“The House of Hope and Freedom”
In Sandra Cisneros’s novel The House on Mango Street, a young Latina girl, Esperanza, is telling the story of her experience growing up in a low-income neighborhood. As a teenager, Esperanza goes through some difficult times and learns about what it means to be an adult. She and her family move to a house located on Mango Street in Chicago. But this house is not what she expected. It is not the type of house her parents had promised they would move to.
Throughout the novel, Esperanza describes the tough lives of her friends, relatives, and other residents in short sketches that allow readers to explore their cultural backgrounds. These characters are affected either by exile, poverty, or the restrictions of predetermined gender roles. Esperanza draws attention from the readers because she is portrayed as a simple human being, as a woman that is going through hard times, which is usual in this kind of neighborhood across the globe.
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Additionally, she is going through an awkward time of life called puberty, and her writings of distressed, sincere poetry, revealed through imagery and metaphors, help her get through the embarrassment and the discomfort of puberty. Through Cisneros’s usage of structure, narrative, tone, setting, and symbols, readers feel more connected to the novel’s central theme, as they are reminded that, in spite of all the embarrassing and painful experiences in life, they can overcome them, like Esperanza does.
Cisneros writes this fantastic novel in such a way that any person who attempts to read it finds it easy and accessible to understand. She structures the novel in a way that it does not seem like the reader is reading a novel. This novel seems to be like a collection of short, descriptive stories. Nevertheless, these short stories are connected to one another because Cisneros lets the characters develop and the events take shape as the novel progresses.
Moreover, in her introduction, Cisneros writes that the stories create a kind of “beauty that is there to be admired by anyone, like a herd of clouds grazing overhead” (“Introduction” 15). As Cisneros makes her characters have their own short story, this helps readers understand and follow along better without getting lost and makes this novel an easy read for those who are not used to reading long novels. As a result, it becomes clear that even the structure of this novel is designed to reinforce the fact that Esperanza and the people she lives with are ordinary people like everybody else.
The novel is written in a first-person narrative voice, which allows readers to see Esperanza’s point of view. Cisneros chose to represent that intimate developmental process with the first-person narration to mirror the overall theme of the novel. Esperanza is going through the period of puberty, which is an intimate moment of being a female or male. For instance, Cisneros uses figurative language to show the reader intimate moments, such as Esperanza’s feelings of loneliness, when she writes, “until then I am a red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor” (House on Mango Street 34).
Other intimate experiences, such as embarrassment, are also narrated, as shown when Esperanza’s cousin asks her to dance at a baptism party and she replies that she can not. She thinks her shoes are so ugly and old that do not go with her new dress, and she shows her feelings of embarrassment when she expresses “my feet growing bigger and bigger” (74). Despite this overall intimacy, Esperanza becomes more like a peripheral narrator for a few sections of the novel.
This proves readers that Esperanza is not a self-centered narrator who is only concerned about telling her own story. She talks about her personal experiences, but she also talks about the experiences of her community members who do not or cannot speak for themselves. Esperanza’s tendency to sometimes become a peripheral narrator expresses the dynamic of how, as we come to better know ourselves, as we do in puberty, we must also situate ourselves in the world.
The name Esperanza means “hope” in English, and the tone of this novel has a sense of hope as well, at least in Esperanza’s life. She is surrounded by hard situations, like many immigrants are. For example, there is a sense of machismo portrayed in the stories of the women Esperanza talks about. This is seen in the situation of Minerva. She has two kids, and her husband keeps leaving her, but she keeps letting him back in. She shows up at Esperanza’s house all bruised up, asking her for advice. Men beating their daughters and wives is a social ill seen in this novel.
Nevertheless, Esperanza decides to escape all these injustices and swears that when she grows up and has a house of her own, she will help her people. A great example of this desire to be different is when Esperanza reflects on her great-grandmother, who “looked out the window her whole life,” meaning that she was not happy with her husband, who had thrown a “sack over her head and carried her off” (34). Esperanza does not want to “inherit her [great-grandmother’s] place by the window” (35).
The beginning of the story starts to be chaotic because of the problems that the community of that neighborhood is going through. Most of Esperanza’s neighbors live complicated and difficult lives. This community experiences poverty, apathy, and crime. Truly, all the difficult situations that occur around Esperanza impulse her to act towards making her community better. Esperanza’s dream is not just to better herself for her future, but also to help her friends and community when she says: “I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out” (145).
Bearing Esperanza’s desire to go away and come back in mind, readers see the importance of the setting of this novel, which takes place mainly in the neighborhood on Mango Street, as is mentioned in the title of the novel. In fact, the most part of the action happens around the house on Mango Street and little of it occurs in the house itself, which suggests that not just Esperanza’s house, but the other places surrounding the house help establish what is Mango Street for her, her home. Mango Street is located in a Latino, poor neighborhood in Chicago, Cisnero’s hometown.
By a few contextual clues from the novel, like the song that Marin keeps singing “apples, peaches, pumpkin pah-ay” (49), the time period is established as the late 1960’s. Readers assume that the residents of Mango Street are poor and that there are class distinctions made by Esperanza. She emphasizes the distinctions of their social status when she says that “people who live on the hills sleep so close to the stars they forget those of us who live too much on earth” (119). Esperanza is referring to the people that live in the higher neighborhoods by the hills “with the gardens where [her] Papa works” (119), suggesting that Mango Street is not a nice part of the city because it is too much on earth.
Readers cannot avoid the fact that, of all the parts of the setting in Mango Street that are represented in the novel, houses are mentioned the most, from beginning to end. Clearly, Cisneros is using it to symbolize either women’s independence, imprisonment, or freedom. For example, in the case of Esperanza’s grandmother and her neighbors, Rafaela and Mamacita, the house means a prison, as they all lean on the window sills wishing to be free from the captivity of their domestic lives. It is Esperanza’s desire to get a house of her own with “big windows…that would swing open, [and] all the sky would come in”(115), “Not a man’s house. Not a daddy’s,”(142), which is her vision of independence and perfect happiness.** 2 sentences.
*Change sentence a little to connect For Esperanza, beauty can be seen as a weapon that can fire back because beautiful women in the novel often suffer the most. For instance, Sally, Esperanza’s friend, is a very beautiful young woman whose father is very strict with her and does not let her go out at all. Her father’s religion prohibits her to dance. She likes to wear eye liner and dresses nice, which Esperanza likes and kind of envies. But being beautiful and dressing up nice are seen to be dangerous according to Sally’s father and Esperanza’s mother.
Nevertheless, Esperanza looks for new forms that will enable her to maintain her independence, as she battles to define her own femininity in a society that places men above women, like in Minerva’s and Esperanza’s grandmother’s case. Women play a crucial role in The House on Mango Street. Nearly all the main characters are women, and much of the story is motivated by the protagonist’s understanding of her own femininity.
By the end of the novel, Esperanza wishes to become a New Woman to obtain an unprecedented level of independence for women in earlier generations and have the confidence, education and means to exist in the world without needing to relate to men in a hierarchical sense. Though Esperanza battles to characterize her own womanliness in a general public that is regularly onerous to ladies, she searches for new types of female power, frames that will enable her to keep up her independence.
In conclusion, Sandra Cisneros exposes in this novel the story of Esperanza, a young Mexican American girl who goes through different situations in her life, with her family and her neighborhood. Esperanza is someone sincere, a person who lets the reader see her feelings and desires. She talks about who she is, but even more, she points beyond her and her neighbors’ situation when she talks about her dreams and desires, who she really wants to be.
In reality, Esperanza is seeking for her own identity. She has the option of staying on Mango Street and being one of the most abused women because of her race and social status. For Esperanza, it is very important to achieve a better future. She wants to excel and become someone better so that she can also help her community above all. Overall, Esperanza is very clear that wherever she goes, her roots and culture will follow her.