House on Mango Street Summary and Analysis
Family of Little Feet-Elenita, Cards, Palm, Water
The Family of Little Feet
In this chapter, Lucy, Rachel, and Esperanza inherit second-hand shoes from a small-footed neighbor. The girls are pleased with the way they look in the high-heels, and practice strutting their stuff around the neighborhood; they raise the interest of men and the disdain of other girls in the process.
The shoes change the girls by giving them self-confidence and awareness of their blossoming sexuality. As well as learning that they are attractive to men, the girl's also quickly encounter sexual double standards. For example, a man's threat "them are dangeroustake them shoes off before I call the cops" is a metaphor for the prevailing attitude that a woman who is comfortable with her sexuality is promiscuous and a threat. The girls also learn about another oppressive double standard: that by trying to fulfill cultural standards of female beauty they are putting themselves at risk for violence. When the drunkard offers Rachel five dollars for a kiss, we read a subtle social criticism of the way women- even young girls- are treated as a commodity that can be ogled, purchased and possessed.
A Rice Sandwich
In this chapter, Esperanza wants to eat in the school lunch room, the canteen, because she is under the impression that "the special kids" eat there. To her, not returning home for lunch seems to be an exciting prospect. After finally convincing her mother to let her take her rice sandwich to the canteen, Esperanza's illusions are shattered when a nun makes her point to her house from the window and tells her she lives too close and cannot eat there again.
This experience teaches Esperanza that the grass is indeed not always greener somewhere else. Esperanza's need for a change is evident, even in the ironic description of the "important" canteen, when in reality these children merely cannot return, as Esperanza can, for lunch.
The character of the nun is important, because she makes Esperanza endure a humiliation she experienced before, when a nun made her point to her old home. Indeed, this parallel experience criticizes the insensitivity adults often display when dealing with children. So too, Esperanza's shame and longing to escape from her place and identity in her community are evident in the humiliation she feels when pointing out her house and the desire to be "special" that made her avoid returning there in the first place.
In this chapter, Esperanza sits awkwardly at her cousin's baptism party because her brown school shoes do not match her pretty new pink and white party dress. Convinced by her Uncle Nacho to finally dance, Esperanza finally loses her shyness and feels like a woman under the admiring gazes and clapping hands of the party.
Feet are a very important metaphor in this chapter. The author describes Esperanza's feet as "growing bigger and bigger" as she sits on the folding chair, which symbolizes her growing shame and inability to accept the offer of a dance with a boy. When she is finally dancing, Esperanza feels like a beautiful woman and forgets she is "wearing only ordinary shoes."
The excitement of losing the awkwardness of girlhood and coming into her own as a woman is a major theme. The newfound sexuality Esperanza discovers she possesses is emphasized by her repetition of the fact that a boy watched her dance. "All night the boy who is a man watches me dance. He watched me dance." Indeed, awareness of a man's gaze is equated with Esperanza's awakening to her own womanhood.
Esperanza, Nenny, Lucy, and Rachel engage in a conversation about hips as they play jump rope. Their many functions are discussed- from dancing, to holding a baby, to simply being a woman because of them. They then "practice shaking it" to the rhythm of the rope and create their own rhymes about hips. The rhymes associate hips with feminine beauty standards and being attractive to men.
The game of jump rope symbolizes the images the girls have of themselves; in particular, they are highly aware of that as women, they have to fulfill both an ideal form and function. So too, the rhymes are metaphors for the girls' characters. The jump rope rhymes show both community and individuality. As they jump rope and discuss their developing hips, Lucy, Rachel, and Esperanza make up original rhymes, creating themselves through language, in contrast to Nenny's recitation of a traditional rhyme, perhaps because she is younger. Nenny's independence and refusal to follow the crowd emphasizes how older women seek community and affirmation in their associations with each other, as well as how quickly sexual awareness burgeons and dominates the thoughts and activities of young adolescent girls.
The First Job
In order to help pay for Catholic high school, Esperanza takes her first job at Peter Pan Photo Finishers, which she acquires with the recommendation of Aunt Lala and a white lie about her age. While the job is simple, Esperanza struggles with her shyness throughout her first day on the job. She feels better at the end of the day, when she meets a kind "Oriental man" who tells her they can be friends and sit together at lunch. Esperanza's trusting nature betrays her however, when the man takes advantage of the innocent birthday kiss to her cheek.
This chapter tackles the important theme of men's sexual exploitation of women; namely, we see a saddening example of how grown men take liberties with young girls, and how innocent girls like Esperanza are often victimized for having open minds and hearts.
Esperanza's shock and helplessness are emphasized by the rapid tone with which she describes the assault: "he grabs my face with both hands and kisses me hard on the mouth and doesn't let go." Indeed, the exact chronology of Esperanza's memory indicates that she this moment haunts her and its horrific details will not be forgotten; she has internalized the shame and guilt she should point at her attacker and made it her own.
Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark
This chapter is about the death of Esperanza's grandfather. Her father, usually working by the time his children open his eyes, greets Esperanza one day with his grief. He will have to return to Mexico for the funeral, and it is Esperanza's duty, as the oldest child, to explain to her siblings why this is a day of mourning and not play. Esperanza comforts her normally tough father in her arms, and recognizes the horrible reality that one day, she will lose this strong providing figure in her life.
The most important literary device to consider in this chapter is Cisneros' choice to intersperse Spanish vocabulary and phrases with her English prose. She does it more in certain situations than others, most often when English fails to express a cultural particularity or the depth of an emotion- albeit pain (as in the case of "Mamacita") or joy.
In this case, Papa's roots to his homeland, and the painful circumstances which pull him back, are emphasized by his reversion to his mother tongue to explain that "tu abuelitoesta muerto" (you're grandfather is dead.)
Poetic prose is also important in this chapter, as it manifests the strong bond and dependence Esperanza has upon her father, who up until now has remained a mysterious and reclusive character to analyze. "And I think if my own Papa died what would I do. I hold my Papa in my arms. I hold and hold and hold him." The repetition of "hold" shows that, despite her desire to escape, there are many aspects of home that Esperanza cannot yet live without. Though she makes plans for adulthood, she is yet a child and the awakening to the harsh reality of losing a parent makes her realize this.
In this chapter, Esmeralda contemplates cruel chance that chose her Aunt Lupe to fall terminally ill; this once-beautiful swimmer, wife, and mother of two was struck with an unexplained disease that left her limbs and eyes destroyed and useless. She eagerly welcomed visits by the girls, listened to Esperanza's stories and encouraged her to pursue her own writing. Like a typical child expressing guilt in the face of incurable suffering, Esmeralda blames herself- namely the choice to poke fun at Aunt Lupe's state in the imitation-guessing game she plays with Lucy and Rachel- for her aunt's long-anticipated death.
Cultural myths and values- going to hell, being "born on an evil day", the saving power of prayer- abound in this chapter. So too, the imagery is as sobering as the subject matter. For example, the nightmarish quality of the sickbed is revealed through the metaphor of "drowning under the sticky yellow light." The repetition of "naked light bulb" and "the light bulb always burning" symbolizes Esperanza's fear of suffering. To her young eyes, naked and unmediated, the light will reveal the most disgusting realities of living and dying. Light is also metaphor for the untiring watch over the dying.
The horror of seeing the wasting away of the body is revealed through simile such as this one for smell: "like sticky capsules filled with jelly." This unique image connotes pills but also explains the strangeness of the grotesque. Metaphors for the body include "a little oyster, a little piece of meat on an open shell for us to look at."
This chapter is a moral message against assuming that one is safe from misfortune because chance is random. So too, Cisneros offers a social commentary about letting the long-term suffering of others become normalized or sensationalized so that the person inside the rotting façade is forgotten "as if she had fallen down into a well."
The theme of Esperanza's literary aspirations is important to this chapter, as Aunt Lupe shares her niece's love of stories and encourages her to "keep writing. It will keep you free, and I said yes, but at that time I didn't know what she meant." When Esperanza reads her own poem to Aunt Lupe, we hear the articulation of her dream to leave Mango Street and recreate her identity: "One day I'll jump/ out of my skin./ I'll shake the sky/like a hundred violins." In this simile we recognize Esperanza's distinct powers of description, as well as the seriousness and depth of her wish.
Elenita, Cards, Palm, Water
Esperanza visits the "witch lady," a mother who works from her kitchen lit by candles, a plaster saint, voodoo charms and a cross. Esperanza comes with her most important question- if she will ever have a house of her own. The reading is interrupted by the rowdy children and by Esperanza's pondering of how much Elenita knows how to cure, from headaches to broken hearts. When her reading finishes, Esperanza is disappointed with her answer, that she will have a home in the heart.
Esperanza herself admits that "I don't get it." Only in retrospect does she learn that her new home is a place of belonging which she forges herself. Thus, this "new house, a house made of heart" is a metaphor for Esperanza's coming into her own power and inventing her own self-identity.
The theme of home is complemented by the setting; in Elenita's home, domestic life and mysticism share a common space. While scolding her children and minding her traditional duties, Elenita conjures "los espiritus," prescribes folk remedies, reads tarot cards and searches for visions in beer glasses of water. This anecdote does not only serve as humor, or as an ironic commentary on how people will play on the credulity of others to make money, but also Elenita's home serves as a contrast to Esperanza's dream. Elenita's home is, in its own way, a "house made of heart" because Elenita uses it as a place of independent expression and self-sufficiency.
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