in it and the owner doesn’t want to renovate, let alone fix the leaks in the house. The house they are currently staying in is in a neighborhood filled with Mexican-American or rather Latinos like them, Mango Street is the name of the street and it was the first house owned by the parents of Esperanza.
Although Mango Street is filled with Latinos, Esperanza feels out of place, doesn’t have friends and someone that can compete or at least have the same level of thinking as she have; and when she finally did have friends, they weren’t in her same wave lengths, but it was better than having no friend at all.
After a year of stay in Mango Street, a lot has happened to Esperanza, she met new neighbors and observed some, and she realized that even a nun can make her feel embarrassed about her family’s financial status. She has seen a lot of women that time, most of which are caged by their husbands and fathers; most of these women tend to rebel, but some of them don’t do a thing, even if that means being beaten and harassed.
Character analysis and their idea of having a home instead of a house
In the novel, Esperanza has longed to have a home instead of the house they currently live in, most of the women in Mango Street also feels the same, having a house doesn’t necessarily mean that it is their home. Esperanza do not want to be like the women in Mango Street who are being subjected by men, “Esperanza can reject stereotypical roles imposed on women by patriarchy yet at the same time feel solidarity with the women caught in such restrictive roles” (Rivera 1).
Marin lives with her cousin and baby sits them, she is not allowed to live the house and focuses her time on teaching the kids how to interact with boys. Marin has a fiancé back in Puerto Rico but she often dream of a time when someone preferably a rich American can sweep her off her feet.
Even though Marin lived in a house, it is not her idea of a home; Marin wanted to be independent, since her relatives that is not allowing her to explore or even go out to interact with other people. The idea of a home to Marin is to live comfortably in America where her relatives can’t reach her; she wanted to escape the life she has now. She often dances in alleys hoping that someone will someday reach for her and give her a home and not just a house.
Alicia’s mother died and in their culture, Alice was to replace the role of her mother in their family and do all the domestic chores. Unlike Marin who dances her way out of their current situation, Alicia went to college and despite his father arguing that it is not right for a woman like her to go to college. According to her father she should stop educating herself and concentrate all her efforts into the domestic chores. Alicia did not obey his father and chooses to divide her time in studying and doing her responsibility. Her father not allowing her to do broaden her knowledge makes her see their home as a house and as Alicia gets older, the more she wants to escape the life she is currently living.
Esperanza (great grandmother of Esperanza)
Esperanza was named after her grandmother; they are both born in the year of the horse. Her grandmother was described to be like wild horse, but in the Mexican community, women are not allowed to be powerful and strong, she was tamed and married to someone she doesn’t love; after being married, all she did was stare at the window.
Esperanza was afraid of inheriting not only her grandmothers name but also her place in the window, “I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window” (Cisneros 11). Not wanting to end up like her grandmother, she changed her name into something she thinks suits her more. A critic of Cisneros explained why Esperanza wanted to change her name to something else, she said that she resist the future she sees in her name, she is afraid that if she continues to keep her name, she would end up like her grandmother, “Her desire to baptize herself under a different name reflects her resistance to cultural imposition and the suppression of female self-identity” (Rivera 1).
Rafaella who is beautiful is often kept from the public, her husband doesn’t want people looking at her in fear that she might be taken away from him, and so whenever his guest would arrive in their place, he would look her up in the attic. Rafaela’s marriage is a sham, she was never free to do what she wants, she was treated like an object, he doesn’t even allow her to go out and enjoy her life; her only interaction with the outside world is when she ask Esperanza to buy her papaya juice. Rafaela was portrayed to have a house, but she can never treat it as a home because she feels trapped in it.
Sally is a pretty girl with a protective father; her father doesn’t want Sally to end up like her older siblings who have married to early. Sally’s father often beats her whenever she associates herself with boys and Sally often covers for her father.
Sally is the type of girl Esperanza admired, she though Sally was like the women she idolized at movies, someone who would seduce men and live them hanging. But as she gets closer to Sally, she realized that unlike the movie stars she idolized, Sally seduces men and allows them to manipulate and use her body; she is comfortable having intercourses with men and being adored by them.
The way Sally sees it is when men use her, she felt love, cared for and feel free, unlike when she in their house, her father often beats her and make her feel as if she was caged. Her father’s greatest fear did arrive, she eloped with a salesman who has taken her to another state to marry her, and she was barely fourteen. Sally thought that by marrying the salesman, her dream of having a home was finally fulfilled, but it wasn’t, her husband also beats her and doesn’t allow her to interact with other people, just like her father.
Minerva was probably the closes to Esperanza, like Esperanza she was an artist, she is older than Esperanza a couple of years and married, she gave birth to two children. Her husband left her, but he sometimes return only to torment her family, she is often beaten by her husband but despite that she still takes him back. When she was beaten real hard, she went to Esperanza place and asked her for advice, but since Esperanza has not yet experience to be married, let alone have a relationship with a guy, she refuses to answer and told her that she don’t know how to respond. The readers can see that even though it is Minerva who own the house, she still don’t see it at her home; it is because she is often beaten in her house and instead of feeling comfortable with it, she feel distant and hurt in it.
Analysis of Esperanza
Although the house they live in now is bigger than the place they use to stay in, Esperanza cannot see their house in Mango Street her home, she wanted something bigger and in a better place, not in one of the most populated place in America, not in Mango Street. She wants to get out of Mango Street as much as possible, she wanted to get away from everything else, she want her freedom and Mango Street is full of repression, the people who lived there are either repressing someone or being repressed, she is also afraid that she might end up just like everyone else in Mango street, “One day I will say good-bye to Mango. I am too strong for her to keep me here forever” (Cisneros 110).
She want her own space, she wants to be independent and for Rivera, it was one of the most poetic thing in the novel, “Esperanza’s dreams and illusion of a real home come forth in one of the most poetically evocative sections of the work” (Rivera 1). She wanted to live on her own, without anyone, her sense of independence is coming together, “My books and my stories. … Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem” (Cineros 108). For Sanborn, Esperanza’s wanting to separate herself from the world shows the meaning of independence for her, “She associates the sensation of not belonging to those spaces with a feeling of freedom and relief from pain” (Sanborn 1335).
A neighbor of Esperanza and her friends gave the kids heels to play with, and they did, they wore the heels and walked around the neighborhood, they liked the idea of being instant adults upon wearing the heels, but since the world has also viewed them as an adult, they were harassed like one. That was the first time the kids have encountered men at their worst, objecting them.
When Esperanza had a chance to meet the women in Mango Street, she observed them and through observing them, she slowly builds her character, she has seen how men has treated the women in Mango Street and she distance herself from that future. One of them was Sally, she initially admired her because she though she was like the women she idolized on movies; the women were feminine and often reject men, Sally was the opposite, instead of rejecting men, she lure them in. Thomas Matchie has also seen Sally as someone who betrays Esperanza repeatedly in the novel even when Esperanza wanted to defend her from men objectifying her, “she trades the boys’ kisses for her lost keys, while all concerned laugh at Esperanza for trying to defend her friend with a brick” (Matchie 128).
When Esperanza grandmother came to their home, she did not leave the third floor and even though she was taunted to be too fat to even go down, she stayed in, staring at the window. Esperanza unlike other people surrounding her grandmother understands that the reason she doesn’t want to go down is because she doesn’t speak English and that made her terrified to go down and interact with other people. Her Aunt Lupe was also taunted by kids, but she was the only one who encouraged Esperanza to continue on with her writings, “’keep writing,’ it will ‘keep you free.’ At that time the girl did not know what she meant, but in the end Esperanza says ‘she sets me free’” (Matchie 129). These women are making her think about the power of words, even though it was not stated directly, Esperanza knew that if she doesn’t use words she will be left powerless like her grandmother who has recently traveled to America, and if she use it well, it will set her free like her Aunt Lupe has predicted, “You must remember to keep writing, Esperanza. You must keep writing. It will keep you free” (Cisneros 61).
Esperanza did not only observe the women in her society, she observes everything. Marin met a guy who has invited her to go out, he was tragically killed and Esperanza observed that after Gerardo died, anyone is objected to it, and even though Gerardo worked hard to gain money to be sent back to his family in Mexico, he was killed tragically just like that, his name vanishes from the face of the earth, and since he did not make friends, his family would never even know his dead, “She has visions of the violence done to Geraldo, ‘another wetback,’ who rented ‘two room flats and sleeping rooms’…. killed one night by a hitand-run driver…simply disappeared”( Matchie 127).
Towards the end of the novel, Esperanza has evolved to a person who begins to understand people, she is no longer a kid who wants to be separated from everyone else just because they did not pass her standard, and her idea of a home no longer relates to her being alone, she now welcomes her past in it.
The House on Mango Street has shown it readers how Latinos lived in America, it also let the viewers have a glimpse of how women are treated in Mango Street and how a child evolves to a woman who thinks for herself and analysis the situation first before acting. The growth of Esperanza from wanting to be alone in her home has evolved to someone who wants to live in a home that welcomes bums, someone who doesn’t forget who she is and treasured the moments in her past.
Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: Vintage, 1989. Originally published by Arte Publico Press, 1983.
Rivera, Haydee. “Breaking the Rules: Innovation and Narrative Strategies in Sandra Cisneros’ the House on Mango Street and Ana Castillo’s the Mixquiahuala Letters.” Ethnic Studies Volume 26 Issue 1.(2003): 1
Sanborn, Geoffrey. Keeping Her Distance: Cisneros, Dickinson, and the Politics of Private Enjoyment. New York: Modern Language Association. 2001. Print
Matchie, Thomas. Novel for students Vol 2. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale. 2002. Print