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Sandra Cisneros: The House on Mango Street Summary and Analysis

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  • 0:07 House on Mango Street
  • 0:55 Characters
  • 1:24 Plot Summary
  • 4:14 Themes
  • 5:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jeff Calareso

Jeff teaches high school English, math and other subjects. He has a master's degree in writing and literature.

What is life like for a young Chicana girl growing up in a patriarchal Latino neighborhood in Chicago? Find out in this exploration of Sandra Cisneros' 1984 novel, 'The House on Mango Street.'

The House on Mango Street

In 1984, The House on Mango Street was first published. This is the first novel by Sandra Cisneros. Born in Chicago, Cisneros is a Chicana writer, which means she's of Mexican descent.

The novel emerged at a time when the American literary landscape was finally opening up to two groups that had long been silenced: women and people of color. In fact, women of color released a multitude of novels in the 1980s and early '90s that would permeate the canon.

In addition to The House on Mango Street, there was Toni Morrison's Beloved, Julia Alvarez's How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and Alice Walker's The Color Purple.

Cisneros' debut novel won the American Book Award shortly after its release and continues to be popular today.

Characters

At the center of the novel is Esperanza, a 12-year-old Mexican-American girl. She says, 'In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting.'

She's close with her younger sister Nenny. Esperanza's best friends are sisters Rachel and Lucy. Esperanza also befriends the slightly more mature Sally.

Numerous other characters pop up throughout the novel, but these girls are at its center.

Plot Summary

The House on Mango Street is a collection of vignettes that interweave short stories with poetry. It takes place over the course of a year in Esperanza's life.

It begins like this:

We didn't always live on Mango Street. Before that we lived on Loomis on the third floor, and before that we lived on Keeler. Before Keeler it was Paulina, and before that I can't remember. But what I remember most is moving a lot. Each time it seemed there'd be one more of us. By the time we got to Mango Street we were six--Mama, Papa, Carlos, Kiki, my sister Nenny and me.

The house on Mango Street is ours, and we don't have to pay rent to anybody, or share the yard with the people downstairs, or be careful not to make too much noise, and there isn't a landlord banging on the ceiling with a broom. But even so, it's not the house we'd thought we'd get.

The speaker is Esperanza. The house on Mango Street is smaller, more cramped and more run down than she'd hoped. Yet, as she notes, it is theirs. It's located in a congested Latino neighborhood in Chicago.

Soon, Esperanza meets Rachel and Lucy, who live across the street. Along with Nenny, they have all kinds of adventures together.

We also learn about the other people in the neighborhood. For example, there's the young woman named Marin, who tells the girls all about boys. Marin hopes she'll be whisked away from Mango Street to the suburbs by some rich man.

There's also Alicia, a friend of Esperanza. She goes to a local university, yet since her mother died, her father forces her to do all the domestic chores.

Then there are the Vargas children. There are so many of them that people have stopped trying to keep them safe, which is unfortunate, because they hurt themselves constantly.

As for Esperanza, the first part of the year involves the activities of children. There is jump rope, exploring and secret poetry writing. Then, she begins to go through puberty. She becomes aware of boys and she and her friends start paying attention to their changing bodies.

She begins to have adult experiences. She loses two family members: her grandfather and her Aunt Lupe. She also starts to focus on the older women around her and see how many are trapped in their roles and in their houses.

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