The House on Mango Street
The House on Mango Street Theme of Innocence
The House on Mango Street is a coming-of-age story about a young girl named Esperanza. Like many coming-of-age stories, this one deals with Esperanza's loss of innocence and familiarization with sex. Tragically, her education in these matters isn't voluntary – while Esperanza tries to cling to a childhood that she's not really ready to leave behind, she's threatened by sexual violence as soon as she enters adolescence. Esperanza is forcibly initiated into the world of sex when a group of boys rapes her at a carnival.
Questions About Innocence
- In the chapter "The Family of Little Feet," why does Mr. Benny describe the high-heeled shoes the girls are wearing as "dangerous"? Where else in the text do we hear an adult describe a child's clothing as dangerous? What sort of danger does grown-up clothing pose to the children? Where does the danger come from?
- What happens to Esperanza in the monkey garden? How can this be read as a loss-of-innocence experience?
- Why is the story of Esperanza's rape followed by the story of Sally getting married? What connection do you see between Esperanza's forced sexual experience and Sally's young marriage? What is the tone of the novel at this point?
Chew on This
Esperanza's environment, in which she moves freely as a child, becomes a threatening place as soon as the girl enters the gendered and sexualized world of adulthood.
For Esperanza, sexual interactions with men are never voluntary, and always pose a threat to her independence. Esperanza is constantly pressured to accept the greater and greater infractions of her freedom posed by sex.