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Free Study Guide-The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros-Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

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 Esperanza’s 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 can’t play with those Vargas kids or she’ll 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.


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.

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