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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 FREE BOOKNOTES


CHAPTER SUMMARY / NOTES


CHAPTER 4: My Name

Summary

The name Esperanza means "hope," but she hates her name. She feels it means "sadness, it means waiting." She explains that it was her great-grandmother’s name--a woman who was born in the Chinese Year of the horse, like Esperanza. This is supposed to be bad luck, according to the Chinese, but Esperanza thinks it is a "Chinese lie," because Chinese people, like Mexicans, don’t like strong women. Esperanza’s great-grandmother would not marry, but was stolen away by her great-grandfather, who threw a sack over her head and forced her to marry him. She did not forgive him, however, but spent the rest of her life staring out of windows. Esperanza worries that this will happen to her too. Her other frustration with her name is its foreignness. At school, English-speaking people say her name in a way she hates, "as if the syllables were made out of tin." In Spanish, she thinks, it sounds better. She longs for a new name, one more like "the real me," like "Zeze the X."

Notes

Esperanza’s frustration with her name is similar to the way she feels about her hair: she dislikes it, but can’t change it. It is important to her that her name fit in everywhere. It has to sound good in English as well as in Spanish. It seems that she might even think her name is too Mexican--it reminds her of the Mexican records her father plays on Sunday mornings. Yet, along with this longing to conform, to belong, Esperanza feels the tug of independence as well. She admires her great-grandmother for being wild, and is upset by the idea of her great-grandfather carrying her off "like a fancy chandelier." Yet she does not want to share her great-grandmother’s identity as a woman who could not prevent her fate, who perhaps gave up a great deal. "I wonder was she sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be," thinks Esperanza. Significantly, although Esperanza is embarrassed by her name, she does not want a plainer one: she considers Maritza, Lisandra and Zeze the X as alternatives. Finally, she says she would like to baptize herself under a new name, a striking idea for a young girl. She does not want someone to give her a new name. She wants to name herself.




CHAPTER 5: Cathy, Queen of Cats


Summary

Cathy is Esperanza’s neighbor. She explains who is dangerous in the neighborhood, like Joe the baby-grabber, how to act around the men who own the corner store, which girls her age not to play with, and many other things. She gives Esperanza a sense of the neighborhood, past and present. She owns many cats, and says she is the "great great grand cousin of the queen of France." She says she will be Esperanza’s friend until Tuesday, when she moves away, down the street. She claims that one day, her father will fly to France and inherit the family house.

Notes

Cathy, like Esperanza, seems to be a dreamer. As Esperanza says, Cathy tells her the neighborhood is getting bad, "as if she forgot I just moved in." Clearly, she would like to distance herself from the impoverished world of Mango Street, believing that she will one day move to France. Esperanza doesn’t seem to realize this, and feels somewhat ashamed of her lack of royal roots. She is fascinated by Cathy, which is unsurprising considering her own dreams of leaving her life behind. Also, she seems to have asked Cathy to be her friend, an indication that she is as lonely as ever. Here we see Esperanza as a young, impressionable girl, being awed by Cathy and seeing none of her flaws (her snobbishness, her know-it-all attitude).



CHAPTER Six: Our Good Day


Summary

The sisters Cathy warned her against, Lucy and Rachel, ask Esperanza to give them five dollars so that they can buy a bicycle to share between the three of them. They tell her they will be her friends forever, which Esperanza accepts, taking two dollars from Nenny on her absent behalf. Lucy and Rachel are dirty and sassy, obviously poor, but good-natured. Rachel is bolder and talks more. They don’t laugh when Esperanza tells them her name. Esperanza is nervous and somewhat intimidated by her new friends, but when the three girls pile on the bike and ride around the neighborhood together, she has a lot of fun. They ride through places Esperanza knows are dangerous, and Rachel teases a fat woman. Esperanza, a polite and shy girl, is quietly shocked.

Notes

Esperanza makes her first real friends in this chapter. Significantly, they are exactly the two people she has been warned against. This is one of the many times in the book where Esperanza matures by defying, either passively or actively, social norms. Although she has always been shy, she gravitates toward rebels like Rachel and Lucy. Even though she recognizes why her elders would not want her associating with the girls (they are openly poor and "sassy" in a way that Esperanza’s family, presumably, frowns upon), Esperanza herself does not seem to have fully assimilated the values of her superiors. She accepts Lucy and Rachel, and has fun with them--note the chapter title, "Our Good Day."

 

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