is the protagonist of the novel; a young girl of about eleven years old. Esperanza does not want to belong to her impoverished neighborhood and dreams of one day owning a home of her own, different from her families ramshackle dwelling on Mango Street. Throughout the course of the novel, Esperanza invents the person she will become: she aspires to be a writer and to overcome the limitations gender, race and class has placed upon her.
Esperanza's mother, is a selfless caretaker, as evidenced by the comfort Esperanza seeks by her side and the way she will try to facilitate her children's whims, such as the new dress she buys Esperanza for a baptism and the way she indulges her daughter's wishes to not remain at school for lunch. Mama is beautiful and feminine, but we also learn that she is smart and regrets not making more of herself. Esperanza learns one of the most important lessons of the novel from Mama- to not let pride and fear of competition inhibit you from striving for success: "I could've been somebody, you know? Esperanza, you go to school. Study hard.... Shame is a bad thing, you know. It keeps you down. You want to know why I quit school? Because I didn't have nice clothes. No clothes, but I had brains." It is evident that Esperanza respects her mother's opinion, for she also ponders her mother's advice about developing sexuality, attending to her warning that girls like Lois who can't tie her shoes "are the ones that go into alleys" (73) and that "to wear black so young is dangerous" (82). She reveres her mother as both an ideal, accepts her advice and acts upon it.
is a Mexican immigrant who works hard from dusk until dawn as a gardener. He strives to provide his family with what they need, and set high standards for Esperanza when it comes to her education and associations with boys.
Nenny, or Magdalena
is Esperanza's little sister and companion. Esperanza also protects and nurtures Nenny: "She can't play with those Vargas kids or she'll turn out just like them." In turn, Nenny defends Esperanza when she fights with girls who call their mother names and when she sees a neighborhood house that "looks like Mexico and "Rachel and Lucy look at me like I'm crazy." Although Esperanza sometimes expresses frustration at having Nenny tag along ("you can't choose your sister) she admires her strength, independent character, and innocent lack of self-consciousness: "the hard little bone, that's my sister." In contrast to Esperanza, Nenny is still an oblivious child; the frustrations Esperanza feels trying to make her sister see the world as she does emphasizes the peculiar stage of woman-child that Esperanza has entered.
Carlos and Kiki
are Esperanza's younger brothers. They are each other's best friends and segregate themselves from the girls when out in public.
is Esperanza's older friend, who illustrates Esperanza's mother's advice about education in action. Afraid of her father, Alicia studies all night. Alicia values education enough to take two trains and a bus to the university "because she doesn't want to spend her / whole life in a factory or behind a rolling pin" (31-32). As my colleague Joan England points out, Alicia also shows Esperanza the reality of leaving the neighborhood. You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can't erase what you know. You can't forget who you are" (105). However, Esperanza doesn't immediately understand.
is one of Esperanza's closest friends. Sally is older and more mature than her friend, and this often creates awkward situations between the girls. Although her father tries to keep her away from men, Sally is flirtatious and experienced when it comes to the opposite sex. She is outgoing and wildly charismatic, and loves to boast about her adventures. Even though Sally seems content and happy, she is eternally scarred by the abuse she receives from her father. The beatings are usually not used as punishment, but instead as prevention. Sally's father does not want her to turn out like his sisters, who were loose, foolish women. He sees his daughter as the common housewife, and Sally is determined to overcome this image.
House on Mango Street Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for House on Mango Street is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Esperanza begs her mother to be able to eat at the school like the other kids. Esperanza's mother eventually concedes and writes the note and makes a rice sandwich for her, as the family has no money for lunchmeat.
Esperanza feels that she has dreams and aspirations that are different from others in the barrio. She wants more out of life that marrying a man and having lots of children. She wants a future for herself: a future not dictated by a man.