Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street (1991 ed). 110 Pages. Random House. $9.95
From time to time, I’m tempted to revisit books I’ve read before, to see if I feel differently later. For example, in High School English, we read The House on Mango Street, which I remember enjoying, but not paying a lot of attention to. So when I got the chance to re-read it, I did.
Sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous, The House on Mango Street tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, whose neighborhood is one of harsh realities and harsh beauty. Esperanza doesn’t want to belong– not to her rundown neighborhood, and not to the low expectations the world has for her. Esperanza’s story is that of a young girl coming into her power, and inventing for herself what she will become. (Back Cover)
The story is broken into vignettes* which are fairly journal-like in their narration. While the story as a whole is about Esperanza, at times the focus is on one of her friends or neighbors. The story begins when Esperanza and her family move to Mango Street, a relatively impoverished area with a growing latino population. Esperanza simultaneously wants friends and an escape. She wants a place to call “home” and not just a house to live in. She wants a chance to be somewhere besides here, in a place that is her own.
A House of My Own
Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man’s house. Not a daddy’s. A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias. My books and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed. Nobody to shake a stick at. Nobody’s garbage to pick up after.
Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem. (p 108)
There are a few things in the book which could be considered dated; Esperanza’s first job is at a photo developer’s, where she matches photographs with their negatives. Her brother wants to be like the Spartans in The 300 Spartans** so he stands outside in the cold (the colder, the better). There is, however, nothing regional about the book. If I had not been told by the back of the book, I would never have thought it was supposed to be Chicago. Esperanza’s story could be uprooted and placed in any city in the U.S. and it would be the same story; a young girl wants to escape the fate of other women in her neighborhood. She wants to break the cycle, and be the girl who does not move from her father’s house to her husband’s, to raise daughters who will fall into the same trap.
There is a lot of violence in this book, though it is not explicit. Most women are beaten by their fathers and/or husbands. At least one (Rosa) is literally locked away. Esperanza is raped. Several other girls (most notably Sally) sleep around in an attempt to pretend that they are free. Nearly all of them hoped for love at one point, but settled for whatever came their way first.
It is a sadly hopeful book. Esperanza wants more, and by the end, there is a feeling that she will get it. She is a survivor, a girl who can come from a neighborhood like this and still make something of herself.
The House on Mango Street is an interesting book, the sort you can read more than once and get something new each time you approach it. The language is simple, and beautiful. The story is hopeful, despite everything else. It is not a hard read, but it has a lot to think about. Perhaps this is why it is taught in school; there is so much to talk about with so little reading; 110 pages is not intimidating. It gets a 5/5.
* Not to be confused with vinaigrette, which is what I think of every time I say/type/read that word.
** Which is not 300, though I suppose one could pretend.