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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 ONLINE STUDY GUIDE


CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES / ANALYSIS



CHAPTER 1: The House on Mango Street


Summary

Esperanza Cordero is a young girl growing up in a Hispanic family in Chicago. Poverty forces them to move more times than she can count. By the time they move to the Mango Street house, there are six of them: "Mama, Papa, Carlos, Kiki, my sister Nenny and me." Esperanza likes the new house because it belongs to them. They donít have to worry about landlord problems, like broken water pipes that donít get fixed. Esperanza has always felt ashamed of living in apartment buildings, and was happy to move into a house. However, the house isnít exactly the fantasy that Mama and Papa have always promised their children: thereís no yard, the front door sticks, the windows are tiny, and there are only three bedrooms. Her parents tell her the house is temporary, but Esperanza doesnít believe them.

Notes

The theme of Esperanza being ashamed of her economic status is a prominent one in the book. Esperanza does not exactly feel ashamed of her family; in fact, the family is generally close-knit and happy, but she is keenly aware of the disadvantages of being poor, and has dreamt of prosperity from a very young age. When she says, "I knew then I had to have a house," the reader sees the first example of her independence: it seems that she wants a house of her own, and is determined to get one. She sees through her parents' wishful thinking in an almost cynical way (her father talks about the house they will get as he holds a lottery ticket). She doesnít seem to trust them to acquire what the whole family wants: a spacious, beautiful house. She juxtaposes her parents' fantasies with the reality they provide her with: a house that is too small, in a bad neighborhood. "I know how these things go," she says wisely, when her parents insist that the house on Mango is not permanent. Her parents are almost like children in her eyes: she seems to know more about life than they do.



CHAPTER 2: Hairs


Summary

Esperanza describes the hair of each of her family members: Carlos' is thick and straight, Kickís is like fur, her father's is like a broom, her own is lazy and wonít obey pins, and her mother's hair is "like little rosettes." Based on the highly specific and artful descriptions (Nenny's hair is "slippery--slides out of your hand"), the family is clearly very close and Esperanza feels attached to each of them, especially her mother. She remembers lying in bed with Mama, feeling safe and smelling her skin and her hair.



Notes

Esperanza reveals herself here as a thoughtful, sensitive, literate girl, who is deeply attuned to the world around her. She uses the type of hair each member of her family has to symbolize something about their personalities. Kiki, the baby of the family, has hair like fur, which makes him seem cute and babyish. Papa's hair is "like a broom, all up in the air," which seems to say something about his role as a kind, fatherly figure, harried but still in control. Most significant are Esperanza's descriptions of her own hair and her motherís hair. Esperanzaís hair never obeys barrettes or braids, which suggests her wildness and her inability to be feminine and alluring in the way that she wants to be. She describes her hair as "lazy," (rather than, say, free-spirited): she seems to blame herself and find fault with her hair, rather than accepting it the way it is. Her own hair is directly contrasted with that of her mother, which is extremely delicate, "like little rosettes, like little candy circles all curly and pretty" Her mother is girlish in the way Esperanza would like to be. Clearly, Mrs. Cordero pays attention to her appearance: she keeps her hair in pincurls all day. However, when she lets her hair down at night, she becomes a strong maternal figure for Esperanza, caring for her and comforting her. Esperanza specifically remembers smelling her motherís hair when her mother lets her into her bed. It smells like baking bread, a smell that calls to mind the comforts of food and home. In this remembered scene, Papa is asleep when Mama lets Esperanza into their bed, and his snoring fills their ears. The sound comforts Esperanza, but is almost background noise: the scene is between mother and daughter.



CHAPTER 3: Boys and Girls


Summary

Esperanza describes the boys and girls as living "in separate worlds"--her brothers, Carlos and Kiki, refuse to be seen talking to their sisters outside the house. Her brothers are best friends, but Esperanza thinks her sister Nenny is too young to be her best friend, yet she feels responsible for her. Esperanza is an intelligent girl who longs for a best friend her own age, one who will understand her jokes, one she can tell secrets to.

Notes

Esperanza alludes to two of the main themes of the book in this short chapter: the division between boys and girls (or men and women) in Hispanic culture, and Esperanzaís feelings of loneliness. The fact that Carlos and Kiki will not speak to their sisters outside the house, even though they have plenty to say when at home, strikes Esperanza as fake, a custom she finds silly. Indeed, when Esperanza describes why Nenny has to play with her (She canít play with those Vargas kids or sheíll turn out just like them) she seems to be saying it in a grown-up voice, repeating something that has been said to her, but not really believing it. However, her family is close enough that she feels a strong sense of responsibility for her younger sister. Meanwhile, she feels lonely, but hopeful: she believes that one day she will have a best friend. Until then, she sees herself as a "red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor." This quote reveals her as an ambitious girl who knows exactly what she is missing, psychologically speaking, in her current life. She is well aware that she would benefit from a friend who was intelligent enough for her to talk to, with whom she could share her dreams. With no friends, only responsibility for Nenny, Esperanza feels "anchored" to the reality of her young life, unable to exercise the freedom of imagination she values so greatly.

 

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