House on Mango Street Essay
Growing Up in Poverty
In the novel, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, a young confused girl has trouble finding herself as she grows up in the Latino section of Chicago. Esperanza and her family move to a small, crumbling red house in a poor urban neighborhood. Determined, she decides that someday she will leave and move somewhere else and totally forget everything about Mango Street. Throughout the novel, Esperanza significantly matures sexually and emotionally. The many stories of her neighbors gives a full image of what Mango Street is like and showing the many possible paths Esperanza may follow in the near future. However towards the end, she begins to write as a way of expressing herself and as a way to escape the neighborhood. When Esperanza finds herself emotionally ready to leave her neighborhood, she discovers that she will never fully be able to leave Mango Street behind, and decides she will return to help the others she has left. Major themes are presented right away at the beginning of the novel. Three of the most prominent themes introduced in the first chapters are struggling to find true identity, the unfairness of gender roles, and society and class.
First of all, a theme that is present in the first section of the novel is the struggle to find one’s true identity. Esperanza explains about her name: “In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting” (Cisneros 10). The protagonist clearly hates her name for many reasons. Meaning hope in English, her name carries many implications like expressing her Mexican heritage. However, it also has a sense of waiting or expectation and Esperanza does not want to live up to those meanings of her name. After she describes the bad aspects about her name, Esperanza states, “I would like to baptize myself under a name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees…Something like Zeze the X will do” (11). By Esperanza desiring to change her name to a bizarre name like Zeze the X, she shows that she does not consider herself to be easily known. Because the X can be perceived as something hidden or unknowable about her identity, this demonstrates she is still finding her true self and does not want anyone to notice her. In the chapter, Boys & Girls, Esperanza feels like she needs to separate herself from her younger sister in order to create her own life. Until Esperanza has a best friend with who she can
share her secrets with and understand her jokes, she believes that she will just be this balloon tied to an anchor, wanting to escape. Being isolated from everybody else, she is not be able to express her feelings to anyone and cannot show her true self. To sum up, Esperanza has trouble finding herself as she worries about her name and being stuck to her little sister.
Furthermore, another theme that is displayed in the introduction is the unfairness of gender roles. Esperanza mentions about her great-grandmother that “She was a horse woman too, born like me in the Chinese year of the horse–which is supposed to be bad luck if you’re born female” (10). Showing awareness of the larger world, Esperanza observes that being born in the year of the horse is not necessarily bad luck, but that the Mexicans and Chinese do not like their women strong. Many cultures like these two have a majority of their women staying at home and doing petty tasks while their husband is doing work at a real job. Describing the loss of freedom of her great-grandmother, “She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow” (11). Esperanza’s great-grandmother is the first of many women in The House on Mango Street who were trapped by men, society, and their own sense of defeat. At first, she was a strong woman, but after her forced marriage she spent most of her days looking out a window and hoping for escape. Explaining the interaction between both sexes of children on Mango Street, Esperanza states that the boys and the girls live in separate worlds. Even at a young age, divisions between gender are present among the characters. By living in separate worlds, they are demonstrating real life situations that are already occurring in society at that time period. All in all, unfair gender roles in society is another important theme illustrated in the beginning of the novel.
Lastly, the third theme portrayed in the first few chapters is society and class. Expounding the looks of her house, “Out back is a small garage for the car we don’t own yet and a small yard that looks smaller between the two buildings on either side” (4). The description of Esperanza’s home contains clues about their social class. Obviously, her family lives in poverty by living in a poor quality house in the impoverished Latino section of
Chicago. When a nun from Esperanza’s school examines her house, she states, “You live there? The way she said it make me feel like nothing. There. I lived there. I nodded” (5). She feels immensely judged by the woman who must live in a much higher social class. The way she says the word there tells Esperanza that there is something wrong with her home. Next, Cathy explains to Esperanza why her family has to move away and tells her the neighborhood is getting bad. Cathy’s statement about the poor quality of the neighborhood feels like an insult to Esperanza who just moved in. This shows how impoverished the neighborhoods of Mango Street are by Cathy’s family moving out of one. Ultimately, Mango Street is the best example to portray the theme of society and class.
To summarize, the struggle for finding one’s true self, the unfairness of gender roles, and society and class are the three themes shown at the beginning of the novel. It is important for readers to understand the different themes in the first part of the book because they pervade throughout the rest of the book. By identifying these themes, readers can make real life connections with the novel. The themes are displayed in the story as Esperanza grows and matures extensively into adulthood. After living on Mango Street for some certain time, Esperanza eventually learns that too much dependence on men can lead her life to a complete downfall.