Study Guide

The House on Mango Street Women and Femininity

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Women and Femininity

Women occupy a central role in The House on Mango Street. Almost all of the major characters are women, and the protagonist's understanding of her own femininity motivates much of the story. Esperanza perceives beauty to be a major source of feminine power, and she admires and envies beauty in her female relatives and friends. But she also notices that beauty is not an infallible weapon, and that it can backfire – the beautiful women in the novel are often the ones who suffer the most at the hands of men. In her struggle to define her own femininity in a society that is often oppressive to women, Esperanza seeks new forms of feminine power – ones that will allow her to maintain her independence.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. Why do you think this book is dedicated "To the Women"?
  2. How does feminine beauty function in the novel? How is beauty used as a source of power? What are the pitfalls of beauty?
  3. What roles do women occupy in The House on Mango Street? Do any of the female characters act in ways that contradict traditional gender roles?
  4. How does Esperanza come to identify her own femininity? Is she a feminine character, or does she see femininity as a source of weakness? In the end, is Esperanza comfortable with her gender?

Chew on This

Esperanza ultimately rejects beauty as a source of power because she sees it as a double-edged sword that can both control men and trap women under men's control.

By the end of the novel, Esperanza is poised to become what is, in her society, a kind of New Woman – soon to attain a level of independence that was unheard of for women in earlier generations, and possessing the confidence, education, and means to exist in the world without relating to men in a hierarchical way.

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