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House on Mango Street Summary and Analysis

by Sandra Cisneros

Geraldo No Last Name-Sally

Geraldo No Last Name

Summary:

A boy Marin meets at a dance is killed in a hit-and-run accident. As she was the last person he was seen with, Marin must go to the hospital and speak with police to assist them in identifying the victim. As her was a "wetback" who did not speak English, the efforts to save, identify, and notify the family of the victim seem to be meager at best. Thus, Marin is doubly upset at his death, especially because she believes Geraldo would have been saved if the surgeon had come sooner. The end of the chapter ends with Esperanza imagining the agony of Geraldo's family in Mexico, who he worked hard to support and will never know why his checks ceased arriving.

Analysis:

Marin's distraught attitude at the death of Geraldo is not simply a result of knowing someone who died, for indeed this boy was merely a new acquaintance. Her repetition of "if the surgeon had come" is a clue that Geraldo's death was not inevitable. So too, the line of questioning used by the police hints that society was trying to find an excuse for the death of an immigrant; perhaps his shady activities brought this fate upon himself.

Rhetorical questions such as "what does it matter?" and "how could they?" are a social criticism of mainstream societies treatment of immigrants as dispensable and second-class human beings. Esperanza replaces the human face the hospital and police authorities tried to erase from Geraldo by describing his home. (Indeed, we know that the concept of home for Esperanza equates the ultimate place and sense of self). She pays the homage to Geraldo that no one else in this country will, and no one in home country can: "His name was Geraldo. And his home was in another country." Her lyrical words have a sad tone which connote the mental image of a solitary tombstone.

Edna's Ruthie

Summary:

This chapter depicts the child-like, half-crazed adult daughter of the woman who owns the three apartments next door. Indeed, the children admire Ruthie because she "is the only grown up we know who likes to play." Ruthie finds her own private joy in life, as "she doesn't need anybody to laugh with, she just laughs."

Esperanza does not understand why Ruthie sleeps on her mother's couch instead of in her own home with her husband. She simply adds another week to her visit, and avoids returning to that "real house all her own" that Esperanza envies.

Analysis:

The mentally-damaged woman and the naïve girl are alike in many ways. On the surface level, both Esperanza and Ruthie love books and have (or had, in the case of Ruthie) much potential to make something of themselves. So too, Ruthie and Esperanza see things in a very special way, as evidenced by the truth Esperanza recognizes in Ruthie's random, seemingly nonsensical outbursts such as "the moon is beautiful like a balloon."

Ruthie functions in the story as an example of how Esperanza could end up if she does not make wise decisions. Ruthie is the manifestation of the social stigma of a marriage gone bad; she is a warning against wasting ones personal potential for success. So too, Ruthie also serves as a moral lesson to Esperanza to not set too much hope in illusions of the better life, for they are often deceiving. For example, Ruthie lived in Esperanza's dream house, but fled to find solace and the simple pleasures in life- eating candy and walking her dogs- on Mango Street. Ruthie indeed functions as a moral lesson for Esperanza- to both always stand strong on her own two feet and to appreciate the present over anticipating the future.

Earl of Tennessee

Summary:

Another next door neighbor, Earl is a southerner who lives in Edna's dusty basement who works nights as a jukebox repairman. During the day, he only emerges occasionally to yell at the children to be quiet, or to give them some of the old, musty 45 records that fill his apartment. Earl is the topic of neighborhood gossip because of a rumor he is married. Every once in a while, a woman is seen quickly and furtively entering the apartment with Earl. Although reports of who she is and what she looks like vary, the one universal piece of gossip is that she never stays long.

Analysis:

This chapter explores themes we have seen in other vignettes- the stigma of a broken marriage and the way the community functions as a family, as evidenced by gossip, bickering, and sharing among neighbors.

This chapter is also interesting because of Cisneros' subtle wielding of language and imagery likening Earl to the cockroaches that live in his home. Earl lives in "mold and dampness" and he only emerges at night. So too, Earl is a solitary, thick-skinned man. Thus, we see the important role that setting plays in this novel; moreover, one's choice of space (such as Esperanza's dream house) reveals much more than simple explanations about the complexities and eccentricities of a character.

Sire

Summary:

This chapter relates Esperanza's first experience of having an older boy- a "punk" according to Papa- stare at her. Soon after, Sire's girlfriend Lois arrives. Esperanza admires her petite, childlike beauty- but Mama warns against this type of girl, "the ones that go into alleys." From her bedroom window at night, Esperanza hears the couple talking and laughing, and wonders what it will be like to one day sit outside with a boy.

Analysis:

In the last sentence, the repetition of questions such as "how did you hold her?" and "Like this?" manifests Esperanza's heightened sexual curiosity. Indeed, Esperanza's expectancy is related to physical awakening, as evidenced by images of bursting and renewal, and physical sensation: "Everything is holding its breath inside me. Everything is waiting to explode like Christmas. I want to be all new and shiny. I want to sit out bad at night, a boy around my neck and the wind under my skirt."

Four Skinny Trees

Summary:

The four "raggedy excuses planted by the city are a source of comfort for Esperanza. They resemble her, both in their physical frailty and stubborn spirit. Whenever Esperanza feels like giving up on her dreams, she looks to the trees, whose roots plunge deep to find sustenance in concrete and whose branches aspire to new heights, for inspiration.

Analysis:

Esperanza's lyrical chant: "Keep, keep, keep trees say when I sleep. They teach" is a kind of spiritual prayer that helps Esperanza remain strong despite the hardships and isolation she experiences. Ironically, the trees symbolize community and not individuality. "Their arms around each other" represents a community and their mutual growth symbolize that Esperanza will not grow by cutting her roots. They all depend on each other- which is their reason for being. As a compliment to the theme of the finding the beauty in all things, Esperanza discovers, through the symbol of the unified trees, the most important reason to live- for each other.

No Speak English

Summary:

This chapter is about "Mamacita" the mother of a hardworking neighborhood man who has just brought her and her baby son out of Mexico. Mamacita stays inside her house all day, but it is not because she is too fat to emerge, as sassy Rachel suggests. Esperanza understands, rather, that Mamcita is afraid to speak English. Homesick for her country, language, and the comforts of the little pink house she left, Mamacita refuses to learn English and futilely begs her son to return home. She tries to command her youngest, "No speak English," and is horrified when he begins to emulate the television and learn English.

Analysis:

This chapter expounds upon the theme of home, as Esperanza observes how Mamacita is almost physically tied to the beloved pink house she left. Indeed, this example is the antithesis of the American dream- as coming to the United States signifies a great loss for Mamacita.

So too, the use of language shows how, for Mamacita, the American dream is a nightmare. Her refusal to speak English is a refusal to assimilate herself into a culture to which she doesn't belong. Her last link to home is the sound of its language.

Machismo is also a prevalent theme in the chapter, as it is the son who worked to bring his mother out of Mexico, and it is his will that will make her remain in the States. "This is home. Here I am and here I stay. Speak English. Speak English. Christ!" This violent outburst and assertion of male domination seals Mamacita's fate. The man has worked for his small place on Mango Street and to bring his mother there; he has fulfilled his masculine duties, now his mother must fulfill her feminine responsibility to live her life according to his will.

Rafaela Who Drinks Coconut & Papaya Juice on Tuesdays

Summary:

Rafaela is a young wife "too beautiful to look at," so her husband locks her inside her home when he plays dominoes with his friends on Tuesdays. On these nights, Rafaela watches the children play from her window and mourns the loss of her youth. Without fail, she will call to the children, lower a dollar to them by means of the clothes line, and ask them to buy her a sweet drink, coconut or papaya.

Analysis:

In this chapter we see the recurring theme of the woman gazing in sadness from her window. Indeed, language such as "keep them on a silver string" is not only critical of the macho attitude that a woman is a prize to guard for oneself, and that beauty indicates worth; so too, Esperanza's tone on disdain also implicates women for not rejecting these double standards. For example, it is not her loss of rights nor freedom that Rafaela mourns, but that of her youth. She resents not being able to "cast green eyes" at men on the dance floor more than she resents being treated like a caged animal.

Indeed, Rafaela is a reinterpretation of the fairy tale heroine Rapunzel, whom she imagines herself to be. Ironically, it is the prince who is the culprit, and not the savior, in this case. Who will rescue Rapunzel then? Esperanza's ironic comment "and always there is someone offering sweeter drinks" manifests her knowledge that it is not children nor even self-agency that will change Rafaela's life, but rather the promises of another man. Thus, "sweet drinks" and "silver string" are metaphors for vicious cycle of promises made and broken which keep women like Rafaela locked in a tower of submission, her life ticking away.

Sally

Summary:

Sally is Esperanza's friend with "smoky nylons" and "eyes like Egypt" who is the object of the boys' exploitation and the girls' disdain at school. Esperanza both admires Sally for her boldness and zest for life, and identifies a kindred spirit who dreams and feels isolated like herself. Sally's home life is quite different from the flirtations she practices at school; she seems to fear her strict father who says that "being this beautiful is dangerous" and hurries home with a "straightened skirt" and downcast eyes directly after school.

Analysis:

At first, Esperanza sees Sally's situation as not much different from hers and feels Sally will be saved by moving to a new place of her own: "Do you wish your feet would one day keep walking and take you far away from Mango Street.... You could close your eyes and you wouldn't have to worry what people said because you never belonged here anyway and nobody could make you sad and nobody would think you're strange because you like to dream and dream."

Sally's story is both a biting social criticism and a sorrowful lesson that brings Esperanza closer to the realities of adult womanhood. Esperanza's naivete makes the realization that Sally is severely battered by her father a bitter blow. Sally's abuse symbolizes the never ending cycle of domestic battering and public shunning that leave many women with no possibilities for escape. Sally, told all her life that she is bad, recognizes and uses her sexuality as the only form of agency and self-expression- albeit a negative one- that she has been taught.

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