Sandra Cisneros’s “The House on Mango Street”

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“For most people, a house signifies shelter or a place to live, usually accommodating one family. It provides individuals with a space to lead their private lives. When we think of a house, it often conjures the idea of a family unit. Thus, the term “house” transcends the physicality of a building and embodies a concept of family unity. I am going to examine Sandra Cisneros’s “The House on Mango Street” and Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” with a literary lens.

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Both novels incorporate actual houses into their narratives, rendering them essential for understanding the plots and characters. In my paper, I aim to concentrate on the influence a “home” has on its inhabitants. Despite the characters’ houses being dilapidated and unbecoming, they harbor hope and a potent desire for a “home”. Therefore, I plan to analyze and compare houses as symbols of their pursuit of a genuine home and a sense of belonging. Both stories revolve around housing which, to some degree, represent their families, memories of past life, and familial bonds.

First and foremost, the home symbolizes the characters’ fundamental families and memories. Sandra Cisneros’s “The House on Mango Street” introduces Esperanza, a young girl who observes the world with innocent transparency and celebrates the joy of life. Esperanza dreams of owning a house, expressing herself through writing, gaining liberty and the capacity to help others, escaping poverty promptly, and eventually leaving Mango Street. Her family’s previous home was in a pitiful state – “The water pipes broke, and the landlord wouldn’t fix them because the house was too old” (145). Esperanza aspires to have a larger house, but her family’s budget prevents that. They are forced to settle in a shabby, compact flat. She acknowledges that “I knew then I had to have a house. A real house… But I know how these things go” (146). She understands that their financial situation does not allow for a bigger house anytime soon. She recollects “moving a lot”. With a large family, her most vivid memories involve constantly relocating. The narrative leaves one wondering if Esperanza yearns for a permanent home, and what her life was like. The limited narration of her life shows that they often relocated and lived in poor conditions, showcased when she stated “It’s in much worse condition” about their last flat, before moving to the house on Mango Street. The author uses Esperanza’s perspective to convey her family connections and memories through their housing experiences. It appears to be an innocent desire for a young girl to want a larger house. Nonetheless, her naivety tends to entice deeper contemplation. Her unfiltered worldview engages readers directly. Her words, full of yearning for a better life, make readers empathize with the experiences of minority groups.

From the perspective of “Everyday Use,” the home in this story represents a turning point in the relationship between Dee, Mama, and Maggie. The mother in the story has two daughters, Maggie and Dee. At the beginning, Mama and Maggie await Dee’s return home. However, Dee returns with a new identity, claiming that she has changed her name to reject her heritage and legacy (152). For Dee, Mama, and Maggie, returning to the house means revisiting the past and their youthful memories. An essential part of the house is the yard. Mama’s yard symbolizes a private space, free from the regrets and shortcomings of her life. It is a place where life’s events unfold. The yard is carefully prepared for Dee’s arrival, with Mama sensitive to every aspect of its appearance. She and Maggie made wavy patterns in the soil while tending to the patio. Mama praised the comfort of the yard and likened it to a spacious living room. In many ways, she preferred the outdoors to the confines of the house. The outdoors represented freedom, while the interior brought constraints and discomfort. The intense discussion over the quilt takes place inside, where various objects trigger Dee’s desire to reconnect with her past. By contrast, the yard is a sanctuary, a place to escape Mama’s regrets. For Mama and Maggie, the yard offers a sense of security and control. The house was once burned, and Maggie was injured in that fire. This event marked the severing of the relationship between Mama and Dee. Dee had often expressed her dissatisfaction with the old house, but the fire gave her a reason to leave the past behind and pursue her ideal life. There is a significant difference between Mama and Dee’s perspectives on home. Dee views the home as a physical shelter and is drawn to the idea of living in a luxe house. Mama, however, yearns for family unity. Despite the house’s shabbiness, it’s still home – a sanctuary for parents and children. Mama desires a true home characterized by warmth and family ties, not separation from her daughter. Deeply disappointed with Dee’s actions, Mama finds solace in Maggie’s innocence. Readers can sense Maggie’s purity and a glimmer of hope for a family reunion. Mama and Maggie yearn for a place they can truly call home.

Moreover, the home symbolizes the bond between parents and children. Esperanza yearns to live in a spacious house. She uses words like “temporary” (146) and daydreams about a larger home. Esperanza, a naïve narrator, doesn’t comprehend what her parents are doing to improve their lives but candidly reveals her disappointment and sadness.

The home also represents dreams and aspirations. Beyond the content of the book, “The House on Mango Street” reflects the social status of Latin American immigrants at that time. The people in this community are becoming increasingly complicated. The differences a little girl experienced in other countries immediately stirred her. Different races and colors abruptly awakened her racial consciousness. Esperanza eventually understood the severity of racial discrimination in the “white society”, which was why white people avoided Mexican immigrants on Mango Street. Despite their hard work, it was difficult for them to overcome the status of people of color and poverty and sit with the white people around them on an equal footing. Esperanza dreamt of moving out of Mango Street; this was her dream of encountering no discrimination and being independent in society. We may overlook the voice of a little girl, but it reflects the dismal life of immigrants. Every aspiration deserves respect, even those from a little girl.

In “Everyday Use,” the home mirrors the lives of impoverished African Americans. Historically, African Americans have faced too much discrimination and unequal treatment. They worked diligently and safeguarded their traditions carefully. The quilt in “Everyday Use” was perfect proof of their tradition’s heritage. It was a symbol of Mama’s family and a strong connection among different generations. Maggie and Dee’s grandmother and mother were the inheritors of this quilt. Dee considered herself the rightful user of the quilt. However, Mama didn’t believe Dee would appreciate their family’s tradition. She felt that Dee’s mind was beyond the home, beyond love for the whole family. In contrast, Maggie was kind-hearted, understanding the quilt’s significance. In Dee’s words, “You just don’t understand,” “Your heritage” (158), it was ironic that Dee felt her mother didn’t comprehend what heritage meant. The “home” aimed to express pure familial love and mutual understanding.

Esperanza in “The House on Mango Street” and Mama with Maggie in “Everyday Use” are all striving for their ideal “home”. For them, the “home” symbolizes a sense of belonging. While they may long for a physical house, a spiritual home is what they truly desire. Esperanza represents the lives of immigrants, while Mama and Maggie represent the lives of impoverished African Americans. They are minority groups in this society. The concept of a “house” for them is more than just a simple shelter—they experience numerous struggles and inequalities. Unable to lead prosperous lives like upper-class individuals, they have to strive harder for an ideal life. The characters in both stories are on their journey to find a sense of belonging—a real home. To those who are wandering everywhere unable to find a peaceful place, the “home” is a physical house with the comfort of family. However, I prefer to describe a home as a harbor for boats seeking shelter from the wind, a mother’s embrace when a frightened child returns home, or a comfort zone free from societal complexities. A true home deserves all the graceful words in the world.

In conclusion, the home in both stories represents not only a real house with families and memories, bridging parents and children, but also the intense longing for the actual home. The real home is where the heart belongs. People spend their whole lives trying to find a sense of belonging, especially immigrants and African Americans in the two stories, The House on Mango Street and Everyday Use. These stories emphasize the variety of meanings of home to depict the family picture, showcasing revered dreams and aspirations.”

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Sandra Cisneros's "The House on Mango Street". (2021, Jun 16). Retrieved from