Minerva Writes Poems
This chapter depicts the sad existence of a girl not much older than Esperanza who is already burdened with "two kids and a husband who left." After putting her children to bed, Minerva spends her nights writing heart-breaking poems which she folds into little pieces and grips in her hand. The emotional and physical abuse Minerva suffers at the hands of the husband who continually leaves and returns is a problem which both Minerva and Esperanza do not know how to solve.
Cultural values of mystic and divine intervention pervade this chapter. Ironically, crying and praying are typical reactions to situations such as Minerva's and can be performed in public. But writing poetry, truly expressing her sorrow and rage, is a private act done in secret.
Esperanza's poignant description of the folded poems that "smell like a dime" perhaps alludes to how they are placed in her pocket like a coin, or their marginal value. Minerva's situation is common to women on Mango Street, and thus unremarkable and without remedy. The simile "sad like a house on fire" makes the reader wish something would be done. The emphasis Esperanza places on her own complacency with the words "there is nothing I can do" reveals her resentment that a woman's abuse must be the "same old story" and regret of her own inefficacy in helping her friend. This is the fate that people accept for women from such poor backgrounds; it is a future Esperanza rejects for herself.
Bums in the Attic
In this chapter, Esmeralda describes her longing for a house like the ones where her father gardens. On Sundays her family drives by and gazes as these houses, but her newfound sense of shame prevents Esmeralda from joining them. Esmeralda vows that when she owns her own house, she will not forget from where she came. She will let bums live in her attic, because she knows how it feels to not have a house.
This chapter is poignant social commentary berating the abuses of ills of class stratification. The house on the hill is a metaphor for the separation between rich and poor; Esperanza groups people into two extreme categories- the lucky and the unlucky, or those who "sleep so close to the stars" and "those who live too much on earth." The act of gazing down is a metaphor for the disdain and ignorant bliss with which the less fortunate are by the wealthy. Their lack of earthly worries such as "last week's garbage or fear of rats" is symbolized by their naïve, almost childlike, existence: "Night comes. Nothing wakes them but the wind."
The understatement with which Esmeralda envisions explaining how she will enjoy telling guests that bums live in the attic reveals Esperanza's ironic and wizened view of society: she already knows how to shock those whom she now fears, and she will one day avenge the shame she and her class have had to suffer by breaking status quo social norms.
Beautiful and Cruel
This chapter marks the beginning of Esperanza's "own quiet war" against machismo. She will not tame herself nor wait for a husband, and this rebellion if reflected in her leaving the table- dish an chair untouched- like a man.
This chapter discusses two important themes: forging and maintaining one's own power and challenging the cultural and social expectations one is supposed to fulfill. Esperanza's mission to create her own identity is manifested by her decision to not "lay (her) neck on the threshold waiting for the ball and chain."
The terse language and violent images of self-bondage into slavery reveals the contempt with which Esperanza views many of her peers who sole priority is becoming a wife. To learn how to guard her power from men, Esperanza looks to the example of the movie seductress "who drives the men crazy and laughs them all away."
A Smart Cookie
In this chapter, the reader learns of Mama's past and her regrets that she "could've been somebody." Bilingual, handy, artistic and musical, Mama still sings opera as she prepares breakfast and dreams of seeing a ballet. She admonishes her daughter to stay in school so that she never has to depend on a man. Mama also warns
Esperanza against shame. It seems the daughter inherited this fault from her mother, as Mama reveals that the only reason she quit school was because she was proud and did not have nice clothes to wear.
Cisneros' simile reveals Mama's profound and wasted talent: velvety lungs powerful as morning glories." The irony of the chapter's ending "I was a smart cookie then," serves as a poignant lesson for her proud daughter. So too, we see the theme of rejection of society's low expectations for an individual of Esperanza's sex, race, and class.
What Sally Said
This disturbing chapter is comprised of Sally's revelations of her father's abuse to Esperanza. Sally makes excuses for her father, such as "he never hits me hard" or lies and says she fell. "Because I'm a daughter," as opposed to a trustworthy son, Sally's father fears she will bring shame upon the family in the same way his sisters did. Sally even stays with the Cordero family, but returns to her "Daddy" when he comes begging forgiveness.
Although the abuser in Sally's case is a father instead of a husband, this chapter emphasizes the theme that emerges from Minerva's story: the abusive man who is repeatedly forgiven by the battered woman.
Another theme is the sexual double-standard for women, as Sally is beaten hardest after she is caught associating with boys. The horror a battered woman must repeatedly face is poignantly emphasized through simile: "he hit her with his hands just like a dog, she said, like if I was an animal." Chilling irony and understatement also reveals the severity of Sally's situation: "he just forgot he was her father between the buckle and the belt."
The Monkey Garden
When the family who owned both monkey and garden moved back to Kentucky, Esperanza relishes not having to hear the animal scream at night. So too, she is excited to explore the garden the monkey once guarded. At first, the garden is a wonder of botanical beauty, and then in time becomes an overgrown graveyard for cars. The garden ceases to be the sight of childhood pleasure for Esperanza when Sally enters the garden to kiss a group of boys. Filled with unexplainable anger, Esmeralda becomes both a snitch and a warrior armed with sticks and a brick in order to save Sally. When the boys and Sally herself tell Esperanza to go away, Esperanza is ashamed and runs to the other end of the garden. Under a "jungle tree," Esperanza painfully comes to terms with the fact that she no longer exists as a carefree girl.
The joy Esperanza feels while observing the life in the garden is evident in her light-hearted diction, such as "dizzy bees," "bow-tied fruit flies turning somersaults and humming in the air," and "weeds like so many squinty-eyed stars." Indeed, Esperanza notes and appreciates the beauty of life- both natural and urban- surrounding her.
The monkey garden is an ironic twist on the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden; it is a place of mystery and promise for poor urban youth. The garden itself is a manifestation of the themes of self-definition and determination, as exemplified by the childrens' ability to hide from their parents and invent their own play spaces there. So too, like the Eden story, paradise becomes humiliation and disappointment for Esperanza; it is the place where she is forced to let go of childhood. Faced with the reality that she no longer belongs playing with children, nor kissing the boys with Sally, Esperanza feels like a stranger to herself and keenly feels her lack of self-identity and a welcoming place to forge it. "They (my feet) seemed far away. They didn't seem to be my feet anymore. And the garden that had seemed such a good place to play didn't seem mine either."
Esperanza's feelings of isolation are emphasized by the fact that a personified tree is her only source of comfort, as it is the sole being "that wouldn't mind if I lay down and cried a long time." Esperanza's impossible desire to control her sadness I revealed in the imagery depicting her eyes: "I closed my eyes like tight starseverything inside hiccupped." "I wanted to be dead, to turn into the rain, my eyes melt into the ground like two black snails" she longs to become part of nature, a member of the beautiful natural garden she first explored before this harsh loss of innocence.
In this chapter, Esperanza's illusions of her first kiss are shattered when a boy forces himself upon her at a carnival. Waiting for her companion, Sally, who has gone somewhere with "that big boy," Esperanza waits "by the red clowns, just like you said, but you never came, you never came for me." Instead, Esperanza is surrounded and assaulted; the fear and humiliation she experiences are far from the pleasure Sally, novels, and magazines promised her a kiss would be.
Cisneros' diction and syntax creates this chapter's tone of panic. The repetition, for example, of "you lied," "why did you lie?" and "you're a liar" emphasize how Esperanza feels that Sally has both physically and emotionally misled her. Indeed, Esperanza's barrage of questions (such as "Why didn't you hear me when I called? Why didn't you tell them to leave me alone?") aid our understanding of her helplessness and abandonment.
The theme of this chapter is male domination in taking sexual advantage of women. In particular, we see the dangers of stereotyping. As Esperanza is friends with Sally, a girl with a bad reputation, the boys feel justified in taking advantage of Esperanza, who by sheer association, is assumed to have loose morals too.
The dangers of racial prejudice is also a theme, as Esperanza's attacker says "I love you, Spanish girl." The impact these words have upon Esperanza is evidenced in her repetition of the refrain throughout the chapter. These words reflect the attacker's assault not only on her womanhood, but on her individual identity as well.
In this chapter Sally's fate is finally sealed: she marries a marshmallow salesman from a school bazaar "in another state where it's legal to get married before eighth grade." Although she has material goods now and claims to be in love, Esperanza is not fooled and wisely claims "I think she did it to escape." The rest of the chapter is a series of advantages to Sally's marriage which are promptly nixed by far worse disadvantages. Sally can now buy things, but only when her husband gives her money. She claims to be happy, yet her violent husband broke the door with his foot in one of his outbursts of anger. His possessiveness prevents Sally from using the telephone, having visitors, going outside, or even looking out the window. The only pleasure she seems to be allowed is admiring the way the walls, ceiling, and linoleum rose floors of her home perfectly meet.
This chapter plays upon the "unhappy woman by the window" theme, but in this case the man is so jealous that even that harmless act is forbidden. Indeed, irony prevails- from Sally running from one violent possessor to the arms of another to Sally's new favorite pastime. One of the only actions she is allowed to take, Sally looks at the "the linoleum roses on the floor and the ceiling smooth as wedding cake." It is ironic indeed that the substance of girlhood dreams- a husband, a house, romantic roses and celebratory wedding cake- can so quickly be transformed into a prison with just two dangerous words, "I do" to the wrong person.