The House on Mango Street

I can honestly say that The House on Mango Street was not what I expected when I began reading the book. Perhaps this is because I kind of did it backwards, as I read analyses on the book for the Wiki Project before reading the actual text, so I was expecting more of a novel that was written like others we have read in the class. So, its short, poetic-like narrative caught me by surprise.

It certainly is an interesting and intriguing way to write; not quite a novel, nor a short story. Not quiet a poem, nor a play. While it is a length of a novel, it is made up of short pieces, each of which have rhythm and rhyme, but are all connected by a unified story line. One article poses the question, “Is this a novel or a mere collection of letters?”, and this is a valid question.

The book is a testimony to her life – the poverty, cultural suppression, gender inequalities, her fears, her doubts, her bravery in overcoming obstacles and social constructs. Perhaps, then, the fragmented and unconventional way of the narrative is a reflection of the multi-faceted and fragmented life that she has experienced. One thing that I hadn’t noticed when reading this novel is the fact that each chapter (if that’s even what they’re called) can be read individually without any context. Apparently, this was purposeful on Cisneros’ part as she stated in an interview that she “wanted to write a collection which could be read at any random point without having any knowledge of what came before or after. Or that could be read as a series to tell one big story. I wanted stories like poems, compact and lyrical and ending with reverberation.” To me, this speaks to how great and skilled of a writer she really is, as making the individual parts seem whole by themselves, while also making them a congruent and continuous full story, is no easy task. This might be a stretch, but perhaps this is symbolic or reflective of her (and everyone’s) identity – we have snap shots of experiences in our lives that can be viewed as an episodic memory, one that holds part of who we are, but we can also view those memories as a continuous lifeline that makes us up as a whole person; we are both defined as those individual memories that can be recalled and retold without much context, yet we are also defined by all of them at once.

Before I end this post, I would also like to comment on the name Esperanza. On page 11, she describes the meaning of her name: “In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It was my great-grandmother’s name and now it is mine. She looked out the window all her life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow …. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window”. The inheritance of this name also means that she has inherited the social constructs surrounding it – submission of women in a world of patriarchy and cultural suppression. In other words, she has inherited the “sadness” and “waiting” that is present in the lives of women in the patriarchal world she lived in. However, she goes on to say that she would “like to baptize [herself] under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees. Esperanza as Lisandra or Martiza or Zeze the X. Yes. Zeze the X will do.” I find it interest that she provides no explanation of where those desired names come from nor what they mean to her, but I think this chapter really highlights her resistance against the cultural constraints that hold her and her immense desire to break free.

2 thoughts on “The House on Mango Street

  1. Hey Madison,

    I find your final point, about the protagonist’s name and her dislike for the name interesting. This is the most recent novel which we have read thus far. In The Squatter and The Don, With A Pistol In His Hand, Down These Mean Streets and Bless Me Ultima there was a strong element of tradition and the importance of maintaining it. These books were also written several decades before House On Mango Street. It seems as though the attempt to de-Spanish/ Latin@ people has worked. In Down These Mean Streets and Bless Me Ultima, the main characters are forced to speak English at school. These characters, if they were ‘real’ (and there is some truth to their reality), would have had children roughly Cisneros’ age. It’s as if Esperanza is ashamed of her Chicananess. There is an episode of “Finding Your Roots” (a show about genealogy) that features Sandra Cisneros and it highlights her Chicana past and the past of her ancestors who were migrant workers. I’m a nerd so I really love this kinda thing. If you’re interested, you should check it out. Anyhoo, thank you for making me see something different in House on Mango Street!

    Cheers, and stay healthy!
    Craig

    Like

  2. “It’s as if Esperanza is ashamed of her Chicananess.” Perhaps. And it’s interesting to note what Madison’s pointing out here, that the name “Esperanza” (hope, of course) is seen as holding her back (as being the opposite of hope).

    But here’s where I think I disagree with one point Madison, you are making. I think that by the end of the book Esperanza leaves behind that sense of shame. Which is why I see more of a linear narrative: Esperanza gets somewhere; the book takes her there. And that place that she arrives at is where she is no longer ashamed of where she comes from.

    Or is my reading too optimistic?

    Like

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