The House on Mango Street

What role does culture play in the House on Mango Street ? And how does it affect Esperanza.


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Esperanza keenly observes the struggles of Hispanic Americans who wish to preserve the essence of their heritage while striving to forge productive lives within American culture. It is through the sordid details of the lives of Esperanza' s neighbors that we glimpse the humorous, moving, and tragic sides of these struggles. Esperanza's community serves as a microcosm of Latinos in America, and her own identity is interwoven with the identity of the neighborhood. People in the barrio relate to one another because of a shared past and current experience. In "Those Who Don't," Esperanza considers the stereotypes and fears that whites have of Latinos and vice versa Cisneros weaves together popular beliefs, traditions, and other vestiges of the countries from which she and her neighbors trace their ancestry. In "No Speak English," for example, an old woman paints her walls pink to recall the colorful appearance of the houses in Mexico, a seemingly hopeless gesture in the drab underbelly of Chicago. She wails when her grandson sings the lyrics to an American television commercial but cannot speak Spanish. The tragic Mamacita risks losing her identity if she assimilates, like her little grandson, into American culture. In "Elenita, Cards, Palm, Water," the so-called "witch woman" of the neighborhood preserves the old wives' tales, superstitions, and traditional remedies for curing headaches, forgetting an old flame, and curing insomnia.

Despite these ties to the past, Esperanza leaves no doubt that she is destined to leave this neighborhood for a bigger world outside the barrio, an allusion to her dual cultural loyalties. Esperanza believes that one day she will own her own house outside the neighborhood. However, she also leaves no doubt that she will return one day for those unable to leave the environment on their own. In "Bums in the Attic," for example, she describes how she will let bums sleep in the attic of her house one day, "because I know how it is to be without a house." In "The Three Sisters,"' Esperanza gives further foreshadowing that she will one day leave Mango Street, but will return to help others. "You will always be Mango Street,"' three ladles tell her. "You can't erase what you know. You can't forget who you are." Esperanza leaves the reader with the notion that she will leave but will not forget her roots. Though she does not always want to belong to this environment, she realizes that her roots are too strong to resist The books and papers Esperanza takes with her at the end of the book are her means of freedom from the ugly house and the social constraints on the neighborhood.