The House on Mango Street Theme of Foreignness and 'The Other'
Set in a Latino community in Chicago, The House on Mango Street contains many characters who are or have been foreigners in some way. The novel explores the feelings associated with foreignness and exile, like loneliness, isolation, shame, and a sense of not belonging. It also describes some of the social attitudes towards foreignness, from fear on the part of white people who venture into the Latino neighborhood by mistake, to apathy on the part of hospital workers called on to tend to a dying Mexican man, to condescension on the part of neighbors like Cathy who are eager to make themselves look superior in some way.
Questions About Foreignness and 'The Other'
- How does a foreigner become un-foreign? What examples do we see in the novel of characters who manage to assimilate into a new society? What sorts of sacrifices do they have to make to be successful? What do they gain?
- Does Esperanza feel like a foreigner in her own community? How is her feeling of not belonging similar to the experience of being a foreigner? How is it different?
- How does the use of language in the novel indicate a character's foreignness?
Chew on This
For Esperanza, the experience of being an adolescent bears a lot of similarities to the experience of living in exile – she feels isolated, misunderstood, and lonely, and thinks she doesn't belong. Foreignness in this book is characterized by an inability to communicate, and foreigners are able to overcome their isolation only when they learn to communicate in a new language. Like a foreigner who assimilates into a community, Esperanza overcomes her feelings of isolation and grows more connected to her environment through the mastery of language – in her case, through writing.