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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 ONLINE SUMMARY


BOOK SUMMARY / PLOT ANALYSIS


CHAPTER 22: Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark


Summary

Esperanza’s father comes into her room early one morning and tells her that his father is dead. It is her responsibility, as the oldest child, to tell her siblings and explain that they must be quiet today. Her father collapses and cries, and she wonders what she would do if he died, thinking about how hard he works for his family, and holds him for a long time.

Notes

This short chapter sketches Esperanza’s relationship with her father. Their affection for each other is touching, and Mr. Cordero is a very sympathetic figure: a simple man who combs his hair with water, he has apparently left his own family in Mexico to start a new one in Chicago, but must return to Mexico for his father’s funeral. Esperanza refers to Mexico as “that country,” which seems to suggest the great difference between it and her own home, and reinforces the sadness her father must feel at losing something that was already so far away.




CHAPTER 23: Born Bad


Summary

Esperanza feels terrible. She and her friends, as a game, impersonated her invalid aunt--mimicking her shriveled limbs, the way her blindness had changed the expression on her face--the day she finally died. Esperanza remembers going to her aunt’s house and reading to her, sharing her love of literature, and reading her aunt her poems. She describes her aunt’s house, full of the smell of sickness and unwashed dishes, and her aunt, lying in her bed “a little oyster, a little piece of meat on an open shell for us to look at.” Esperanza wonders how exactly her aunt got so sick, wondering whether it was because of something she did--falling off a step stool, for example--or whether she was just randomly picked.





Notes

This chapter is a clear contrast with the previous one, which showed Esperanza feeling safe and emotionally bound to her father. “Born Bad” begins with Esperanza’s rejection by her mother “my mother says I was born on an evil day.”) The entire tone of the chapter is sheepish--Esperanza begins by telling us how bad she feels, before she even tells us what happened. The contrast between the maturity of her guilt--she understands exactly why what she did was wrong--and the fact that she is still immature enough to have made fun of her aunt in the first place, is striking. Feeling so guilty is a turning point for Esperanza, because it makes her realize what she valued about her aunt: her aunt understood her love of writing. She appreciated Esperanza’s poetry. And her death makes Esperanza realize this about herself. “You must keep writing. It will keep you free,” her aunt tells her, and Esperanza tells us, “I said yes, but at that time I didn’t know what she meant.” She seems to mean that, since her aunt’s death and the shame she felt after it, she has come to understand.




CHAPTER 24: Elenita, Cards, Palm, Water


Summary

Esperanza visits Elenita, a “witch woman” who lives in her neighborhood, to get her fortune told. Elenita’s house is cluttered, with children and dirty dishes everywhere, and lots of prayer candles. Esperanza has been there before, and knows what to do. She puts a glass of water on the table and Elenita asks her what she sees in it, whether she feels the cold of spiritual presence. She doesn’t see or feel anything, but lies and says she does. She is there to find out whether there is a house in her future. Elenita tells her she sees a home in the heart, and Esperanza is disappointed. She wants a new, nice, real house. “A new house, a house made of heart,” Elenita tells her, but Esperanza doesn’t get it. She gives Elenita five dollars and leaves.


Notes

Esperanza’s description of Elenita reveals aspects of both their characters. Elenita seems to have real power: she understands the “home in the heart” Esperanza is making for herself through her writing and her general thoughtfulness and independence. Yet she also does not seem completely genuine: she lights a candle for Esperanza for five dollars, and works out of her house while her children watch cartoons in the background. Esperanza, for her part, both believes in witchcraft and is very skeptical of it as well. She notices how dirty Elenita’s house is, and seems to find it strange that her fortune is read in a beer mug, but she believes, for example, that rubbing a cold egg on your face will cure a headache.

 

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