Mexican American and Mango Street

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The House on Mango Street
The House on Mango Street, which appeared in 1983, is a linked collection of forty-four short tales that evoke the circumstances and conditions of a Hispanic American ghetto in Chicago. The narrative is seen through the eyes of Esperanza Cordero, an adolescent girl coming of age. These concise and poetic tales also offer snapshots of the roles of women in this society. They uncover the dual forces that pull Esperanza to stay rooted in her cultural traditions on the one hand, and those that compel her to pursue a better way of life outside the barrio on the other. Throughout the book Sandra Cisneros explores themes of cultural tradition, gender roles, and coming of age in a binary society that struggles to hang onto its collective past while integrating itself into the American cultural landscape. Cisneros wrote the vignettes while struggling with her identity as an author at the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop in the 1970s. She was influenced by Russian-bom novelist and poet Vladimir Nabokov's memoirs and by her own experiences as a child in the Chicago barrio. This engaging book has brought the author critical acclaim and a 1985 Before Columbus American Book Award. Specifically, it has been highly lauded for its impressionistic, poetic style and powerful imagery. Though Cisneros is a young writer and her work is not plentiful, The House on Mango Street establishes her as a major figure in American literature. Her work has already been the subject of numerous scholarly studies and is often at the fore-

Sandra Cisneros 1983

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front of works that explore the role of Latinas in American society.

The experiences of Esperanza, the adolescent protagonist of The House on Mango Street, closely resemble those of Sandra Cisneros's childhood. The author was born to a Mexican father and a Mexican American mother in 1954 in Chicago, Illinois, the only daughter of seven children. The family, for whom money was always in short supply, frequently moved between the ghetto neighborhoods of Chicago and the areas of Mexico where her father's family lived. Cisneros remembers that as a child she often felt a sense of displacement. By 1966 her parents had saved enough money for a down payment on a run-down, two-story house in a decrepit Puerto Rican neighborhood on Chicago's north side. There Cisneros spent much of her childhood. This house, as well as the colorful group of characters Cisneros observed around her in the barrio, served as inspiration for some of the stories in The House on Mango Street. The author once remarked, "Because we moved so much, and always in neighborhoods that appeared like France after World War 1I-empty lots and burned-out buildings-I retreated inside myself." Cisneros was an introspective child with few friends; her mother encouraged her to read and write at a young age, and made sure her daughter had her own library card. The author wrote poems and stories as a schoolgirl, but the impetus for her career as a creative writer came during her college years, when she was introduced to the works of Donald Justice, James Wright, and other writers who made Cisneros more aware of her cultural roots. Cisneros graduated from Loyola University in 1976 with a B.A. in English. She began to pursue graduate studies in writing at the University of Iowa, and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing in 1978. Cisneros says that through high school and college, she did not perceive herself as being different from her fellow English majors. She spoke Spanish only at home with her father, but otherwise wrote and studied within the mainstream of American literature. At the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, Cisneros found her true voice as an author. Compared with her more privileged, wealthier classmates from more stable environments, Cisneros's cultural difference

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