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.