The House on Mango Street
by Sandra Cisneros
Analysis: Writing Style
Clear and Readable, Succinct, and Poetic.
OK, you know that really great introduction to the 25th anniversary edition of The House on Mango Street that we keep telling you to read? It's really helpful in understanding why Sandra Cisneros writes the way she does. For instance, here's what Sandra Cisneros has to say about the style she developed for writing this book:
She experiments, creating a text that is as succinct and flexible as poetry, snapping sentences into fragments so that the reader pauses, making each sentence serve her and not the other way round, abandoning quotation marks to streamline the typography and make the page as simple and readable as possible. (Introduction.20)
Isn't that nice of her? Cisneros is incredibly straightforward about her writing process. After all, she's had a long career as an educator, so she wants you to understand how writing works and why she does the things she does.
So, let it be said that we totally agree with Cisneros's assessment of her own style. First off, it's readable. (As in, easy to read.) So readable, in fact, that you can pick up this book, open it to any page, and make sense of what's going on, without having any idea of what came before or what's going to happen next. Each chapter, or vignette, is its own self-contained story, while still working as part of the overall whole.
Part of this readability comes from the structure of the novel, which critics often describe as a collection of vignettes. The word vignette means "little vine" in French, and the name of the literary form comes from the drawings of little vines that nineteenth-century printers used to decorate the title pages and beginnings of chapters. So a vignette is kind of like an illustration. It's a short, descriptive passage that's more about evoking meaning through imagery than it is about plot. You'll notice that the vignettes here are all really short – some no longer than half a page – and that for the most part they're made up of short, succinct phrases. The brevity of Cisneros's language increases its readability, too. Check out "Those Who Don't" for an example of a really brief vignette.
Secondly, her style is poetic. We don't mean that it's ostentatious or flowery – to the contrary, it's natural, clear, and easy to understand. By poetic, we mean Cisneros's sentences are full of imagery, metaphors, and word games. For example, when Esperanza wants to describe what it's like having to tote her annoying baby sister around, she hits us with a snapshot image that sums up her feelings of loneliness: "Until then I am a red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor" (3.4).
If you listen to these phrases, you'll notice that they're sing-songy – they even play with rhyme:
There was a family. All were little. Their arms were little, and their hands were little, and their height was not tall, and their feet very small. (17.1)
Sounds like a poem, right? And how about this one:
Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem. (43.2)