The House on Mango Street
by Sandra Cisneros
Esperanza is the heart and soul of this story – she's our protagonist and narrator, and the person who develops and changes the most over the course of the novel. Because of the fragmentary way the book is written, she's also the character who gives the story its unity – after all, everything's told from her perspective, so even the stories about other characters tell us something about Esperanza.
So who is our protagonist? She's a young girl who struggles with her feelings of loneliness and her shame at being poor. Like many teens, she gets embarrassed a lot and wants to fit in. She's also a writer, which is cool (we just love books about writers). Writing is the tool that helps Esperanza come into her own, helps reconcile her to her past and her community, and helps her persevere when she experiences incredibly painful events like the death of her relatives, and even rape.
Esperanza also has a trait that marks her as different. She's an ethnic minority in the United States – she's Latina. But how significant is that quality to the story? While Esperanza's cultural heritage plays a big part in establishing her feelings of closeness and connection to her family and community, we still read Esperanza as a character that pretty much everyone can identify with. Adolescence, and all the uncomfortable feelings that come along with it, is a pretty universal experience. We've all felt lonely and ashamed, awkward and ugly, and we all have hopes and dreams.
Maybe you disagree with us – the centrality of Esperanza's cultural heritage to the story in The House on Mango Street is certainly debatable. So don't hold back – let us know what you think.