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Free Study Guide-The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros-Book Notes
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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS (continued)

Ruthie is a "tall skinny lady" who lives with her mother, Edna, Esperanza’s neighbor. Ruthie plays with the kids and laughs all by herself, while walking her dog. She says she is married and that her husband is coming to get her soon, but he never does. The kids love her, because she dotes on them and doesn’t talk down to them. When some adults invite Ruthie to play bingo with them, she stands on the porch, calling to Edna, asking her if she should go. Edna is non-committal, and Ruthie stands there hesitating until finally the people leave. The kids let Ruthie deal the cards in their game that night. The difference between what Esperanza knows and what the reader can learn from her stories is evident. Clearly, there is something wrong with Ruthie, and while Esperanza may have some vague awareness of that, she does not entirely understand it. The reader, on the other hand, sees right away that a grown woman who depends greatly on her mother and spends much of her time playing with children is, in some way, maladjusted. The same technique is used in the story of the Earl of Tennessee. He works nights and keeps to himself, so no one in the neighborhood really knows him. They are all interested in him, but somehow they disagree about what his wife looks like: some say she is blond, others think she is redheaded. Esperanza, who relates the story, does not know the truth, which is evident to the reader: Earl is bringing prostitutes to his home. Esperanza casually gives us just enough information to figure this out, but does not know enough to realize for herself what the information means (he brings the women to the house holding their arms tightly, and they never stay long, for example.) This story has several functions: it offers another aspect of the character of the neighborhood through Earl, and also highlights the nosiness-- and innocence-- of the rest of the neighborhood.

With the arrival of Sire, Esperanza’s world begins to change; or, rather, the reader is made aware of a change in Esperanza. The last time she met a boy, it was her cousin at a family party, and even then she could not bring herself to dance with him when he asked her. Now, Sire, an older, intimidating boy, watches her as she walks by his house every day, and she finds the courage to look back. She is still frightened, but refuses to let him see that. Her parents tell her not to talk to him, but she is fascinated by him and his girlfriend Lois. She wants to stay out late the way they do. She is now sick of imagining what might happen if she went out with a boy, dreaming about it, and simply wants it to happen. "Everything is holding its breath inside me," she says, "...waiting to explode like Christmas."

Esperanza feels a bond with the four skinny trees planted outside her window by the city, because, like her, they continue to grow and get stronger even though they don’t belong there, even though the odds are against them. It is clear that, although there will still be major blows to her self-esteem later in the book, Esperanza is beginning to find strength in herself.


Rafaela is one of the many women Esperanza hopes to avoid becoming like. She is beautiful, young, and married to a husband who will not let her out of the house without him, because he is afraid she will run away. She dreams of dancing, and throws money down to the street so that the kids will buy her exotic juices, like coconut and papaya. Rafaela is a sympathetic figure, but she is also pathetic, since she spends her life dreaming about things she wish she could do. This is reminiscent of Esperanza’s grandmother, who, we learned earlier in the book, was forced into marriage and stared out the window for the rest of her life. Esperanza sees this in her friend Minerva as well. Minerva writes poetry, which she shares with Esperanza, but she is also weak, allowing her husband, who left her with young children, to return and then leave endlessly. She is never able to improve her situation, spending her time crying and praying. Esperanza refuses to become like this. She is more interested in Sally, a beautiful girl who knows how to use her beauty to gain power over boys. Even though she has few female friends, Sally is awe-inspiring to Esperanza, who understands Sally’s need to escape from her home (where she must return every day, removing her makeup before entering.) Esperanza, like Sally, wants adventure and love. She doesn’t want to believe what other people say about Sally. Esperanza says she wants to be "beautiful and cruel," much like her new friend, or like a femme fatale from the movies. She wants to use her beauty to have power over men, but never marry one. She does not want to take care of anyone. She listens to her mother when she tells her to stay in school, because she sees how dependent her mother is on her family and community: though she has lived in the city all her life, she cannot even find her way downtown on the train alone. This maybe why Sally, who seems very independent, appeals to Esperanza. However, as the story progresses, Sally becomes less and less appealing. First, Esperanza sees what her family life is like. Her father beats her whenever she talks to boys, but when she tries to move out for a while, he apologizes, and she immediately forgives him. Of course, soon after, he beats her again. She keeps it a secret, telling only Esperanza, and maintaining in public that she is just very clumsy.

Another conflict between Esperanza and Sally is seen in "The Monkey Garden," an abandoned garden where the children play. One day, Esperanza is playing with the younger children (something she has been told she is too old for) when Sally, standing at the edge of the garden, starts talking to some boys in the neighborhood. They take away her keys and demand kisses before she can have them back. Though they are all laughing, something about this bothers Esperanza. She tells one of the boys’ mothers, but the woman brushes her off. She then gets a few bricks with which to fight them, but when she finds them, they (including Sally) are annoyed and tell her to go away. Feeling foolish, she runs away and cries, alone in the garden. She feels estranged from Sally, who is so eager to grow up she won’t even play in the garden, for fear she will ruin her clothes. But she also feels vaguely humiliated, simply because she is out of synch with the group. She says that when they laughed, "it was a joke I didn’t get."

Later, it seems that Esperanza’s vague feelings of unease are proved accurate. Sally takes her to a carnival, where she meets a boy. She tells Esperanza to wait for her and disappears. She never comes back, and Esperanza is molested by a group of boys. Esperanza, humiliated and angry, accuses Sally of lying--about coming back, and also about what being with boys was like. Even though her main attacker says, "I love you, Spanish girl," her experience with him is nothing like love. Finally, Esperanza’s break with Sally is complete when Sally gets married before the eighth grade to a marshmallow salesman she meets at school. "She says she is in love, but I think she did it to escape," says Esperanza. She is very aware, however, of what a meager escape it is: like Rafaela, Sally is forbidden to leave the house, and like Sally’s father, her husband is violent. By this stage in the book, Esperanza is sure she does not want to end up like any of the women she knows--except, perhaps, Alicia, the university student.

Esperanza’s new-found confidence (she does not idolize any other characters in the book after Sally) is solidified when she meets the Three Sisters, aunts of Lucy and Rachel. Mysterious, almost ghostly women, they call her over to them and examine her hands. They tell her she is special, and instruct her to make a wish. Though she does not tell the reader what she wishes for, one of the Sisters takes her aside, telling her she must remember to come back for the people who cannot leave Mango Street as easily as she. Esperanza is shocked, as if the Sister read her mind. And, though she continues to dream of her own house, and rejects Mango Street in a conversation with Alicia, saying that she will not come back until someone fixes it up, Esperanza finally begins to accept Mango Street as part of her. Earlier, she had asserted that she would not forget where she came from once she became rich. Now, she knows exactly what she wants her house for (writing and a sense of independence) and she recognizes that, through writing, she can ease the pain associated with Mango Street, as well as understand how it fits into her identity. Her search is not over--she has not left her neighborhood yet--but she now has the tools to realize her dreams. The book ends with her looking ahead to her new life, but also resolving to return for those who need her. It seems that the whole book has been a realization of that resolve, a way for Esperanza (and Cisneros) to go back to her community, even though it is mostly written in the present tense.

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