Latina authors have become increasingly more popular in the United States through fiction. Two of the most well-known Latina fiction writers are Sandra Cisneros and Angie Cruz. Cisneros is a Chicana author who moved from Mexico to Chicago at a young age. Cruz is a Dominican-American author born and raised in Washington Heights, New York. Both authors wrote fiction novels inspired by their American hometowns and their negative associations with these places. Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street is about a young girl who moves to Mango Street, a fictional barrio, which she hopes to escape. Similarly, Cruz’ Soledad is about a young woman who is ashamed of her hometown in Washington Heights, New York. This essay will examine the similarities and differences between these two novels and their main characters’ desires to escape where they are from.
Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street is a collection of vignettes narrated by a young girl named Esperanza. These vignettes progress chronologically over the course of about a year. Some of her them deal with the condition of her house, her culture and their condition in society. In the introduction to this book, Cisneros writes, “We do this [write] because the world we live in is a house on fire and the people we love are burning in it” (Cisneros xviii). This quote illustrates her intentions for the novel. She strives to paint a clear picture of the conditions of the barrio in hopes that it will educate and possibly assist those who are negatively affected by it.
The first story in Cisneros’ collection is titled “The House on Mango Street.” This story describes Esperanza’s new house and the neighborhood they became a part of:
The house on Mango Street is ours, and we don’t have to pay rent to anybody, or share the yard with the people downstairs, or be careful to make too much noise…but the house on Mango Street is not he way they told at all. It’s small and red with tight steps in front and windows so small you’d think they were holding their breath. Bricks are crumbling in places…Everybody has to share a bedroom—Mama and Papa, Carlos and Kiki, Me and Nenny. (Cisneros 3)
The themes of poverty and the lack of a stable home persist throughout the collection, beginning with this story. The narrator constantly feels like her home is not adequate. In this same vignette, she notes that her parents think it is “temporary,” yet she does not believe them.
The narrator’s short-term friend, Cathy, has to move “a little farther away north from Mango Street, a little farther away every time people like us keep moving in” (Cisneros 13). The narrator notices that her family and others like them make the neighborhood an undesirable place to live. In “Those Who Don’t,” she writes, “Those who don’t know any better come into our neighborhood scared. They think we’re dangerous…They are stupid people that got lost here by mistake” (Cisneros 28). The implication that others fear their society or identities is one that crosses over into many other stories. This common theme shows the narrator’s feelings toward being a minority and living in a barrio.
In the story, “Meme Ortiz,” the narrator describes a man’s house that was built by Cathy’s father. The house was not level, neither were the floor boards, “and there,” Esperanza says, “at the end of the block, looking smaller still, our house with its feet tucked under like a cat” (Cisneros 22). She feels not only that she doesn’t belong in this neighborhood, but also that her family is inferior to the others that live there.
In the vignette, “Born Bad,” Esperanza discovers the feeling of guilt and the possibility to escape Mango Street. Though Esperanza is afraid of becoming like her aunt, aspects of Aunt Lupe’s lifestyle inspire Esperanza to escape Mango Street. Esperanza describes that Aunt Lupe was blind and was no longer able to do chores around the house:
I hated to go there alone. The six blocks to the dark apartment, second floor rear building where sunlight never came, and what did it matter? My aunt was blind by then. She never saw the dirty dishes in the sink. She couldn’t see the ceilings dusty with flies, the ugly maroon wall, the bottles and sticky spoons. I can’t forget the smell. Like sticky capsules filled with jelly. (Cisneros 60)
The image of Aunt Lupe’s house makes it clear that her home, like her body, is decaying. She is literally blind to the poor condition of the home around her. Although this image is disgusting to Esperanza, she says, “and what did it matter?” illustrating that she idealizes the lifestyle of a woman who does not obey traditional gender roles. no matter the reason. Mango Street, however, is full of women who look out their windows at the world. She does not want to become one of these women.
Esperanza wants to leave Mango Street one day in hopes of a better life throughout the novel. In “Born Bad,” she reads a poem to Aunt Lupe that describes her feelings: “I want to be/like the waves on the sea,/like the clouds in the wind,/but I’m me./One day I’ll jump/out of my skin./I’ll shake the sky/like a hundred violins” (Cisneros 60). Unlike her aunt, Esperanza is able to escape Mango Street. This poem shows us her desire to be free, like the clouds and the waves. Waves and clouds both change shape constantly. Through this poem, Esperanza is illustrating that like these natural objects, she too desires to change her identity.
After listening to the poem, Aunt Lupe then tells Esperanza, “You must keep writing. It will keep you free, and I said yes, but at that time I didn't know what she meant” (Cisneros 61). Like otherwise women in the story, Aunt Lupe tells Esperanza that she will be free. Unlike the others, however, Aunt Lupe tells her that it is her writing that will allow her to escape. At the end of “Born Bad,” Esperanza says, “Then we began to dream the dreams” (Cisneros 61). Her aunt inspires her to dream and escape Mango Street through her writing.
Julie Frankel's art for The House on Mango Street. Click on the link above to see more of her work on Flickr.
In the final vignette of this novel, “Mango Says Goodbye Sometimes,” Cisneros writes, “I put it down on paper and them the ghost does not ache so much. I write it down and Mango says goodbye sometimes. She does not hold me with both arms. She sets me free” (Cisneros 110). As Aunt Lupe advised her in “Born Bad,” Esperanza has found a way to escape through writing this novel.
It is clear that Cisneros’ narrator has a negative view on the barrio. Cruz’ Soledad illustrates a similar narrative from the point of view of a twenty-two year old woman. Soledad lived in Washington Heights, but often attempts to cover this up, even after she moves to downtown for work and higher education: “When I first moved to downtown and people where I work asked me where I was from, I used to say the Upper West Side, vaguely…I convinced myself that living on the Upper Upper West Side was my way of keeping nasty stereotypes of Washington Heights out of people’s minds” (Cruz 2). Soledad has a negative view on her hometown, but also a negative view on herself. She not only says that she lived in the Upper Upper West Side for the purpose of hiding her true hometown; she believes that by telling them where she is from, they will think badly of that place, not just her.
Similar to Esperanza, Soledad believes that women in the barrio go nowhere. She understands that women often begin relationships with men and do not have the opportunity to escape. She decides she does not want to have a similar relationship with a man to that of her mother; she rejects any men from the barrio: “It’s because he’s not my type, he lives in the hood. I want something better for myself” (Cruz 76). This passage illustrates Soledad’s view on the types of people her community produces. Because a man is from that place, she thinks she can do better. Soledad puts importance on the environment’s affect on its residents.
The instability of Soledad’s family makes her wish she wasn’t a part of it: “I want to find a mountain that I can sit on that will never change or move. That I can always come back to. I want that in a man, in my family, in my home. I’m tired of the unpredictable” (Cruz 68). The instability of her community causes her to feel this way also. In the first chapter of the novel, she gets “attacked” (Cruz 3) by children throwing water balloons at her. The feeling that the community is out to get her is a common theme in fiction works set in low-income communities.
Both Soledad and The House on Mango Street illustrate a young woman’s desire to escape the barrio. Toward the end of each novel, however, they discover their appreciation for this space. Esperanza leaves to help those who can’t, whereas Soledad leaves to help her mother who is trapped in the past. Both of them expect to return even though the novel does not allow us to experience that moment with them. Both texts show that there is beauty to be found in places that may not seem appealing at first sight, but a community is more than just a place. These novels prove that environment affects people in many ways and to abandon it entirely would be to abandon oneself in a way.More by this Author
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1. Reading Chart: analysis of the meaning of each chapter
You will record your thinking on your chart
This chart will be collected and will be used for you to write an in-class essay at the end of the unit
2. Personal reflection: you will have a project in which you write your own narrations that are similar in style to the book, but are about your actual life
In the book House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros the main character is Esperanza.She is a young girl who goes through some though times. Her dream us to one day live Mango Street, own her own house and become a writer. A central theme in this book is womanhood. Womanhood is a state of being a woman, growing up and experiencing problems that woman have to face. This paper looks at images of womanhood in My Name and Red Clowns. Cisneros message on womanhood is that overcoming different and scary events makes a stronger woman who can help others who face the same situation.
In the chapter called ‘’My Name’’.Esperanza introduces herself and talks about her dissatisfaction with her name. ‘’In English my name means hope .In Spanish it means too many letters .It means sadness. It means waiting.’’Esperanza thinks of her name as being a negative one. She gives a positive word like hope and gives it three negative descriptions. First she says it has too many letters.Esperanza is in school and I think she frustrated with how to pronounce her name which makes her different from other people .Even her siblings Nenny,Carlos and Kiki have less- foreign sounding names. If u have never met Esperanza you can tell she Spanish by her name. Esperanza has negative thoughts within herself. Esperanza life is full of sadness and waiting, Esperanza says her inner self is described by the name Zeze the X.Zeze the X is Esperanza trueself.Cisneros is saying is that sometimes you don’t always choose who you are but you can change what you’re going to become.
In the chapter called ‘’My Name’’ Esperanza talks about her connection through her name to her great -grand mother and express how she does not want to be like her .’’She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be.Esperanza.I have inherited her name ,but I don’t.
OK, you know that really great introduction to the 25th anniversary edition of The House on Mango Street that we keep telling you to read? It's really helpful in understanding why Sandra Cisneros writes the way she does. For instance, here's what Sandra Cisneros has to say about the style she developed for writing this book:
She experiments, creating a text that is as succinct and flexible as poetry, snapping sentences into fragments so that the reader pauses, making each sentence serve her and not the other way round, abandoning quotation marks to streamline the typography and make the page as simple and readable as possible. (Introduction.20)
Isn't that nice of her? Cisneros is incredibly straightforward about her writing process. After all, she's had a long career as an educator, so she wants you to understand how writing works and why she does the things she does.
So, let it be said that we totally agree with Cisneros's assessment of her own style. First off, it's readable. (As in, easy to read.) So readable, in fact, that you can pick up this book, open it to any page, and make sense of what's going on, without having any idea of what came before or what's going to happen next. Each chapter, or vignette, is its own self-contained story, while still working as part of the overall whole.
Part of this readability comes from the structure of the novel, which critics often describe as a collection of vignettes. The word vignette means "little vine" in French, and the name of the literary form comes from the drawings of little vines that nineteenth-century printers used to decorate the title pages and beginnings of chapters. So a vignette is kind of like an illustration. It's a short, descriptive passage that's more about evoking meaning through imagery than it is about plot. You'll notice that the vignettes here are all really short – some no longer than half a page – and that for the most part they're made up of short, succinct phrases. The brevity of Cisneros's language increases its readability, too. Check out "Those Who Don't" for an example of a really brief vignette.
Secondly, her style is poetic. We don't mean that it's ostentatious or flowery – to the contrary, it's natural, clear, and easy to understand. By poetic, we mean Cisneros's sentences are full of imagery, metaphors, and word games. For example, when Esperanza wants to describe what it's like having to tote her annoying baby sister around, she hits us with a snapshot image that sums up her feelings of loneliness: "Until then I am a red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor" (3.4).
If you listen to these phrases, you'll notice that they're sing-songy – they even play with rhyme:
There was a family. All were little. Their arms were little, and their hands were little, and their height was not tall, and their feet very small. (17.1)
Sounds like a poem, right? And how about this one:
Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem. (43.2)