OK, so at first glance The House on Mango Street may not appear to be a good candidate for a Classic Plot Analysis. The structure of the novel isn't very novel-esque – each chapter can be taken on its own as a self-contained story. In fact, critics often refer to the book as a collection of vignettes, instead of a novel. (A vignette is, by the way, a French word meaning "little vine," to give you some idea of its significance as a literary term. A vignette is a short, descriptive sketch that often contains little or no plot or narrative structure. It's descriptive. It's evocative. It's a doodle.) The vignettes in Mango Street are often so short, and so artfully written, that they seem more like poetry than prose. See our discussion on "Writing Style" if you need more convincing.
"Wait a second," you might say. "You mean to tell me that you're going to try to apply an interpretative structure reserved for novels to what seems to be a collection of vignettes?"
Yes. We are. We're sassy like that. Our point here is that, despite each vignette's ability to stand alone as a work of literature, The House on Mango Street isn't completely fragmented. The little stories are connected to one another – characters develop, and early events shape later ones. We think we can interpret the book using the traditional plot analysis that we use to look at novels. Let us try to prove it to you.
We meet Esperanza and learn that she and her family have just moved into their first ever house. She's disappointed with it – this is not the house she's been dreaming of her whole life. It's tiny and falling apart and she has to share one bedroom with her three siblings and her parents.
Esperanza introduces us to the other residents of Mango Street. Esperanza's just a kid, but even from her perspective we can see that most of her neighbors live difficult and complicated lives. Poverty, crime, and apathy are endemic. Whole families are crowded into tiny apartments. Single mothers struggle to raise too many children.
One day Esperanza and her friends are talking about hips, and the next she's slammed with the responsibilities of adulthood. Like consoling her father on the death of his father, and having to get a job to help pay for her high school education. As she enters into adolescence, Esperanza is torn between her desire to remain independent and free, and her curiosity about boys and sex. To make matters much, much worse, Esperanza begins to notice that being a woman on Mango Street often means being mistreated by men – her female friends and neighbors are physically abused, confined to their homes by their overprotective husbands, and abandoned to raise children on their own. Maybe she doesn't want to grow up, after all.
While she waits for her more sexually experienced friend Sally to finish hooking up with a guy at the carnival, some boys accost Esperanza. It's so painful for her to recount that she never says exactly what happens, but it seems that one of the boys rapes her.
Esperanza's friend Sally, whose father frequently abuses her, gets married to escape the beatings, only to end up living in a virtual suburban prison. Esperanza, on the other hand, longs for freedom. At a funeral, she meets three elderly sisters who read her palm and divine her secret wish to leave Mango Street. They confirm that she'll achieve her dream, with one hitch – she has to promise to come back. Esperanza's reaction? No freaking way – she's never coming back to this crummy neighborhood!
Esperanza's friend Alicia helps her realize that she has a responsibility to return to Mango Street to help the people who can't leave as easily as she can. After all, if she doesn't do anything to help, no one else will.
Esperanza clings to her dream of leaving Mango Street to live independently and pursue a career in writing, but she accepts that she can never forget where she came from. She resolves to come back some day for the people who cannot escape.