Comparison Essay: Theme of the Identity Struggle in House on Mango Street and American Born Chinese
“Identity is a prison you can never escape, but the way to redeem your past is not to run from it, but to try to understand it, and use it as a foundation to grow.” This is a quote said by Jay-Z and it relates to what is expressed throughout the two books, House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, and, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. In House on Mango Street, a girl named Esperanza deals with the struggles of growing up such as poverty, getting made fun of, and making friends. In American Born Chinese, there are three different storylines, the story of Chin-Kee and Danny, Jin, and the Monkey King. Likewise, to House on Mango Street, all of these deal with the struggles of their true identities. They want to be a different person from what they already are. In both House on Mango Street and American Born Chinese, the common theme is that you can’t escape your true identity. This common theme is expressed in three different ways.
One way that the common theme, you can’t escape your true identity, is expressed in both stories is through Esperanza and Jin wanting to change who they truly are because of their identity. In House on Mango Street, Esperanza says, ‘I would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees. Esperanza as Lisandra or Maritza or Zeze the X. Yes. Something like Zeze the X will do.’ (pg 11) This wish to change her name shows that she doesn’t like who she truly is, and she wants to become someone she isn’t. Her parents picked her name for a reason and Esperanza must understand that.
In American Born Chinese, Jin has a crush on a girl named Amelia. Jin, however, thinks he not as good as a boy named Greg, so he tries to look just like him by turning his hair into curly hair. This obviously isn’t Jin and, again, it shows that Jin is being someone he is not.
Another way the theme is expressed is through Esperanza and Danny dealing with the struggles of family. Esperanza is jealous of the kids who get to have lunch at the canteen while she has to eat lunch at home. So, Esperanza asks her mom to send in a note for Esperanza to bring lunch into school and her mom does. Esperanza brings in a rice sandwich. However, the Sister Superior of the school doesn’t accept the note and says she lives too close while pointing at tenements outside of the school. This makes Esperanza feel very embarrassed and it shows that through family and identity, can come embarrassment. On the other hand, Danny, in American Born Chinese, encounters embarrassment because of his cousin Chin-Kee. Throughout Danny’s school year, Chin-Kee has been constantly ruining his life by doing embarrassing acts. These embarrassing acts include making Danny’s friends feel very uncomfortable, peeing in coke cans, and dancing and singing on tables.
The last way this theme of not being able to escape your true identity is expressed is by the characters realizing that this theme is true. In House on Mango Street, Esperanza visits a witch-woman named Elinita and asks her if she has a house in the future. But, Elinita sees a home in the heart and makes Esperanza feel like it was useless coming to her. The home in the heart, however, symbolizes that Esperanza must belong to herself and understand that she can’t escape her true and real identity. Later in the book, Esperanza does realize this theme. She knows that she can never really escape Mango Street and accepts herself as who she is.
In American Born Chinese, both Jin and Monkey King find their true identity and realize they cannot escape it. The reason that Danny is not included is because Danny is the person Jin wants to become. As Danny is something Jin is not, Jin realizes this when the Monkey King tells him how he realized how good it was to be a monkey. Before all this, Monkey King is stuck under the rocks that Tze-Yo-Tzuh, the creator of the universe, trapped him in. Then, a man named Lai-Tsao comes along and encourages him to break out from the rocks. After attempting a couple of times, Monkey King finally breaks out from these rocks. Not only did he free himself, but he accepted himself. He realized that he couldn’t be more than who he truly was or be someone he wasn’t because in the end, he would still be Monkey King.
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