Based on the lead character Esperanza Cordero’s self-empowerment and her coming-of-age through a series of events involving her family, neighborhood and even her dreams, the novel The House on Mango Street is a masterpiece of Sandra Cisneros. The novel does not follow the traditional pattern of the novels that we are accustomed to, as it does not have a chronological pattern. Nonetheless, the novel emerges with a root story which emphasizes on Cordero’s strong will and motivation to overcome her problems of poverty, race and gender.
The initial stages if the novel sees Cordero moving into a new house with her family, embarking on a new journey altogether. It was the first house they have ever owned, which is located in the Latina section of Chicago on Mango Street. This is where most of the novel focuses and thus the novel is the name of the street itself. Initially, Esperanza is very much disappointed by the ramshackle, red broken mess of a house, which she had never expected. It was nothing compared to the picture of a house that her parents had painted for her. Neither was it high up on the hills, something that she had always wanted and still vows to pursue and have someday.
Esperanza’s problems do not only revolve around her house, as we can see in the initial stages of the novel, but also within her emotions, and how she feels about her external appearance. Esperanza always happens to be facing the inner conflict that her outer appearance simply did not reflect her true personality, which she has wanted to happen sincerely for as long as she can remember. She wanted her true self to be reflected in front of everyone which was not happening because of her current appearance. On the other hand, she is very much conscious about her name ‘Esperanza’, because it holds a very special sentiment to her since the name was originally of her great-grandmother; the original Esperanza.
In the novel, we see that her great-grandmother was tricked into marriage and had to pay her dues all throughout her life, as she suffered in sorrow and depression her whole existence. Esperanza vows to not follow the same path as the one her great-grandmother had taken, which, if we come to think of it, many women do; watching their whole existence passing by without being able to do anything. To break free from the stereotypes, Esperanza wants to rename herself ‘Zeze the X’, which she finds more befitting of her.
As the story of the novel progresses, we see that Esperanza, as the new girl on the block, experiences many of life’s cruel, as well as joyous, realities, from her Mango Street neighbors. We can see how Cordero faces difficulties making friends, as her first friend in the neighborhood, Cathy, does not stay in the picture for long since Cathy’s father shifts the whole family due to his feelings that the neighborhood is degrading day by day. What Cathy’s father actually meant was that the neighborhood was being infiltrated by the likes of lower class Latinos such as Esperanza’s family. However, two young sisters let Esperanza into their circle when she contributes money to let them buy a bicycle. Lucy and Rachel, the two young sisters, become close friends of Esperanza day by day. They assist her in going through the moments of and pondering about growing up by inventing parodies and rhymes about their neighborhood, while parading all around Mango Street in high heels.
Esperanza’s eyes are opened to the hardships and struggles faced by the young people in rough neighborhoods, which is a lesson in life itself. Esperanza comes across many incidents and situations starting from the car theft by Louie’s cousin, to the death of a boy whom Marin meets at a dance party in a hit and run. On the other hand, Marin’s desperate attempt to find a husband just to take her away from everything teaches and shows Cordero the limited opportunities, possibilities and scopes that she faces herself.
On the other hand, Alicia shows Esperanza the other side of life; a side which shows Esperanza the fire that burns inside Alicia, and how she overcomes her father’s macho views to rise above and beyond. Esperanza observes as Alicia, despite her father’s views admits herself to a university, and studies all night, with the hope that with her ability, quality and credibility someday she will rise and not just stay as her father’s housekeeper.
As the novel progresses with the storyline, Esperanza starts to witness a few changes in her sexuality and pays emphasis as she develops a budding sexuality. As days progressed, she gradually started paying heed to boys as they looked at her in her neighborhood, or at the dance. But, Esperanza’s luck was not in her favor as she faced abuse and sexual violence in two occasions which destroyed her mental image of true love along with her very first experience of a kiss, which left her shattered and traumatized for years to come.
Her previous bitter experiences added a little more bitterness when her promiscuous friend Sally’s behavior degraded her impression and ruined her image of the opposite gender. Nonetheless, Esperanza still dreams of spending time with her imaginary to be boyfriend sitting outside at night looking at the stars and constellations. But unlike most of the other girls in her neighborhood, Esperanza has set higher standards for herself when it comes to choosing a man for herself. In her past experience, she has seen countless incidents of neighbors being immensely unhappy in marriages and thus refuses to choose a man to “escape” from everything.
In the novel, Esperanza can see examples in front of her eyes, examples of the likes of Ruthie who lost her senses after running away from her husband, or the young and beautiful Rafaela, who is locked inside her own house by her husband, because of her crime which is the fact that she is majestically beautiful. But the tragedy, which affects Esperanza the most is of Sally’s. The story of Esperanza’s friends might be pathetic but nothing can come even remotely close to that of Sally’s. Just like her, Sally also longed for true love and affection but was always constrained because of her family and the culture within her community. She was brutally beaten up by her father who was scared that Sally would ruin the family image in front of everyone because of her beauty. To escape her hell of a family, Sally married a travelling salesman, although she was underage, but she still could not escape her cycle of brutality. Saddened, enraged and aggravated by the fate of her close friend Sally, Esperanza decides to leave the godforsaken place of Mango Street in the hopes of becoming a writer, and build her dream home on top of the hills.
In her early age, although Esperanza vows to move away from the filthy place of Mango Street, where she witnessed countless incidents of brutality, discrimination and inhumane pain and sufferings, we know that by the end of the novel, the lead character Esperanza Cordero will come back one day to help those who were not as lucky as she. And, that is what the readers will find in the closing pages of the illustrious novel where Esperanza confesses that indeed, she cannot escape her neighborhood of Mango Street, and that her friend Alicia was right when she reminded her in the past that she will not be able to cut ties with Mango Street.
The novel teaches us a unique lesson in life. From the start to the finish of the novel, the almost graphical representations of how Esperanza has had ups and downs right from the moment she and her family moved into Mango Street, and even before that. But her prior experiences did not change her mindset or affect her behavior or personality the way Mango Street did. Although nearly every memory she has in that place is negative, it made her the person that she eventually grew up to be, a person with lessons taught from personal experiences, a traumatized little girl, who lost her innocence and her impression of such a pure emotion as love, whose first kiss was even ruined because of all the toxic people she encountered while growing up. Let’s not forget how poorly she was treated just because she hailed from a Latina family, with the surname of Cordero. The novel not only talks about the journey of Esperanza but also shows us the amount of brutality and struggles that minorities had to face in the early ages.
The novel is an illustration of the writer’s personal experiences in life and how she depicted her own stories in the form of fiction, starting from her upbringing to feeling isolation. To add to all of those, the novel portrays strong messages regarding the description of the phenomenon of love, religion, discrimination, oppression and feminism.