Places: The House on Mango Street

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1984

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Bildungsroman

Time of work: Mid-1960’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Mango Street

*Mango House on Mango Street, TheStreet. Street in the Hispanic neighborhood of Chicago, where author Sandra Cisneros was born. The young narrator of her novel, Esperanza, lives with her family in a small, redbrick house at 4006 Mango Street. Its bricks are crumbling in places, and its front door is swollen and hard to move. The house has no front yard, only four skinny elm trees the city has planted by the curb, trees that manage to grow in the cement. The house’s small backyard looks even smaller because it is enclosed by buildings on either side. Esperanza is ashamed of her house and longs to move away from Mango Street to a larger house in a better neighborhood.

The neighborhood is a busy place filled with children and adults engaged in a number of activities. Children play volleyball in the alley, and boys riding homemade bicycles shout at girls walking by. Kids bend trees, bounce between parked cars, and hang upside-down from their knees. A boy pushes Esperanza into an open water hydrant, and other boys sit on bikes in front of a house pitching pennies. Neighbors come out to see the crash of a big yellow Cadillac, listen for the sirens, and watch as cops handcuff the driver. In front of the tavern, a bum sits on a stoop. People wait to take the subway train to downtown. Strangers to the neighborhood fear that it is dangerous; however, the neighborhood is a place in which Esperanza feels safe.

Precious Blood Church

Precious Blood Church. Center of social life for Esperanza’s family and neighbors. On the day of a cousin’s baptism, the family members dance in the church basement, which has been rented out for the occasion. People wear their finest clothes and enjoy the party, the dancing, and eating tamales as children run all over the place.

Monkey Garden

Monkey Garden. Secret place in a neighborhood yard where a family that owned a monkey once lived. After the family left, Esperanza and her friends make a clubhouse of the yard, using the back of an old blue pickup. Filled with sunflowers, spiders, worms, beetles, ants, ladybugs, and a hibiscus tree, the Monkey Garden is a place where the children’s mothers cannot find them.

*Mexico

*Mexico. Original home to many people in the neighborhood whose culture continues to influence their lives. Esperanza’s father flies to Mexico for the funeral of his mother after she dies. When Mamacita’s husband brings her to Chicago to be with him, she becomes homesick for Mexico and does not come out of the apartment because she does not speak English.

White house

White house. Esperanza’s dream home. One day Esperanza wants to escape her dreary surroundings and move to a home of her own, not a flat or apartment, not a man’s house, or a daddy’s house, but her own house–one with a porch and pretty purple petunias. She yearns for a house as quiet as snow, a white house surrounded by trees with a big yard and no fence. Her dream house would have running water, a basement, and at least three washrooms. It would have no nosy neighbors watching, no motorcycles and cars, no sheets and towels and laundry, only trees and plenty of blue sky. Esperanza wants a house on a hill like the one with a garden where her father works. She thinks that people who live on hills sleep so close to the stars they forget the people who live on earth. As she describes the house she wants to own, she points to the dismal surroundings of her present life. Esperanza’s dream house becomes synonymous with individual economic and social independence, which one can obtain through education and the cultivation of one’s native talents.

BibliographyCisneros, Sandra. Interview by Reed Way Dasenbrock. In Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World, edited by Feroza Jussawalla and Dasenbrock. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1992. Cisneros discuses the genesis of her first novel, her use of voices, the effect that bilingualism has on her writing, her life in Texas, her parents’ lives, feminism, her favorite writers, and her novel in progress.De Valdés, Maria Elena. “In Search of Identity in Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street.” Canadian Review of American Studies 23, no. 1 (Fall, 1992): 55-72. De Valdés systematically charts the stages of Esperanza’s search for identity, which is complicated by her “double marginalization” in being both a Chicana and a woman. Reviews key chapters to suggest what ideas they contribute to major themes in the novel.Ganz, Robin. “Sandra Cisneros: Border Crossings and Beyond.” Melus 19, no. 1 (Spring, 1994): 19-29. Ganz uses biographical information drawn from many sources to show how Cisneros’ stories successfully cross borders of gender and ethnicity.McCracken, Ellen. “Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street: Community-Oriented Introspection and the Demystification of Patriarchal Violence.” In Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writing and Critical Readings, edited by Asunción Horno-Delgado et al. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989. McCracken considers the novel from a feminist perspective, finding that it criticizes capitalistic and patriarchal social structures that oppress Latin women.Olivares, Julián. “Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street and the Poetics of Space.” In Chicana Creativity and Criticism: Charting New Frontiers in American Literature, edited by Maria Herrera-Sobek and Helena María Viramontes. Houston, Tex.: Arte Público Press, 1988. Olivares argues that the house motif represents Cisneros’ “house of story-telling”; the narrative charts a young writer coming into her own. Whereas her real house represents confinement, the imaginary one represents her ability to transcend the conditions of her life by writing stories about them.
Categories: Places