The House on Mango Street
by Sandra Cisneros
Where It All Goes Down
Mango Street, in a low-income Latino neighborhood of Chicago
The setting is central to The House on Mango Street – after all, it's even mentioned in the title. Esperanza and her family have just moved to a poor, mostly Latino neighborhood in a city that's commonly understood to be Chicago, the author's hometown. A few contextual clues, like the car Louie steals and the song Marin is constantly singing to herself, probably establish the time period as the late 1960s (see "Allusions" for a list of cultural references from the book).
You might notice that very little of Esperanza's story actually takes place within the house on Mango Street. For the most part the action happens elsewhere in the neighborhood – on the street with her friends, on Edna's back porch, in Gil's junk shop, up in the tree in Meme's backyard, at school, and in the monkey garden next door. This has the effect of suggesting that Esperanza's community plays a large part in establishing what is, for her, Mango Street – a place that she will eventually come to see as home.
Esperanza's freedom to run around the neighborhood is a marker of her independence, and distinguishes her from the number of women in the community who are confined to the home. Whether it's because their husbands prohibit them from leaving, because they're tied down by familial obligations, or, as in the case of Mamacita, because they are prisoners of their own foreignness and fear, several female characters are trapped within their houses or apartments. By the time we read about Sally in "Linoleum Roses," the domestic setting has become a symbol for the freedom that women in the novel give up by marrying. Take a look at the last paragraph in that chapter, and see if you agree.