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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 17: The Family of Little Feet

Summary

This chapter describes the feet of different members of a family: a grandfather’s feet, fat and doughy like tamales, a mother’s feet, “plump and polite,” etc. One day, someone gives Esperanza and her friends a box of women’s shoes. The girls try them all on excitedly, admiring their legs, feeling grown up and a little dangerous. They run around the neighborhood showing off, and a “bum man” tells Rachel he’ll give her a dollar if she kisses him. She seems to consider it, which scares the other girls, who are worn out by trying to be adults. Lucy hides the shoes in her house, and when her mother finds them and throws them away, “no one complains.”

Notes

This chapter continues Esperanza’s ambivalence about growing up. She uses the high-heeled shoes to transform her body, making her legs look long. But at the same time, she seems to think of them like candy, describing one pair as lemon-colored. As soon as she is confronted by the reality of what the shoes can do (“bum man’s” interest in Rachel) she becomes frightened and is ready to take them off.

CHAPTER 18: A Rice Sandwich

Summary

Esperanza wants to eat lunch in the “canteen,” where kids eat if their homes are too far from school for them to eat at home. She asks her mother to write her a note and make her a sandwich. At first Mrs. Cordero refuses, but finally she gives in, and makes Esperanza a rice sandwich. But when she gets in line in the lunchroom, a nun tells her she must get permission from the Sister Superior. Esperanza goes to her office, and the Sister Superior tells her her house isn’t far enough away for her to stay for lunch. She asks her which house is hers, pointing out the window, asking, “That one?” Esperanza nods, even though it’s the wrong house, and even uglier than her own. She starts to cry, and the nun lets her stay at school just for that day. She goes to the canteen, which is “nothing special,” and eats her lunch, crying, while the other children stare at her.


Notes

The chapter is titled “A Rice Sandwich” to emphasize Esperanza’s inability to shake her feeling of dependence on her family, even when she tries to escape it by eating with “the special kids.” Her attempt to be grown-up backfires when she is unable to convince the nun to let her eat regularly in the canteen, and she feels foolish. In fact, she allows herself to be associated with houses that “even the raggedy men are ashamed to go into” because she is too afraid to tell the nun which house is hers. The fact that the canteen isn’t even worth all the trouble makes her feel even worse. This is the first example of real bitterness and sadness in the book’s tone: there is nothing whimsical about the way this chapter is related. It simply tells a painful story quietly and plainly, without even any solemnity to give it a sense of importance: it is not a tragic story, but rather a pathetic one, dealing with Esperanza’s feelings of shame and foolishness.

CHAPTER 19: Chanclas

Summary

Esperanza’s mother comes home with boxes of clothes to wear to a party celebrating her cousin’s baptism, which is held at a nearby church basement. Her mother has forgotten to buy Esperanza shoes to match her dress, so when she gets to the party she sits self-consciously, trying to hide her old shoes and refusing to dance, even when a cousin “by first communion or something” asks her. Then her uncle tells her how beautiful she is and drags her onto the dance floor. He teaches her some steps and then brings her to the middle of the room, where they dance together, everyone watching, and Esperanza is especially conscious of her cousin who had asked her to dance, and how proud her mother is to be her mother.

Notes

Esperanza’s grappling with maturity continues in this chapter, where she demonstrates that she is able, if pressed, to be confident and graceful even when she feels self-conscious about something (in this case, her shoes). She is thrilled by her mother’s positive reaction, and made almost dizzy by the attention of her cousin: “all night the boy who is a man watches me dance. He watched me dance,” she says. While the interest of older men makes her uncomfortable, she seems to thoroughly enjoy that of her cousin.

CHAPTER 20: Hips

Summary

Rachel, Lucy, Nenny and Esperanza jump rope, improvising about what it means to have hips: what they can be used for, where they can take you, etc. Esperanza, who has been talking to Alicia the university student, explains that hips make room in women’s bodies for babies. Rachel suddenly begins to rhyme as she jumps, and the other girls follow suit, singing nonsense, half-rhyming songs about hips. When it’s Nenny’s turn, she jumps in and starts singing a standard jump rope song, not listening when Esperanza tries to explain the game to her.

Notes

Another aspect of Esperanza’s continuing maturity is revealed here: the changing way in which she relates to Nenny. In earlier chapters, she attributes Nenny’s impetuousness or naïveté to her stupidity. Here, she claims, “[Nenny] is this way because of her age,” and “she is in a world we don’t belong to anymore.” Though she is still disgusted with Nenny’s unwillingness to play along with the group, and feels self- conscious in front of her friends, Esperanza seems to have gained some perspective about her sister.

The rhymes the girls sing as they jump evolve effortlessly from their conversation. Though they may be uncertain about what their future as women holds--perhaps the reason they sing about hips in the first place--they combine the mature subject with silly songs easily, and their imaginations are clearly strong.

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