Study Guide

The House on Mango Street Women and Femininity

By Sandra Cisneros

Women and Femininity

Chapter 2
Esperanza Cordero

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.

Chapter 10
Esperanza Cordero

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.

Chapter 11
Esperanza Cordero

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.

Chapter 28
Esperanza Cordero

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.

Chapter 30
Esperanza Cordero

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.

Chapter 32
Esperanza Cordero

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.

Chapter 33
Esperanza Cordero

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.

Chapter 35
Esperanza Cordero

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.

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