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The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros.

January 14, 2013

The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros.  New York : Vintage Books, 1991.

GLOBAL WOMEN OF COLOR

Delightful, deceptively simple vignettes told by a young Hispanic woman about herself and the others who live nearby.

Sandra Cisneros reveals her amazing sensitivity and talent in these short pieces just as she does in her longer Carmelo.  Her narrator is Esperanza, a name she hates just as she hates her family’s old brick house on Mango Street.  Her name is “a muddy color” and like “the Mexican records [that] . . . sound like sobbing.”   Approaching adolescence, she tells us about herself, her family, and the people in her neighborhood.  Many of her observations are only a page or two long while others become brief stories.

Describing her family Esperanza tells how each person has distinctive hair. Her father’s hair “stands up like a broom,” her own is “lazy” and slips out of barrettes. One brother has hair that is thick and “doesn’t need to be combed, and her mother’s hair curls into “rosettes” and “smells like bread.”  She recounts the games she plays with the other girls,” naming the clouds, jumping rope, and being grownup in high-heeled shoes until they “get tired of being beautiful.”  Each piece seems separate until you see her basic ambivalence about growing up and becoming sexually attractive. Esperanza describes the constricted lives of the neighborhood women like Rafaela  “who is still young but is getting old from leaning out her window so much, gets locked indoors because her husband is afraid Rafaela will run away since it is too beautiful to look at.”  Her response is to “begin my own quiet war,” by being “the one who leaves the table like a man, without putting back the chair or picking up the plate.”  Sexuality is more confusing to her as she observes it around her and feels its urges in herself.  In the end Esperanza realizes that she will eventually leave Mango Street.  She is “too strong” for it to imprison her.  She dreams of her own house, “as clean as a paper before the poetry.”   But “the three sisters” have told her she must always return to speak for those who can’t speak or leave.   By writing about those people, she not only returns to her roots, but brings her readers along.

Esperanza’s voice resembles that of the young narrator in Carmelo. Both write slightly irregular English, although Cisneros seldom uses Spanish in this book.  Sentences range from very short to very long and breathless.  While there are many special lines to quote, Cisneros often understates points or leaves her readers to interpret what has happened.  Toni Morrison has written about how she draws readers in by pushing them to imagine what is not said.  I found that Cisneros did that to me, leaving me thinking she had said more than she actually did.

The House on Mango Street is a wonderful book that I recommend to everyone.  It is a small, very accessible book, suitable for high school or college classes or any other readers.  Those who grew up in neighborhoods like Cisneros’ will recognize and appreciate her descriptions.  Those of us who did not will realize the limitations of our more privileged childhoods and the universal ambiguities of approaching adulthood.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 31, 2013 11:19 am

    A fine review. I should love to read this book. 🙂

  2. don't read permalink
    May 13, 2013 4:43 pm

    Good review. I have read the book and it was not very good. None of the stories or vignettes went together. The book made no sense.

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