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Free Study Guide for The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

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The story is told by Esperanza, and begins when she first moves to Mango Street, a poor, Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago. Esperanza says that she has lived in many different places. She implies that she is close to her family, and describes their interactions and even their hair. She tells us she does not like her name, because it is too long and because it was her grandmother’s name. Her grandmother did not want to get married, but was forced to by Esperanza’s grandfather. Slowly, Esperanza begins to meet people in the neighborhood. She meets Cathy, a stuck-up girl, and Lucy and Rachel, who live across the street. Sisters, these two will become Esperanza’s best friends on Mango Street. They are loud and sassy, just the opposite of Esperanza, but this is what she likes about them.

Esperanza talks about her younger sister, Nenny, to whom she feels close in a strange way, even though sometimes they annoy each other. For example, when they visit a used furniture store and the owner plays a music box with music so beautiful Esperanza begins to cry, Nenny naively tries to buy the box. The man says it is not for sale, and Esperanza is embarrassed by her sister.

Esperanza describes other people from the neighborhood. Meme Ortiz has a dog that is big and clumsy, just like him. Louie’s cousin got arrested for stealing a car. Marin is waiting for some rich man to find her and take her away from Mango Street. Esperanza understands that people feel scared when they come to Mango Street because the area is poor and they don’t know everyone there is harmless. But she also knows that her own community is scared when they go to other neighborhoods, too. She continues with her descriptions: the Vargas children are so numerous, and so out of control, that people don’t even try to prevent them from hurting themselves anymore, even though they do it all the time. Esperanza’s friend Alicia is going to the university, even though her father makes her do all the housework ever since her mother died. Darius, who goes to school with Esperanza and usually only says foolish things, one day tells everyone that a cloud he sees in the sky is God. Everyone questions him, but he simply repeats his statement, and Esperanza thinks he is wise.

One day Esperanza, Lucy, Rachel and Nenny talk about all the different names for clouds and snow. This evolves into a mock-insulting name-calling game. The girls are poetic and humorous. Soon after, they are given some second-hand ladies’ shoes. Feeling like grown women, admiring their skinny legs in the high heels, they parade around the neighborhood. But when a bum tries to get Rachel to kiss him, telling her how pretty she is, the girls get nervous and go home. They store the shoes away, and when one of their mothers throws them out, no one protests.

One day, Esperanza decides she wants to eat in the "canteen" with the children who don’t live close enough to school to go home for lunch. However, one of the nuns at her school realizes that she lives only a few blocks away, and tells Esperanza she has to go home. Starting to cry and feeling ashamed of where she lives, Esperanza can hardly speak. The nun tells her she can stay just for that day, but when Esperanza goes to the canteen, there’s nothing exciting about it and all the kids watch her as she cries.

Esperanza’s mother buys her all new clothes for a cousin’s baptismal party, but she forgets to buy new shoes, so Esperanza has to wear her old, worn out ones. At the party she feels embarrassed, and won’t dance, even when a boy her age asks her. Then her Uncle Nacho forces her to dance, telling her how pretty she is, until she relaxes and dances with him in front of everyone, thrilled at the attention.

Soon after, Nenny, Rachel and Lucy skip rope and sing rhymes about getting hips: what hips are good for and what they will do with them once they get them. Nenny, being younger, doesn’t quite understand the game.

At her first job, Esperanza works at a photo finisher’s. She feels intimidated at first, unsure of how to act around all the older people, until an elderly man comes in for his later shift, and is friendly to her. She is grateful, until he asks her for a birthday kiss, and grabs her, kissing her on the mouth, and will not let her go.

Esperanza’s father comes into her room to tell her that his father is dead. She is the oldest child, so she must tell her siblings to behave that day. Her father begins to cry, and she comforts him.

In contrast to this tenderness, Esperanza plays a game with her friends, imitating her sick aunt, who is bedridden. Coincidentally, the aunt dies that day, and Esperanza feels very guilty, since her aunt always cared for her, listening to her stories and taking her seriously.

Esperanza visits a fortune-teller, Elenita, a neighbor who lives with her family in a cluttered apartment full of candles. Elenita tells Esperanza she will have a "home in the heart," which disappoints Esperanza, who wants a real home.

Marin meets a Mexican immigrant, Geraldo, at a dance. Afterwards, he is hit by a car and dies. He has no identification and no one knows who he is. Marin goes with him to the hospital.

Ruthie lives next door with her mother. Even though she is an adult, she plays with the children and sings to herself. She is very dependent on her mother, and the kids like her a lot. She tells stories about herself, none of which seem to be true.

Earl is a jukebox repairman who lives nearby and works nights. He brings strange women to his house, and does not seem to have a wife who lives with him.

Sire is a boy who stares at Esperanza when she walks past his house. She tries to stare back but she is also intimidated. He and his girlfriend Lois stay out late and seem to have adventures, and Esperanza is jealous, even though her parents tell her to stay away from Sire.

Esperanza can relate to the four skinny trees planted outside her house. They don’t seem to belong there, but they continue to grow, strong and defiant.

Mamacita is a very large woman from Mexico. Her husband brought her and their son to Chicago, but she is lonely for home, and does not leave her apartment (no one is sure why) and refuses to speak English. She and her husband fight, and she cries when her young son begins to sing a Pepsi commercial.

Rafaela is young and pretty and her husband won’t let her leave the house when he goes out. She asks the neighborhood kids to buy her coconut or papaya juice, and they send it up to her on a string.

Sally is a beautiful girl Esperanza’s age who wears makeup and black clothes. She talks to boys, and Esperanza admires her, not believing that she is dangerous or bad (as some people say) and pitying Sally because she has to change her clothes and rub off her makeup before she goes home. Esperanza believes that what Sally really wants is love, and she understands that.

Minerva, as the chapter title says, writes poems. She is slightly older than Esperanza, but already is married and has children. Her husband fights with her and leaves often, and she cries, not knowing what to do. She and Esperanza read their poems to each other.

Esperanza vows that she will not be superior when she gets rich and has her own house. She will invite homeless people to live with her happily.

Esperanza does not want to depend on anyone. She wants to control men with her beauty, but never settle down with one. She wants to be free and strong. Esperanza’s mother tells her to stay in school, because she herself regrets leaving. She says she was smart, and Esperanza silently agrees. But she left school because she felt ashamed of her clothes, Mrs. Cordero explains, and tells Esperanza not to make the same mistake. Sally admits to Esperanza that her father beats her, though she will not tell anyone else. She prepares to live with Esperanza for awhile, but then her father apologizes, and she goes home with him. Soon after, he beats her again.

The neighborhood children play in an abandoned garden. Esperanza likes to play there, even though some people say she is getting too old. Sally stands at the edge of the garden, talking to some boys, who take her keys and say she has to kiss them to get them back. Esperanza tries to help Sally by trying to fight the boys, but everyone, Sally included, tells her to go away, making her feel foolish. She doesn’t understand the game, or why Sally would want to play it. She runs away and cries, and never goes back to the garden after that.

Sally takes Esperanza to a carnival, where she leaves with a boy and tells Esperanza to wait. Sally never comes back, and Esperanza is molested by a group of boys. Soon after, Sally gets married. She says she is happy, but her husband never lets her go out or see her friends. Esperanza meets the Three Sisters, aunts of Lucy and Rachel. They tell Esperanza she is special and understand that she wants to leave Mango Street. They tell her she must not forget her roots, and that she must come back for those she leaves behind. Though Esperanza agrees, she is still disgusted with Mango Street. She tells Alicia she won’t come back until someone fixes it up, even though Alicia tries to tell her that Mango is part of her, whether she likes it or not.

Esperanza dreams of a house just for her, where she can write in peace and not have to take care of anyone else. At the end of the story, she finally learns that Mango Street is part of her, but does not define her. She understands that, through her writing, she can ease the pain of her memories. Sometimes, she says, the ghost of Mango Street lets go of her.


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