The Women on Mango Street
"Esperanza. I have inherited [my great grandmother's] name, but I don't want to inherit her place by the window." Young Esperanza's opening thoughts in Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street begins with the introduction of a surprisingly insightful disadvantaged Hispanic girl named Esperanza, who has just moved into a poor Latino neighborhood. Esperanza's opening remarks foreshadow a theme that continues to develop throughout the entire novel, cumulating piece by piece until a complete puzzle is produced. As Cisneros' Mango Street chronicles an emotionally pivotal year in the life of a young girl, the author herself presumably draws on personal experiences of being raised in an environment in which she struggles and feels like she does not belong. It is evident that Cisneros creatively expresses her own experiences in her writing, and goes so far as to dedicate the book "a las Mujeres," or to the Women. Though not purely biographical, striking similarities of race and background exist between the author and narrator such that Cisneros establishes an understated sense of first-hand credibility to the reader. Cisneros' The House on Mango Street is a cleverly constructed series of interconnected vignettes that recounts the narrator's emotional coming of age and eventual integration of identity. By exclusively employing the first person perspective of a naïve Esperanza and her developing powers of figurative language, Cisneros depicts the young girl's struggle between her developing sense of feminine sexuality and a deep rooted desire for independent autonomy within a culture dominated by societal roles of men.
One of the first significant signs of Esperanza's emerging talents as a writer become especially apparent in the short section Four Skinny Trees. As the narrator is able to articulate her respect and adoration for the four elm trees planted in front of her house, Sandra Cisneros deliberately emphasizes the role of artistic language and its power in her character's life. "They are the only ones that understand me," Esperanza muses. Her enormous growth in the art of language is evident in her ability to identify and reflect her own image onto the objects outside her window: "Four skinny trees with skinny necks and pointy elbows like mine." The use of similes to imagine the analogous physical features of Esperanza and the jagged tree branches mark the character's unique talent with words and leave an enduring impression on the reader's mind.
Yet it is not only the physical aspects of the four skinny trees that the narrator finds so attractive. Esperanza identifies herself with the quiet resilience and ferocious independence that she desperately seeks within the trees: "Their strength is secret. They grow up and they grow down and grab the earth
and bite the sky with their violent teeth and never quit their anger. This is how they keep." In one of her most powerful statements, Esperanza personifies the trees and discovers that they teach her a valuable lesson. "Four who grew despite concrete. Four who reach and do not forget to reach," she openly admires. To Esperanza, the trees planted by the city do not belong in the neighborhood but continue to flourish in defiance of any obstacle. Just as the trees have secret anger and roots into the ground, Esperanza's secret power lies in her budding powers of writing. It is in this section that Esperanza gains power over her experiences by using creative and figurative language in order to discover inspiration in the mundane starkness that surrounds her.
As Esperanza finds herself gaining a measure of control over her surroundings, she also becomes increasingly aware of the widening gulf between herself and her older peers. In the vignette Monkey Garden, Esperanza and the other neighborhood children discover and invade a recently vacated family garden which has quickly become a junkyard. Sandra Cisneros uses the Monkey Garden as both a...
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