The house on Mango Street is ours, and we don't have to pay rent to anybody, or share the yard with the people downstairs, or be careful not to make too much noise, and there isn't a landlord banging on the ceiling with a broom. But even so, it's not the house we'd thought we'd get. (1.2)
Esperanza sounds relieved to feel like her family actually owns a home – they can call the place they occupy their own.
I knew then I had to have a house. A real house. One I could point to. But this isn't it. The house on Mango Street isn't it. (1.11)
This is where Esperanza's obsession with owning a house is born.
We didn't always live on Mango Street. Before that we lived on Loomis on the third floor, and before that we lived on Keeler. Before Keeler it was Paulina, and before that I can't remember. But what I remember most is moving a lot. (1.1)
At the opening of the novel, Esperanza feels like a vagabond – her family has moved so often that she doesn't feel like she can claim any one place as home.
All around, the neighborhood of roofs, black-tarred and A-framed, and in their gutters, the balls that never came back down to earth […] and there at the end of the block, looking smaller still, our house with its feet tucked under like a cat. (9.4).
Seen from above, Esperanza's house looks even smaller than it usually does. Still, Esperanza doesn't describe it here with her usual bitterness. Maybe her changed perspective on the house causes her to feel less disappointed in it for a moment.
Those who don't know any better come into our neighborhood scared […] But we aren't afraid. We know the guy with the crooked eye is Davey the Baby's brother, and the tall one next to him in the straw brim, that's Rosa's Eddie V., and the big one that looks like a dumb grown man, he's Fat Boy, though he's not fat anymore nor a boy. (12.1)
Though Esperanza often says she feels like she doesn't belong on Mango Street, in this paragraph she expresses a sense of ownership or belonging, referring to it as "our neighborhood."
Only thing I can't understand is why Ruthie is living on Mango Street if she doesn't have to, why is she sleeping on a couch in her mother's living room when she has a real house all her own, but she says she's just visiting and next weekend her husband's going to take her home. But the weekends come and go and Ruthie stays. (26.8)
To Esperanza at this point, the idea of a real house in the suburbs sounds like an appealing place to call home. The mention of Ruthie's husband who never comes to get her is a little ominous, however – we suspect that something bad may have happened to Ruthie.
Home. Home. Home is a house in a photograph, a pink house, pink as hollyhocks with lots of startled light. The man paints the walls of the apartment pink, but it's not the same, you know. She still sighs for her pink house, and then I think she cries. I would. (30.9)
Esperanza is able to relate to Mamacita's feelings of isolation and longing for home.
¡Ay caray! We are home. This is home. Here I am and here I stay. Speak English. Speak English. Christ! (30.14)
For Mamacita and her husband, both immigrants, the idea of home is linked to being able to speak the same language as the people in their community.
She sits at home because she is afraid to go outside without his permission. She looks at all the things they own: the towels and the toaster, the alarm clock and the drapes. She likes looking at the walls, at how neatly their corners meet, the linoleum roses on the floor, the ceiling smooth as wedding cake. (40.3)
Sally's new house doesn't feel much like a home – it feels more like a cage.
No, this isn't my house I say and shake my head as if shaking could undo the year I've lived here. You have a home, Alicia, and one day you'll go there, to a town you remember, but me I never had a house, not even a photograph…only one I dream of. (42.3)
Esperanza envies Alicia for at least having the memory of a home to think about.
Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man's house. Not a daddy's. A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias. My books and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed. Nobody to shake a stick at. Nobody's garbage to pick up after. (43.1)
Esperanza's dream house, "A House of My Own," recalls Virginia Woolf's feminist treatise, "A Room of One's Own."
We didn't always live on Mango Street. Before that we lived on Loomis on the third floor, and before that we lived on Keeler. Before Keeler it was Paulina, but what I remember most is Mango Street, sad red house, the house I belong to but do not belong to. (44.4)
The repetition of the first phrase of the novel causes us to pay more attention to the small segment that's different this time around: now what Esperanza remembers most isn't "moving a lot," but the house on Mango Street.
Out back is a small garage for the car we don't own yet and a small yard that looks smaller between the two buildings on either side. […] The house has only one washroom. Everybody has to share a bedroom – Mama and Papa, Carlos and Kiki, me and Nenny. (1.5)
The description of the Cordero family's new home contains clues about their economic status – the smallness of the house, not really big enough for a family of six, tells us that the family is poor.
You live there? The way she said it made me feel like nothing. There. I lived there. I nodded. (1.10)
Esperanza feels judged by the nun from her school. It's all in the intonation – the way she says the word "there" tells Esperanza that there's something wrong with her home.
Cathy's father will have to fly to France one day and find her great great distant grand cousin on her father's side and inherit the family house. How do I know this is so? She told me so. In the meantime they'll just have to move a little farther north from Mango Street, a little farther away every time people like us keep moving in. (5.4)
When Esperanza lets us know that her only source of information about Cathy's noble heritage is Cathy herself, we know we have reason to doubt the story. Why does Cathy feel it's so important to claim an aristocratic, European heritage?
That's when we move away. Got to. Then as if she forgot I just moved in, she says the neighborhood is getting bad. (5.3)
Cathy's statement about the deteriorating quality of the neighborhood feels like an insult to Esperanza, who's just moved in. But something about Cathy's explanation seems false – is her family really leaving for the reasons she claims? Or is she just being pretentious?
Don't talk to them, says Cathy. Can't you see they smell like a broom? (6.6)
Cathy's tendency to pretend to be superior to her neighbors suggests that she's very insecure. Do she and the other residents of Mango Street belong to different classes of society, or are Cathy's feelings of superiority an invention to make herself feel better?
Those who don't know any better come into our neighborhood scared. They think we're dangerous. They think we will attack them with shiny knives. They are stupid people who are lost and got here by mistake. (12.1)
Esperanza notices that no one who doesn't live there comes to Mango Street on purpose – people from other neighborhoods only wind up there "by mistake," when they get lost.
They are bad those Vargases, and how can they help it with only one mother who is tired all the time from buttoning and bottling and babying, and who cries every day for the man who left without even leaving a dollar for bologna or a note explaining how come. (13.2)
The misbehavior of the Vargas children has an explanation that's rooted deeply in social problems – they misbehave because their mother is too poor and overworked to discipline them. She's poor and overworked because her husband abandoned her. The problem is complex, and doesn't have an easy solution.
And anyway, a woman's place is sleeping so she can wake up early with the tortilla star, the one that appears early just in time to rise and catch the hind legs hide behind the sink, beneath the four-clawed tub, under the swollen floorboards nobody fixes, in the corner of your eyes. (14.1)
This sentence combines two social challenges that make life difficult for the women in Esperanza's community – prescribed gender roles that place them in the kitchen doing domestic work, and an environment of poverty and decay.
That one? She said, pointing to a row of ugly three-flats, the ones even the raggedy men are ashamed to go into. Yes, I nodded even though I knew that wasn't my house and started to cry. (18.11)
Why does the Sister Superior at Esperanza's school assume Esperanza lives in a run-down tenement apartment? Why does Esperanza agree and say that she lives there?
People who live on hills sleep so close to the stars they forget those of us who live too much on earth. They don't look down at all except to be content to live on hills. They have nothing to do with last week's garbage or fear of rats. (34.2)
Esperanza creates a dialectical model of two social classes – those who live on earth face challenges every day, while those who live on hills live in ease and comfort.
They always told us that one day we would move into a house, a real house that would be ours for always so we wouldn't have to move each year. […] Our house would be white with trees around it, a great big yard and grass growing without a fence. This was the house Papa talked about when he held a lottery ticket and this was the house Mama dreamed up in the stories she told us before we went to bed. (1.4)
The fantasy of owning a beautiful white house is first presented as a family dream – later Esperanza internalizes her Mama and Papa's dream and makes it her own.
Alicia, who inherited her mama's rolling pin and sleepiness, is young and smart and studies for the first time at the university. Two trains and a bus, because she doesn't want to spend her whole life in a factory or behind a rolling pin. (14.2)
The images that are used here are a great way to visually express Alicia's determination to achieve her goals. What's she running away from? A life of servitude or industrial drudgery, expressed by a rolling pin and a factory. What's she willing to do to avoid that kind of life? "Two trains and a bus" illustrate the distance she travels, just to get to school.
When I am to sad and too skinny to keep keeping, when I am a tiny thing against so many bricks, then it is I look at trees. […] Four who reach and do not forget to reach. Four whose only reason is to be and be. (29.4)
When Esperanza personifies the trees outside her house, she thinks of them as reaching. Esperanza, who likens herself to the trees, must also be reaching for something – what is it? Does she even know, or is her only reason "to be and be"?
Some days after dinner, guests and I will sit in front of a fire. Floorboards will squeak upstairs. The attic grumbles.
Rats? they'll ask.
Bums, I'll say, and I'll be happy. (34.4)
The second house that Esperanza envisions is a social space – a place for friends to gather and dine in, with an attic to offer to bums who have no other shelter.
One day I'll own my own house, but I won't forget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I'll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, because I know how it is to be without a house. (34.3)
In the future that Esperanza is fantasizing for herself, she says she won't forget who she is or where she came from – even though she will later deny that Mango Street is her home, and say that she doesn't want to come from there. Esperanza's feelings of embarrassment and shame at her origins aren't always consistent.
I am tired of looking at what we can't have. When we win the lottery…Mama begins, and then I stop listening. (34.1)
Esperanza becomes disillusioned with her parents' dreams of affording a big, beautiful house. It seems she may suspect it will never happen.
I could've been somebody, you know? Esperanza, you go to school. Study hard. That Madame Butterfly was a fool. (36.3)
In the opera Madame Butterfly, the title character gives up her culture, religion, and family to marry a man who later abandons her. This statement by Esperanza's mother is a warning to her daughter not to be so foolish as to pin all her hopes for the future on a man.
Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem. (43.2)
This third house that Esperanza dreams up is a writer's retreat – a clean, quiet space for thinking and writing.
Do you wish your feet would one day keep walking and take you far away from Mango Street, far away and maybe your feet would stop in front of a house, a nice one with flowers and big windows and steps for you to climb up two by two upstairs to where a room is waiting for you. […] There'd be no nosy neighbors watching, no motorcycles and cars, no sheets and towels and laundry. Only trees and more trees and plenty of blue sky.
Esperanza's dream for Sally sounds an awful lot like what Esperanza wants for herself. This is the first house that Esperanza envisions and describes, but later she'll dream up others for herself. It's as if Esperanza were letting Sally share in her secret wish.
And you could laugh, Sally. You could go to sleep and wake up and never have to think who likes and doesn't like you. You could close your eyes and you wouldn't have to worry what people said because you never belonged here anyway and nobody could make you sad and nobody would think you're strange because you like to dream and dream.
Esperanza tends to think of herself as being different – as not belonging in her environment. It's interesting that here she uses the phrase "never belonged here" to describe Sally. It's further evidence that Esperanza's house fantasy is related to her feelings of not belonging; it's an escape from the environment that she doesn't feel like she belongs to.
By the time we got to Mango Street we were six – Mama, Papa, Carlos, Kiki, my sister Nenny and me. (1.1)
Esperanza introduces her family in the first paragraph of the first story.
Everybody in our family has different hair. My Papa's hair is like a broom, all up in the air. And me, my hair is lazy. It never obeys barrettes or bands. Carlos' hair is think and straight. He doesn't need to comb it. Nenny's hair is slippery – slides out of your hand. And Kiki, who is the youngest, has hair like fur. (2.1)
Esperanza uses hair to illustrate the differences in her family's physical appearances. But this doesn't seem to be a way of dividing the family – rather, it comes across as a celebration of the differences found in their family unit.
Nenny is too young to be my friend. She's just my sister and that was not my fault. You don't pick your sisters, you just get them and sometimes they come like Nenny. (3.2)
Esperanza's statement seems funny to us, because we can relate – a lot of kids feel this way about their little brothers or sisters.
My great-grandmother. I would've liked to have known her, a wild horse of a woman, so wild she wouldn't marry. (4.3)
Esperanza admires her great-grandmother's spirited personality. It seems she may have inherited more from her great-grandmother than her name.
Look at that house, I said, it looks like Mexico.
Rachel and Lucy look at me like I'm crazy, but before they can let out a laugh, Nenny says: Yes, that's Mexico all right. That's what I was thinking exactly. (7.4)
It means a lot to Esperanza that her little sister understands her perspective. Even though she's too young for Esperanza to consider her a friend, Nenny understands what Esperanza is trying to convey in a way that her friends do not.
Nenny and I don't look like sisters…not right away. Not the way you can tell with Rachel and Lucy who have the same fat popsicle lips like everybody else in their family. But me and Nenny, we are more alike than you would know. Our laughter for example. (7.1)
Esperanza seems to recognize that certain similarities are more important than physical ones. She seems to consider the fact that she and Nenny have the same laughter to be a stronger bond than if they looked alike.
If you don't get them you may turn into a man. Nenny says this and she believes it. She is this way because of her age.
That's right, I add before Lucy or Rachel can make fun of her. She is stupid alright, but she is my sister. (20.5)
This is classic older sibling syndrome – Esperanza picks on her little sister all the time, but she won't let anyone else make fun of Nenny.
Your abuelito is dead, Papa says early one morning in my room. Está muerto, and then as if he just heard the news himself, crumples like a coat and cries, my brave Papa cries. I have never seen my Papa cry and don't know what to do. (22.1)
The use of Spanish in this scene creates a feeling of intimacy and reminds us of Esperanza's family heritage. It's unclear whether Esperanza's Papa speaks Spanish to her here because he's talking about his family in Mexico, or whether they speak Spanish at home more frequently.
Maybe she was embarrassed it took so many years. The kids who wanted to be kids instead of washing dishes and ironing their papa's shirts, and the husband who wanted a wife again.
And then she died, my aunt who listened to my poems. (23.19)
Soon after the death of her Papa's father, Esperanza experiences the death of a relative that she's closer to – her Aunt Lupe.
Until the way Sally tells it, he just went crazy, he just forgot he was her father between the buckle and the belt.
You're not my daughter, you're not my daughter. And then he broke into his hands. (37.6)
The violence that Sally's father does to her goes along with his disavowal of their relationship.
Every week Edna is screaming at somebody, and every week somebody has to move away […] But Ruthie lives here and Edna can't throw her out because Ruthie is her daughter.
Edna and Ruthie's relationship illustrates the idea of familial obligation – we're not sure whether Edna would kick Ruthie out if she could.
But my mother's hair, my mother's hair, like little rosettes, like little candy circles all curly and pretty because she pinned it in pincurls all day, sweet to put your nose into when she is holding you, holding you and you feel safe, is the warm smell of bread before you bake it, is the smell when she makes room for you on her side of the bed still warm with her skin, and you sleep near her, the rain outside falling and Papa snoring. (2.2)
This maternal image shows that Esperanza associates her mother with feelings of beauty and domesticity.
Her name is Marin or Maris or something like that, and she wears dark nylons all the time and lots of makeup she gets free from selling Avon. She can't come out – gotta baby-sit with Louie's sisters – but she stands in the doorway a lot, all the time singing (10.2)
Marin, Esperanza's neighbor, is dressed in all the trappings of femininity – makeup and sexy clothes. She's also confined to the house and in charge of taking care of the children – a traditionally feminine role.
She is the one who told us how Davey the Baby's sister got pregnant and what cream is best for taking off moustache hair and if you count the white flecks on your fingernails you can know how many boys are thinking of you and lots of other things I can't remember now. (11.3)
Marin becomes a source of feminine knowledge for Esperanza. They sit in the front yard and have girl talk – sharing the kind of information that only women know in this society.
And then his girlfriend came. Lois I heard him call her. She is tiny and pretty and smells like baby's skin. […] She's got big girl hands, and her bones are long like ladies' bones, and she wears makeup too. But she doesn't know how to tie her shoes. I do. (28.2)
Esperanza is comparing herself to Lois in this passage. She perceives Lois to be more feminine, and thus more attractive, than she is – but Esperanza takes comfort in the fact that she possesses more practical knowledge than Lois does.
All at once she bloomed. Huge, enormous, beautiful to look at, from the salmon-pink feather on the tip of her hat down to the little rosebuds of her toes. I couldn't take my eyes off her tiny shoes. (30.4)
Mamacita is a vision of femininity. Here, she's a vision – a spectacle to be looked at.
Sally, who taught you to paint your eyes like Cleopatra? And if I roll the little brush with my tongue and chew it to a point and dip it in the muddy cake, the one in the little red box, will you teach me? (32.3)
Here Esperanza expresses a longing to be initiated into the rites of femininity. She's in awe of Sally's feminine knowledge, and her request to be taught about makeup is an expression of her desire to be more feminine.
Sally is the girl with eyes like Egypt and nylons the color of smoke. The boys at school think she's beautiful because her hair is shiny black like raven feathers and when she laughs, she flicks her hair back like a satin shawl over her shoulders and laughs. (32.1)
Beauty is an important quality of femininity in this novel. Esperanza seems to admire beauty in women, though she feels she doesn't possess it herself.
Minerva is only a little bit older than me but already she has two kids and a husband who left. Her mother raised her kids alone and it looks like her daughters will go that way too. (33.1)
The problems that women face in one generation seem to be passed down to the next.
In the movies there is always one with red red lips who is beautiful and cruel. She is the one who drives the men crazy and laughs them all away. Her power is her own. She will not give it away. (35.4)
Esperanza thinks that the ultimate feminine power is to be drop-dead gorgeous but refuse to give in to the demands and attentions of men.
Nenny says she won't wait her whole life for a husband to come and get her […] Nenny has pretty eyes and it's easy to talk that way if you are pretty. (35.2)
Esperanza perceives beauty to be a source of power for women. Because Nenny is pretty, Esperanza thinks that her life will be easier.
Someday I will have a best friend all my own. One I can tell my secrets to. One who will understand my jokes without my having to explain them. Until then I am a red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor. (3.4)
The image of a red balloon tied to an anchor is a beautiful picture of Esperanza's loneliness, and a great example of Cisneros's poetic style.
You want a friend, she says. Okay, I'll be your friend. But only till next Tuesday. (4.3)
Cathy's snobbishness provides some comic relief here – her statement reminds us of how quickly friendships can form and dissolve among little kids.
Down, down Mango Street we go. Rachel, Lucy, me. Our new bicycle. Laughing the crooked ride back. (6.24)
For once, Esperanza doesn't seem lonely – the picture of her on a bicycle with Lucy and Rachel evokes a sense of real friendship.
If you give me five dollars I will be your friend forever. That's what the little one tells me.
Five dollars is cheap since I don't have any friends except Cathy who is only my friend till Tuesday. (6.1)
Again – making friends seems so easy when you're a little kid.
Is a good girl, my friend, studies all night and sees the mice, the ones her father says do not exist. Is afraid of nothing except four-legged fur. And fathers. (14.2)
Esperanza's friendship with Alicia seems based on a sense of real admiration for Alicia's bravery and ambition.
My mama? You better not be saying that, Lucy Guerrero. You better not be talking like that…else you can say goodbye to being my friend forever. (16.30)
Just as easily as they're formed, Esperanza's friendships with her childhood friends can be easily broken. Esperanza acknowledges at the end of this chapter that she and her friends are "stupid" for fighting.
Ruthie, tall skinny lady with red lipstick and blue babushka, one blue sock and one green because she forgot, is the only grown-up we know who likes to play. (26.1)
Ruthie is Esperanza's first adult friend. Esperanza likes her because she's eccentric and not afraid to buck the expectations of friends and neighbors – in that way, she's a lot like Esperanza.
Cheryl, who is not your friend anymore, not since last Tuesday before Easter, not since the day you made her ear bleed, not since she called you that name and bit a hole in your arm and you looked as if you were going to cry and everyone was waiting and you didn't, you didn't, Sally, not since then, you don't have a best friend to lean against the schoolyard fence with, to laugh behind your hands at what the boys say. There is no one to lend you her hairbrush. (32.5)
Esperanza notices that Sally might have a vacancy in the best friend department.
And anyway I don't like carnivals. I went to be with you because you laugh on the tilt-a-whirl, you throw your head back and laugh. I hold your change, wave, count how many times you go by. […] I like to be with you, Sally. You're my friend. (39.2)
Esperanza's willingness to do something she doesn't like just to be with her friend Sally hints at a sort of unbalanced relationship. Sally gets to ride the tilt-a-whirl while Esperanza holds her change? How is that fair?
I like Alicia because once she gave me a little leather purse with the word GUADALAJARA stitched on it, which is home for Alicia, and one day she will go back there. But today she is listening to my sadness because I don't have a house. (42.1)
Is Esperanza's friendship with Alicia really based on the gift of a purse? Of course not. The purse signifies something deeper to Esperanza – it's a sign of the intimacy that exists between the two girls that allows Alicia to share a part of her home with the younger girl.
Friends and neighbors will say, What happened to that Esperanza? Where did she go with all those books and paper? Why did she march so far away?
They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out. (44.7)
Does friendship have anything to do with Esperanza's agreement to come back to Mango Street? Is she coming back for her friends, or is her return an expression of friendship?
The boys and girls live in separate worlds. The boys in their universe and we in ours. My brothers for example. They've got plenty to say to me and Nenny inside the house. But outside they can't be seen talking to girls. (3.1)
Divisions between gender are present among the characters in The House on Mango Street from a young age.
She was a horse woman too, born like me in the Chinese year of the horse – which is supposed to be bad luck if you're born female – but I think this is a Chinese lie because the Chinese, like the Mexicans, don't like their women strong. (4.2)
Even as a child, Esperanza questions gender roles. She also observes that gender roles are cultural.
She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow […] Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don't want to inherit her place by the window. (4.4)
Esperanza's great-grandmother is the first female character that we see positioned by the window in this novel.
Everybody getting into it now except Nenny who is still humming not a girl, not a boy, just a little baby. She's like that. (20.27)
Nenny's nursery rhyme hints at the idea that gender is a social construction – it's not something you're born with, it's something you learn to perform.
[Hips are] good for holding a baby when you're cooking, Rachel says, turning the jump rope a little quicker. She has no imagination. (20.3)
Esperanza scoffs at Rachel for her observation that hips are good for holding a baby while you're cooking – a task that fits right into the traditional gendered role of women in their society.
But most important, hips are scientific, I say repeating what Alicia already told me. It's the bones that let you know which skeleton was a man's when it was a man and which a woman's. (20.7)
This "scientific" observation about hips suggests that gender is something you're born with. It's biological.
Rafaela […] wishes there were sweeter drinks, not bitter like an empty room, but sweet sweet like the island, like the dance hall down the street where women much older than her throw green eyes easily like dice and open homes with keys. And always there is someone offering sweeter drinks, someone promising to keep them on a silver string. (31.4)
Feminine freedom, symbolized by the act of opening a home with a key, is here portrayed as being in constant jeopardy.
And then Rafaela, who is still young but getting old from leaning out the window so much, gets locked indoors because her husband is afraid Rafaela will run away since she is too beautiful to look at. (31.1)
The issue of freedom and confinement becomes a gendered problem in this novel, as women are frequently confined to their homes by their husbands.
I have begun my own quiet war. Simple. Sure. I am the one who leaves the table like a man, without putting back the chair or picking up the plate. (35.5)
Perceiving herself to have no feminine power of her own, Esperanza decides to play with gender roles and adopt the mannerisms of a man.
But Sally doesn't tell about the time he hit her with his hands just like a dog, she said, like if I was an animal. He thinks I'm going to run away like his sisters who made the family ashamed. Just because I'm a daughter, and then she doesn't say. (37.3)
To Sally's father, the figurehead of sexist conservatism in Esperanza's society, being female is just cause for punishment. He seems to see women as sources of familial and perhaps societal shame.
Sally says she likes being married because now she gets to buy her own things when her husband gives her money. She is happy, except sometimes her husband gets angry and once he broke the door where his foot went through, though most days he is okay. Except he won't let her talk on the telephone. And he doesn't let her look out the window. (40.2)
In an attempt to escape her father's misogynistic violence, Sally marries another man. Esperanza's observations indicate to us that trading one patriarch for another did nothing to solve Sally's problems.
I would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees. Esperanza as Lisandra or Maritza or Zeze the X. Yes. Something like Zeze the X will do. (4.6)
Esperanza's desire to baptize herself as Zeze the X gives us an idea of her playful and adventurous nature. It also suggests that Esperanza doesn't consider herself to be easily known – just like the X suggests, there's something hidden or unknowable about her identity.
In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing. (4.1)
Esperanza hates her name. Meaning "hope" in Spanish, her name carries a lot of connotations – it expresses her Mexican heritage as well as a sense of waiting or expectation. And it's long and difficult for her teachers at school to say, to boot. Esperanza's name just contributes to her sense of not belonging.
All brown all around, we are safe. But watch us drive into a neighborhood of another color and our knees go shakity-shake and our car windows get rolled up tight and our eyes look straight. (12.3)
How much does ethnicity play into Esperanza's sense of identity? She makes fun of white people who are afraid of her Latino neighbors, but she admits that the residents of Mango Street are just as scared to go into a white neighborhood. Do Esperanza's observations suggest that people are all really basically the same, despite ethnic and cultural differences?
I want to be
like the waves on the sea,
like the clouds in the wind,
but I'm me.
One day I'll jump
Out of my skin.
I'll shake the sky
like a hundred violins. (23.14)
The poem that Esperanza reads to her Aunt Lupe is a simple and beautiful expression of how the young girl sees herself – right now she's trapped and itching to be free, but some day she'll explode into her full potential.
They are the only ones who understand me. I am the only one who understands them. Four skinny trees with skinny necks and pointy elbows like mine. Four who do not belong here but are here. (29.1)
Esperanza's personification of the trees outside her bedroom window is an expression of her loneliness. Not only does she feel she doesn't belong on Mango Street, but she feels like she's alone in feeling that way.
My mother says when I get older my dusty hair will settle and my blouse will learn to stay clean, but I have decided not to grow up tame like the others who lay their necks on the threshold waiting for the ball and chain. (35.3)
We're beginning to understand what it is that makes Esperanza feel so different from everyone else on Mango Street. For one thing, she's unwilling to conform to the expectations placed on her by her gender.
You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can't erase what you know. You can't forget who you are. (41.32)
Like it or not, Esperanza has to face the fact that her experiences on Mango Street have shaped her identity. Somehow, the place that Esperanza has lived for a year has become part of who she is.
I put it down on paper and then the ghost does not ache so much. (44.5)
Esperanza has really embraced her identity as a writer in the last chapter of the novel. When Esperanza describes Mango Street as "the ghost," it's as if she's already projecting herself into a future in which she's moved away from her childhood home, and Mango Street is merely a memory whose pain is eased by writing.
I make a story for my life, for each step my brown shoe takes. I say, "And so she trudged up the wooden stairs, her sad brown shoes taking her to the house she never liked." (44.2)
We love the ambiguity of the phrase "I make a story for my life." Yes, Esperanza is a character who takes her life and makes a story for it – her storytelling makes her life more bearable. But she's also a fictional character in a story we're reading – her life is a story. Here, Esperanza's story about her sad brown shoes, a story within a story, highlights her identity as both storyteller and fictional character.
One day I will pack my bags of books and paper. One day I will say goodbye to Mango. I am too strong for her to keep me here forever. (44.6)
There's no questioning Esperanza's confidence in this statement. She's sure of herself and her calling in life – she's a writer, and she's going places.
In the meantime they'll just have to move a little farther north from Mango Street, a little farther away every time people like us keep moving in. (5.4)
When Esperanza says "people like us," we suspect she's referring to her ethnic background. Cathy represents the segment of society that associates Latinos with bad neighborhoods.
Meme Ortiz moved into Cathy's house after her family moved away. His name isn't really Meme. His name is Juan. But when we asked him what his name was he said Meme, and that's what everybody calls him except his mother. (9.1)
Meme represents a younger generation of Latinos – the children of native Spanish speakers who, growing up in the United States, possess a sort of dual identity that's reflected in their bilingualism and their two names.
Meme has a dog with gray eyes, a sheepdog with two names, one in English and one in Spanish. (9.2)
Like his owner, Meme's dog has an English name and a Spanish name.
Louie's girl cousin is older than us. She lives with Louie's family because her own family is in Puerto Rico. (10.2)
Depictions of foreignness in literature are often associated with feelings of exile. Louie's cousin, whose family is in Puerto Rico, brings up the issue of exile for the first time in the novel.
His name was Geraldo. And his home is in another country. The ones he left behind are far away, will wonder, shrug, remember. Geraldo – he went north…we never heard from him again. (25.9)
Foreignness, and the experience of exile, is portrayed as a dangerous status in this story. The foreigner is in a precarious position – he's unable even to guarantee the preservation of his own identity, or that anyone will know what happened to him when he dies.
They never saw the kitchenettes. They never knew about the two-room flats and sleeping rooms he rented, the weekly money orders sent home, the currency exchange. How could they? (25.8)
Here Esperanza imagines what the life of Geraldo must have been like.
But what difference does it make? He wasn't anything to her […] Just another brazer who didn't speak English. Just another wetback. You know the kind. The ones who always look ashamed. (25.5)
The derogatory statements made here could be the imagined commentary of the hospital workers and police offers that interview Marin, asking her questions about the unidentified man who was killed. Geraldo is regarded as an insignificant loss because of his lack of personal connections, his nationality, and his status as a laborer.
The man saved his money to bring her here. He saved and saved because she was alone with the baby boy in that country. He worked two jobs. He came home late and he left early. Every day. (30.2)
The experience of foreignness and exile motivates Esperanza's neighbor to work extremely hard so that he can be reunited with his family.
My father says when he came to this country he ate hamandeggs for three months. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hamandeggs. That was the only word he knew. He doesn't eat hamandeggs anymore. (30.7)
Esperanza's father can relate to Mamacita. His refusal to eat hamandeggs anymore can be read as his way of trying to forget the isolation he felt as an immigrant.
¡Ay! Mamacita, who does not belong, ever once in a while lets out a cry, hysterical, high, as if he had torn the only skinny thread that kept her alive, the only road out to that country. (30.15)
Here Esperanza describes foreignness as a state of not belonging – which is how Esperanza herself feels a lot of the time.
I believe she doesn't come out because she is afraid to speak English, and maybe this is so since she only knows eight words. She knows to say: He not here for when the landlord comes, No speak English if anybody else comes, and Holy smokes. (30.6)
For Mamacita, foreignness is an isolating experience. Her inability to communicate with people in her community is the ultimate expression of her foreignness.
Them are dangerous, he says. You girls too young to be wearing shoes like that. Take them shoes off before I call the cops, but we just run. (17.13)
The high-heeled shoes act as a sort of magic talisman that transforms the little girls into women – a dangerous transformation, as Mr. Benny notes, because the little girls aren't ready for the sexualized world of adulthood.
Do you like these shoes? But the truth is it is scary to look down at your foot that is no longer yours and see attached a long long leg. (17.7)
Dressing up in grown-up shoes is both fun and scary for Esperanza and her friends. The shoes make their own feet look alien to them. The description of the little girls' "long long leg[s]" is disturbingly sexualized – we get the same creepy feeling that we do when we see toddlers wearing makeup in a beauty pageant.
All night the boy who is a man watches me dance. He watched me dance. (19.8)
For the first time, Esperanza notices a boy watching her, and she seems both mystified and pleased by the experience.
What I'm saying is who here is ready? You gotta be able to know what to do with hips when you get them, I say making it up as I go. You gotta know how to walk with hips, practice you know – like if half of you wanted to go one way and the other half the other. (20.10)
Esperanza and her friends don't have hips yet, but they're starting to express interest in the changes they know will happen to their bodies.
One day you wake up and they are there. Ready and waiting like a new Buick with the keys in the ignition. Ready to take you where? (20.2)
Esperanza seems a bit bewildered by the idea that such a huge transformation as getting hips could occur to her overnight.
Nenny, I say, but she doesn't hear me. She is too many light-years away. She is in a world we don't belong to anymore. (20.34)
Nenny's complete lack of interest in the discussion about hips makes her seem much younger than the other girls – and shows us just how much the other girls are maturing.
He said it was his birthday and would I please give him a birthday kiss. I thought I would because he was so old and just as I was about to put my lips on his cheek, he grabs my face with both hands and kisses me hard on the mouth and doesn't let go. (21.7)
Esperanza's initiation into kissing is by force. This seems like an ominous prelude to her initiation into sex.
Everything is holding its breath inside me. Everything is waiting to explode like Christmas. I want to be all new and shiny. I want to sit out bad at night, a boy around my neck and the wind under my skirt. (28.5)
Esperanza starts to express her own sexual yearnings. She's still not sure what Sire and his girlfriend do together, exactly, but thinking about it fills her with energy and makes her feel "all new and shiny."
Who was it that said I was getting too old to play the games? Who was it I didn't listen to? I only remember that when the others ran, I wanted to run too, up and down and through the monkey garden, fast as the boys, not like Sally who screamed if she got her stockings muddy. (38.9)
In some ways, Esperanza still considers herself a kid – she still feels like she belongs to a realm in which gender doesn't matter very much. She wants to run and play "fast as the boys." Sally serves as a foil to Esperanza here. By contrast, she seems grown up and fully integrated into the gendered world of adulthood.
Sally, you lied. It wasn't what you said at all. What he did. Where he touched me. I didn't want it, Sally. The way they said it, the way it's supposed to be, all the storybooks and movies, why did you lie to me? (39.1)
In many ways Esperanza is still a child when she's forced to have sex for the first time.