The House on Mango Street Vocabulary

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

'The House on Mango Street' by Sandra Cisneros is a coming-of-age story about Esperanza, a Latina girl who must choose to stay in her underprivileged neighborhood or seek a better life at the risk of leaving her family behind.


Sandra Cisneros' novel, The House on Mango Street, tells the story of Esperanza, a Latina girl who lives in a poor neighborhood with little to offer the ambitious teenager. Esperanza is desperate to leave her Chicago neighborhood because she feels that there's nothing there for her, and by the end of the book, she leaves her home. However, despite her dislike for the impoverished neighborhood, she realizes that it's harder than she thought to leave her friends and family behind, so she promises to return to help them gain independence as well. In this lesson, we're going to define several words from the book and look at examples.


The word sassy is an adjective used to describe a lively and snarky attitude. Esperanza uses the word to describe Rachel in the following example:

'Rachel shouts, You got quite a load there too. She is very sassy.'


Scramble is a verb that means to move quickly due to panic or urgency. The verb can also mean to climb quickly on all fours. This form of the word can be seen in the following definition:

'Out front there are twenty-one steps, all lopsided and jutting like crooked teeth (made that way on purpose, Cathy said, so the rain will slide off), and when Meme's mama calls from the doorway, Meme goes scrambling up the twenty-one wooden stairs with the dog with two names scrambling after him.'


The word descend is a verb that means to move downward. Look at the following example to see how the word is used:

'The mother's feet, plump and polite, descended like white pigeons from the sea of pillow, across the linoleum roses, down down the wooden stairs, over the chalk hopscotch squares, 5, 6, 7, blue sky.'


Naphtha is a liquid hydrocarbon that's incredibly volatile and flammable. It's used as a solvent and Esperanza uses it to describe her sister's complexion in the following example:

'She is the color of a bar of naphtha laundry soap, she is like the little brown piece left at the end of the wash, the hard little bone, my sister.'


Imitate is a verb that means to copy or act like something else. The imitation can be in terms of appearance, behavior, or attitude. Here is an example from the book:

'Someone you could imitate and everyone else would have to guess who it was.'


Sorrow is a noun that refers to a feeling deep, depressed sadness usually following a tragedy. Here is an example from the book:

'This card, the one with the dark man on a dark horse, this means jealousy, and this one, sorrow.'


Fuchsia is a flowering plant that bears bright pink flowers. In The House on Mango Street, it's one of the many colors used to describe the characters and setting:

'Out stepped a tiny pink shoe, a foot soft as a rabbit's ear, then the thick ankle, a flutter of hips, fuchsia roses and green perfume.'


Threshold is a noun that has multiple meanings. A threshold can be the piece of wood that lines the bottom of the door, separating the indoors from the outside environment. On the other hand, a threshold can represent the moment in which something will or will not happen. Look at it in the following example:

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