Personification in The House on Mango Street

Instructor: Sarah Garrett

Sarah has taught secondary English and holds a master's degree in Curriculum & Instruction

'The House on Mango Street' is a coming-of-age novel written by Sandra Cisneros. It tells the story of a young girl, named Esperanza, as she grows up in a poor Latino neighborhood in Chicago. This lesson covers how Cisneros uses personification throughout the story.

What Is Personification?

Which image are you more likely to remember?

''The waves lapped against the rocks'' or ''the waves danced with the storm.''

Generally speaking, the second sentence contains stronger imagery and is more likely to be remembered. This is because it uses personification.

Personification is an example of figurative language in which human characteristics are given to non-human objects.

Consider the previous example. We know that waves don't actually have the ability to dance; they're simply churning with the storm.

wave picture

Why Use Personification?

The answer to this question will vary based on the text you are reading. Personification is often found in poetry but it's also popular in prose. However, in this case, we'll be discussing the novel, The House on Mango Street.

The House on Mango Street takes place in a poor Latino neighborhood in Chicago and revolves around a young girl named Esperanza. The story is told through a series of vignettes through which we gain insight to her family, culture, dreams, and heartaches.

In the novel, Cisneros frequently uses personification to give life to the items Esperanza identifies with, such as sadness and nature. Esperanza witnesses sadness all around her and nature serves as a living hope for her. Using personification helps us as the reader distinguish that these items that are truly important to Esperanza and the novel; it also provides a deeper connection when given human traits.

The Personification of Sadness

Have you ever experienced such sadness that it almost seemed like a real, tangible thing?

One of the recurring images in this novel is the sadness Esperanza notices in many of her female neighbors. In the beginning of the novel, Esperanza talks about her grandparents. She says her grandfather threw a sack over her grandmother's head and carried her off.

She then declares, ''And the story goes she never forgave him. She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow.''

A few lines later, Esperanza admits that, while she has inherited her grandmother's name, she does not also want to inherit her place by the window.

Cisneros uses personification to describe the emotion because Esperanza's sadness is very real and personification helps us connect with her feelings.

Throughout the novel, Esperanza notices many of her female neighbors looking out the window with their sadness on an elbow. Some of the women simply hope for a better life, others are exhausted from families and work, and some are abused. When speaking of a neighbor named Minerva, Esperanza states, 'Next week she comes over black an blue and asks what can she do?'' This seems to be the life many of Esperanza's neighbors live and she longs for something better.

window

The Personification of Nature

In order to combat the sadness, Cisneros also personifies nature. Where Esperanza lives, nature proves sparse and limited. In fact, the only real forms of nature present are a few trees and the sky. However, Esperanza has an obvious affinity for nature and often talks about it as if it has human abilities.

Natures serves as a regular form of hope for Esperanza and it allows her to escape from her enveloping sadness. Because of this, she yearns to connect with the natural world around her.

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