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

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THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET BY SANDRA CISNEROS


THEMES


Major Themes


Maturity

The main theme of the book is Esperanza’s increasing maturity. It is in evidence throughout the book, as Esperanza talks to older female characters, trying to determine who her role models will be, or as she overcomes her insecurities and learns about her own strengths and weaknesses.


Home and Identity

Throughout the book, Esperanza attaches meaning to where she lives: she takes it personally as an extension of herself. Thus, the fact that she is unhappy and ashamed at her Mango Street house is a major point of contention in the book, and her dreams of another home parallel her dreams of becoming who she wants to be.



Minor Theme

Love

Though it is not discussed directly in the book, love of different kinds, between different characters, holds many relationships together. Family love is contrasted with romantic love, and mistaken ideas about what love is (particularly as concern Marin and Sally) are prominent in the book.






MOOD

The mood of the story is highly influenced by Esperanza’s own mood, and the mood of the story is uneven to reflect Esperanza’s uneven moods. When she is happy, as in "Our Good Day," the mood is joyous, relaxed, and untroubled. When she is frightened or hurt, as in "Red Clowns," the mood reflects that. Esperanza has a complex personality, so the mood ranges from childish temper tantrums to solemn thoughtfulness. In general, this indicates Esperanza’s place in the world: intelligent, but not yet fully grown up. The mood is childish and adult by turns.



Sandra Cisneros - BIOGRAPHY

Born in 1954, Sandra Cisneros moved back and forth between Chicago and Mexico City throughout her childhood. Her father was Mexican and had close ties to his family, while her mother was Mexican-American and had lived her life in Chicago. Cisneros was the youngest child of seven, and the only daughter. She was lonely for much of her childhood because her family rarely stayed in one place long enough for her to make friends. She attended Loyola University in Chicago and then the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. It was at this workshop that she got the idea for "The House on Mango Street," perhaps her most famous book. The class was studying the poetics of space, and reading an essay on the metaphor of the mind as a house with many rooms. Cisneros realized that everyone in her class could relate to this idea except her. She assumed that those who understood this metaphor had never had to clean someone else’s house for a living, or get evicted. Previously, Cisneros had tried to copy established writers, who were usually white and male. Slowly, she began to realize that what she had to offer literature was exactly what made her different from these writers: she was Latina, and female.

On the strength of relatively few books of poems and stories, Cisneros has built a considerable reputation. Her other books include "Woman Hollering Creek," a collection of stories about the Mexican-American experience, and "Loose Woman," poems celebrating the strength of Mexican-American women. She has also contributed many essays on race, gender and politics to different anthologies. Her work is sometimes upstaged by her biography: articles about her work often discuss the fact that she is unmarried, though she "likes men a lot." It has been suggested that the literary world is more comfortable viewing her as a political activist than as a serious writer apart from her political affiliations. However, she herself at times brings her personal views into the spotlight: the 1994 edition of "Mango" lists the author as "nobody’s mother and nobody’s wife." Her persona is deceiving: she has a soft voice and appears to be very sweet and submissive. She says she used to hate this about herself, but is now grateful for it: she says it helps her confuse people and take them by surprise.

Though she did not write very frequently when she was young, and in fact did not begin writing seriously until she was an adult, she says that now that people expect her to write, she is much more inspired and does not expect to stop writing any time soon. She has won numerous awards, grants and fellowships, including two from the National Endowment for the Arts. She looks forward, she says, to the books she will write when she is sixty.

LITERARY / HISTORICAL INFORMATION

While the story is not particularly dependent on external historical events, it is useful to know that Chicago is a strikingly segregated city, even today. This certainly plays a role in the dynamics of Esperanza’s community, allowing the neighbors closeness, but also isolating them from other parts of Chicago.

In terms of style, the book is unique. Not exactly either poetry or prose, Esperanza’s story is organized in a series of vignettes. This allows the reader to gain a certain intimacy with Esperanza. We are told what she thinks and how she feels at the most important moments in her life for that year, but we know very little about her otherwise--we do not even know her exact age. Thus, there is an immediacy to what happens to her that would not exist if the reader followed her around every day, learning both minor and major details about her life. The style of the book thus has a significant effect on the way the reader experiences the story.

 

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