The House on Mango Street

The House on Mango Street is a 1983 bildungsroman novel by Mexican-American author Sandra Cisneros. Presented in a series of vignettes, it tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, a 12-year-old Chicana girl growing up in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago. The novel follows Esperanza over a one-year-period of her life, as she enters adolescence and begins to face the difficult realities of life as a young woman in a poor and patriarchal community. Elements of Mexican American culture and themes of social class, race, sexuality, and gender are interwoven through the novel.

The House on Mango Street
First edition cover
AuthorSandra Cisneros
Cover artistAlejandro Romero
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreComing of age novella, a book of vignettes
Published1983
PublisherArte Público Press
Media typePrint (Hardcover, Paperback, & library binding), audio cassette, and audio CD
Pages103 (1st edition, paperback)
ISBN978-0934770200 (1st edition, paperback)
813/.54 20
LC ClassPS3553.I78 H6 1991

The House on Mango Street is considered to a modern classic of Chicana literature and has been the subject of numerous academic publications in several areas, such as Chicano Studies and feminist theory. Since the book was first published in 1983, it has sold more than 6 million copies, has been translated into over 20 languages and is required reading in middle schools, high schools, and universities across the United States. It was a New York Times Best Seller and is the recipient of several major literary awards, including the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation.[1] It was adapted into a stage play by Tanya Saracho in 2009.[2]

Because the novel deals with sensitive subject matter, such as domestic violence, puberty, sexual harassment, and racism, it has faced challenges and threats of censorship from school boards, lawmakers, and parents alike. However, despite these challenges, it remains an important and highly influential coming-of-age novel, and is a staple piece of literature on many young adult reading lists.

Background

Cisneros has frequently stated that she drew inspiration from her personal experiences when writing The House on Mango Street.[3] Like her protagonist, Esperanza, Cisneros is Mexican-American and was born and raised in a Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago. She was the only daughter in a family of seven children. Cisneros has previously stated that as the only girl in a family of boys, she was often felt marginalized and isolated. Similar to Esperanza, Cisneros's family moved frequently between Chicago and Mexico City. Cisneros attributes her impulse to create stories to the loneliness of those early formative years [4]

After graduating from college, Cisneros completed an MFA in Creative Writing at the Iowa Writers Workshop .[4] It was during this time that Cisneros discovered first, a sense of her own ethnic “otherness.” She felt marginalized as a person of color, a woman, and an individual of lower socioeconomic status.[3]In an interview, Cisneros stated that during her graduate studies, when she began writing The House on Mango Street, she found the academic atmosphere incredibly discouraging. She remembered finding her classmates' backgrounds very different than her own and realized she had little in common with them. She explained,"I was so angry, so intimidated by my classmates that I wanted to quit. But ... I found a way to write… in reaction to being there I started to have some Mango Street almost as a way of claiming this is who I am. It became my flag."[4] Consequently, Cisneros created Esperanza from these personal feelings of displacement.

Synopsis

The House on Mango Street covers a year in the life of Esperanza Cordero, a young Chicana girl living in an impoverished Chicago neighborhood with her parents and three siblings. The book opens with Esperanza, the narrator, explaining how her family first arrived on Mango Street. Before the family settled in their new home, small and run down building with crumbling red bricks, they moved frequently. While the house on Mango Street was a significant improvement from her family's previous dwellings, Esperanza expresses disdain towards her new home because it is not a “real” house, like the ones she’s seen on TV. Esperanza constantly day-dreams of a white, wooden house, with a big yard and lots of trees. She finds her life on Mango Street suffocating, and frequently expresses her desire to escape. She begins to write poetry to express these feelings. Esperanza's perceptive nature shines through as she begins the novel with detailed descriptions of the minute behaviors and characteristics of her family members and unusual neighbors. Her descriptions provide a picture of the neighborhood and offer examples of the many influential people surrounding her. She describes time spent with her younger sister, Nenny, such as when they paraded around the neighborhood in high heels one day with their friends Rachel and Lucy. She also befriends two older girls in the neighborhood: Alicia, a promising young college student with a dead mother, and Marin, who spends her days babysitting her younger cousins. Esperanza highlights significant or telling moments both in her life in the lives of those in her community. She mostly focuses on moments that show the difficulties that they experience, such as when Louie's cousin was arrested for stealing a car or when Esperanza's Aunt Lupe dies.

As the vignettes progress, the novel depicts Esperanza's budding maturity and developing world outlook. As Esperanza eventually enters puberty, she develops sexually, physically, and emotionally, and begins to notice and enjoy male attention. She quickly befriends Sally, an attractive girl who wears heavy makeup and dresses provocatively. Sally's father, a deeply religious and physically abusive man, prevents her from leaving their home. Sally's and Esperanza's friendship is compromised when Sally ditches Esperanza for a boy at a carnival and Esperanza is sexually assaulted by a group of men. Esperanza recounts other instances of assault she experiences, like when an older man forcibly kissed her on the lips at her first job. Esperanza's traumatic experiences and observations of the women in her neighborhood, many of whom are constantly controlled by the men in their lives, only further cement her desire to escape Mango Street. It is only when Esperanza meets Rachel and Lucy's aunts, the Three Sisters, and they tell her fortune, that she realizes that her experiences on Mango Street have shaped her identity and that it will always be with her, even if she leaves. As the novel end, Esperanza vows that after she leaves, she will return to help the people she has left behind.

Structure

The House on Mango Street draws heavily upon childhood memories and an unadorned childlike style of expression to depict life in the Chicano community. Its use of racial and sexual oppression, poverty, and violence are explored in a sequence of interconnected vignettes that together form a modified autobiographical structure.

The novel is composed of forty-four vignettes, each of varying lengths. The protagonist, Esperanza, narrates these vignettes in first-person present tense. The vignette length ranges from two or three paragraphs to several pages long and sometimes contain internal rhymes. In "The Family of Little Feet" for example, Esperanza says: "Their arms were little, and their hands were little, and their height was not tall, and their feet very small."[5]

In the afterword for the 25th anniversary publication of The House on Mango Street, Cisneros commented on the style she developed for writing it: "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."[5]

Cisneros's intended audience was working-class readers and wanted to write in a style that would be accessible to them. Cisneros wanted the text to be easily read by people like those she remembered from her youth—particularly people who spent all day working with little time to devote to reading. In an interview with NPR, she explained,"I wanted something that was accessible to ... someone who comes home with their feet hurting like my father."[6]

Analysis

Marxism

Elements Marxist theory are present throughout the text of The House on Mango Street. In the case of Esperanza and her family's living conditions, they have to navigate a complex system that favors the upper class and bourgeoisie over the proletariat class to which they belong.[4]

In the chapter titled “Bums in the Attic,” Cisneros writes about how embarrassing it is for Esperanza on Sundays (her father's only day off) when her family ventures into a bourgeois neighborhood on the hill and fantasize about one day owning a house like the houses there. Her mother even remarks about how one day when she wins the lottery, she'll make the dream come true. Esperanza is the only one awake and not lost in the dream. She has an understanding that this dream is just that, a dream, and never will come true. Cisneros is clearly remarking on the constant reinforcement of the concept of “the American dream” unto the proletariat.

The poverty of Esperanza's own neighborhood is consistently addressed throughout the book. The neighborhood is full of people either in denial of their own social position or content enough with the small pleasures to aid in distracting them from their own socioeconomic oppression. In the chapter “Our Good Day,” Esperanza and her soon-to-be close friends pitch in money to purchase one bicycle. They are very content with the sharing of ownership of the bicycle as it brings them some joy. The low cost of the bicycle and the need to scrounge up the money to purchase it is an example of the poverty of Esperanza's neighborhood {{Citation needed}}

This simple small sense of happiness from the bicycle to the hopes and dreams of the youth on the street is another example of Marxist theory. The impoverished cling to hope because often that is all that they have, and is the one thing they can claim complete ownership of. For example, Esperanza's name in Spanish means “hope.” Cisneros shares this information cleverly in the chapter “My Name.” There are other appearances of the concept of hope within the text as well. For example, the chapter “Alicia Who Sees Mice” is about a little girl forced to take on the role of a grown woman according to her family's culture because her mother is dead. But she doesn't believe in this role for herself. She has a different destiny in mind and through studying hard at university, she is able to hope for a better life.

Feminism

Critics have noted that Esperanza's desire to break free from her neighborhood is not limited to a desire to escape poverty but also to escape strict gender roles she finds oppressive within her culture. Esperanza's discovery of her own feminist values, which contradict the prescribed domestic roles for Chicana women, are a crucial part of her character development throughout the novel. In keeping with this idea, Cisneros dedicates the novel "a las mujeres," or, "to the women." {{Citation needed}}

Esperanza struggles against the traditional gender roles within her own culture and the limitations that her culture imposes upon women. In her essay "On Not Being La Malinche" women's literature scholar Jean Wyatt writes: "Mexican social myths of gender crystallize with special force in three icons: Guadalupe, the virgin mother who has not abandoned us, la Chingada (Malinche), the raped mother whom we have abandoned, and La Llorona, the mother who seeks her lost children". According to the evidence of Chicana feminist writers, these “three Our Mothers haunt the sexual and maternal identities of contemporary Mexican and Chicana women" {{Citation needed}}

Every female character within the novel is trapped by an abusive partner, teenage motherhood, or poverty, except Esperanza. Esperanza finds a way out of patriarchal oppression. The lesson Cisneros wishes to express is that there is always a way out for women who are trapped in one way or another {{Citation needed}}

Domestic and sexual abuse

Themes of sexual abuse and domestic are interwoven throughout The House on Mango Street's vignettes. For example, Esperanza’s friend Sally, escapes her controlling and abusive father by marrying a much older man, only to end up beaten and abused housewife. The cycle of abuse continues with Sally’s husband replacing her father. {{Citation needed}}.

There are multiples scenes of firsthand sexual assault inflicted upon Esperanza, the first of which being when she is forcibly kissed by an "oriental man" at her first place of employment. Later in the novel, Esperanza is also sexually assaulted at a carnival by a group of boys {{Citation needed}}.

Racial prejudice

Accounts of racism are peppered throughout the book. In the chapter titled “Those Who Don’t,” Esperanza discusses how other ethnicities, in this case most likely white, accidentally arrive in Esperanza's neighborhood and are filled with fear by the sight of brown skinned people whom they believe to be dangerous. {{Citation needed}}

Adolescence

The theme of adolescence is dominant throughout the book. When Esperanza, Nenny, Lucy, and Raxhwl are given high-heeled shoes, they experiment with walking like a woman. They often observe older women with a mix of wonder and fear of their futures. The attention men give them is unwanted by Esperanza, but her friends feel a bit more conflicted, because attention from the opposite sex is representative of their self-worth. Esperanza is different than her friends; she wants to break free and live life by her own rules {{Citation needed}}.

The book is told from Esperanza’s perspective as she transitions from childhood to womanhood. She examines the way things are and the way things can be. Her choice is to explore the “can-be,” to decide her own future, and to take control of her life {{Citation needed}}.

Critical reception

The House on Mango Street, Cisneros' second major publication, was released to critical acclaim, particularly earning praise from the Hispanic community for its realistic portrayals of the Hispanic experience in the United States. Oscar Hijuelos, the first Hispanic writer to win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, said that the novel has "conveyed the Southwestern Latino experience with verve, charm, and passion."[7] Bebe Moore Campbell of The New York Times Book Review wrote: “Cisneros draws on her rich [Latino] heritage . . . and seduces with precise, spare prose, creat[ing] unforgettable characters we want to lift off the page. She is not only a gifted writer, but an absolutely essential one.”[8]

The book won Cisneros the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation (1985)[1] and is now required reading in many school curriculums across the United States.

Challenges and attempted banning

Despite its high praise in the realm of Latino literature, The House on Mango Street has also received criticism for its sensitive subject matter and consequently has been banned from several school curriculums. Much of the critical reception surrounding the novel stems from the sexual content present throughout multiple scenes. For example, during the “Red Clowns” chapter of the novel, Esperanza is sexual assaulted by a group of boys. Critics of The House on Mango Street argued that the target audience of this book is too young for this content.[9]

In 2012, the St. Helens school board in Oregon decided to ban The House on Mango Street from its middle-school curriculum. The district's "reconsideration committee" claimed that the book contained "content too mature for this age group" and expressed "concerns for the social issues presented." [10] In response, Katie Van Winkle, a former student at St. Helens, wrote an essay titled “Saving Mango Street,” which was published in the magazine “Rethinking Schools" and then launched a letter writing campaign on Facebook. Her efforts to "save Mango Street" were successful and the St. Helens school board voted to keep The House on Mango Street in its curriculum.[10]

The House on Mango Street was also listed on Banned Book Week's list of Frequently Challenged of Banned YA Fiction for 2014-2015.[11]

Tucson Unified School District controversy

The House on Mango Street was one of the 80-plus books that were part of the Tucson Unified School District’s K-12 Mexican-American studies curriculum before the program was dismantled under Arizona House Bill 2281.[12] This law "forbids classes to advocate the overthrow of the United States, promote racial resentment, or emphasize students' ethnicity rather than their individuality.” When the Mexican-American Studies program was ended, all the books that were associated with it, including The House on Mango Street, were removed from the school's curriculum.

In response to this, teachers, authors, and activists headed by Tony Diaz, a teacher from the MAS program, formed a caravan in the spring of 2012. The caravan, called the Librotraficante Project, originated at the Alamo and ended in Tucson. Its participants orchestrated workshops and distributed books that had been removed with the curriculum, in an attempt to spread awareness about H.B. 2281.[13] Cisneros herself traveled with the caravan, reading The House on Mango Street and running workshops about Chicano literature. She brought numerous copies of the book with her, distributed them, and discussed thematic implications of her novel as well as talked about the book's autobiographical elements.[14]

Publication history

Since its initial release in 1983, The House on Mango Street has sold well over 6 million copies and has been translated into over 20 languages.[15] On its 25th anniversary in 1998, it was reissued in a special Anniversary edition.[6]

1983, United States, Arte Público Press ISBN 978-0934770200, Pub date 1983, paperback

1984, United States, Arte Público Press ISBN 0-934770-20-4, Pub date 1 January 1984, paperback

1991, United States, Vintage Contemporaries ISBN 0-679-73477-5, Pub date 3 April 1991, paperback

See also

References

  1. American Booksellers Association (2013). "The American Book Awards / Before Columbus Foundation [1980–2012]". BookWeb. Archived from the original on March 13, 2013. Retrieved September 25, 2013. 1985 [...] The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros
  2. "The House on Mango Street | Steppenwolf Theatre". www.steppenwolf.org. Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  3. Cisneros, Sandra (2009-04-09). "House on Mango Street Celebrates 25 Years". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  4. Madsen, Deborah L., author. Understanding contemporary Chicana literature. ISBN 1-57003-379-X. OCLC 45066368.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. Cisneros, The House on Mango Street, p.39
  6. "'House On Mango Street' Celebrates 25 Years". NPR.org. Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  7. Hijuelos, Oscar. "José Rubén De León Takes a Stab At 'The House on Mango Street". San Antonio Current. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  8. "The House on Mango Street (Vintage Contemporaries) (Paperback) | Politics and Prose Bookstore". www.politics-prose.com. Retrieved 2019-12-16.
  9. Cisneros, Sandra. "Spiritual Sustenance: Interview with Sandra Cisneros". go.galegroup.com. Susquehanna University Press. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
  10. Van Winkle, Katie (2012/00/00). "Saving Mango Street". Rethinking Schools. 27 (1): 35–36. ISSN 0895-6855. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. Eclecticalli, ~ (2015-09-30). "Banned Book Week: The House on Mango Street". Eclectic Alli. Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  12. Diaz, Tony; ContributorWriter; Activist; Professor (2014-09-23). "Every Week Is Banned Books Week For Chicanos". HuffPost. Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  13. Hoinski, Michael (2012-03-08). "GTT, The Papers Trail, San Antonio". New York Times. Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  14. Fernandez, Valeria (2012-03-15). "Librotraficantes Bring Banned Books into Arizona". New America Media. Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  15. "Sandra Cisneros, this year's PEN/Nabokov award winner, says she's just getting started". NBC News. Retrieved 2019-12-15.
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