The House on Mango Street: Magnificence of Prose

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“The House on Mango Street” was a beautiful surprise, a delicate gem that will mesmerize its readers. Despite being short in length and lacking great actions or adventures, this book has a slow yet powerful tone. Rashly, impetuously but still in a delicate and exquisite way, short sentences follow one another, making a strong and lasting impact in readers’ mind. This is what made me love this novel so much: its lyrical, heart-wrenching tone, the fact that words seem to be married with each-other, how one sentence seems to consummate the other in a powerful flow that is able to make a strong impact on an emotional level. For this reason, once I started reading it, I couldn’t put the book down, devouring it in one sitting. I was caught in the world that Sandra Cisneros was painting for me. I felt a sense of nostalgia for my own childhood that I was able to recollect through this story, I realized how precious and valuable the freedom that I was given really was. Page after page I was reminded of how I used to play for hours with my brother and neighbors, no fear in sight. How we used to ride bikes all day long, screaming and having fun. Chapter after chapter, Esperanza’s life becomes my life. I was catapulted in a world where I am hugging Rafaela and drinking papaya juice with her, where I am reading the exquisite poems of Minerva.

“The House on Mango Street” is so fascinating, engrossing and captivating that, despite chapters having barely 3 pages, we learn so much about the hopes, about the dreams but also about the fears of Esperanza, a young girl living in Chicago and longing for a place that she can truly call home. Each chapter is able to picture a specific image of her world, of her sister, of her friends. We learn so much not only about her but also about the people that surround her: Marin, Ruthie, her aunt Lupe. Through words and metaphors, chosen with extraordinary care, Sandra Cisneros presents the life of Esperanza, whose very name has two different meanings depending on the language in which it is translated: “In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting.” As a result, it seems like the hope for the future of the main character lies in the possibility of choosing what the meaning of her name really is. For this reason, she wants to change her name in something that would reflect her true self, the one that no one sees.

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She also wishes for a new house, a real house that is different from her current one, of which she is ashamed. Sandra Cisneros’ simple yet deeply touching and disarming words take us through Esperanza’s world, her hopes and dreams, but they also show pictures of poverty, discrimination and violence against women. Like the story of Sally “with her pretty face all beaten and black” or Rafaela’s that “gets locked indoors because her husband is afraid Rafaela will run away since she is too beautiful to look at.”

Esperanza, though, is different. She has already started her silent, personal war. She grows up with so many emotions, memories, thoughts and dreams, laughing with her sister, landing her first job, fearing her first kiss but certain that, although she will leave Mango Street, she will come back. She is different because she writes poems that help her hurt less. She tells the stories of the women of the barrio, putting them in contrast with her own. As a result, Esperanza is the powerful demonstration that a change within the chicana society, so patriarchal and archaic, is still possible. She didn’t want to be like her grandmother, with whom she shares her name and that “looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow.” Her poetry allows Esperanza to survive the impositions dictated by her own culture. Through her passion and education received with sacrifices, Esperanza is able to find her “true home”, that very space that she longed for so much, “clean as paper before the poem”.

The story of Esperanza allow the reader to hope for the future because, by growing up and becoming an emancipated woman, she embodies the promise of a possible improvement for her people because she “has gone away to come back”. By showing how Esperanza’s passion for writing allowed her to avoid conformation to the roles set for her by her society, Sandra Cisneros denounces the condition of women in society in the early ‘900 and how they were always considered inferior to men. Unlike other girls her age, Esperanza is fighting to establish her own identity in a place where there is “too much sadness and not enough sky.”

Unfortunately, the women that enter her life cannot say the same. Rafaela’s dream is to find a man who would take her away from her husband, unaware that changing the man wouldn’t change her reality. Sally’s beauty and her being desirable make her father resort to violence against her daughter, to keep her under control so that she wouldn’t undermine the respectability of the family like her sister did. However, when she leaves her father’s house, her fate doesn’t change as her husband’s house is as restrictive as the one in which she grew up. As “The House on Mango Street” shows, writing for Esperanza, and for Sandra Cisneros through her, is not an artistic ambition, rather it is an urgent need, a weapon through which responding to their daily struggles. As her aunt Guadalupe would say, she “must keep writing. It will keep [her] free”.

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