Course Hero. "The House on Mango Street Study Guide." Course Hero. 3 May 2017. Web. 31 May 2023. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-House-on-Mango-Street/>.
Course Hero. (2017, May 3). The House on Mango Street Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved May 31, 2023, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-House-on-Mango-Street/
(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "The House on Mango Street Study Guide." May 3, 2017. Accessed May 31, 2023. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-House-on-Mango-Street/.
Course Hero, "The House on Mango Street Study Guide," May 3, 2017, accessed May 31, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-House-on-Mango-Street/.
Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 1–4 of Sandra Cisneros's novel The House on Mango Street.
Esperanza Cordero and her family recently moved to a house on Mango Street. Before that, the family of six—Mama, Papa, brothers Carlos and Kiki, and sisters Esperanza and Nenny—had bounced from apartment to apartment. The children had always been promised they would one day move into "a real house that would be [theirs] for always so [they] wouldn't have to move each year." The house on Mango Street is indeed their house, but it isn't the house of their dreams. The three bedrooms are shared, as is the one bathroom, and the exterior of the house is in need of repair. The yard is nearly nonexistent, and there's "a small garage for the car [they] don't even own yet" out back. It's better than living in their last apartment, but it also isn't a source of pride. Mama and Papa say this house is only temporary, but Esperanza "know[s] how those things go."
Everyone in Esperanza's family has a different type of hair. Her hair "never obeys barrettes or bands," while Nenny's is "slippery—slides out of your hand." Mama's hair is the best of all, "like little rosettes" thanks to her pincurls. When Esperanza tucks her head into her mother's hair, she smells "the warm smell of bread before you bake it" and feels safe.
Esperanza's brothers are best friends, and Esperanza thinks Nenny is too young to be her friend. "She's just my sister and that was not my fault," Esperanza says. Until Nenny is no longer her responsibility, Esperanza will have to go without a best friend, which makes her feel like "a red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor."
Esperanza doesn't like her name, which means "hope" in English. It's too long and feels sad, like "the Mexican records [her] father plays on Sunday mornings ... songs like sobbing." She's named after her great-grandmother, a "wild horse of a woman" who had no intention of marrying until Esperanza's great-grandfather "threw a sack over her head and carried her off" like she was "a fancy chandelier." After that, Esperanza's great-grandmother "looked out the window her whole life." Esperanza has no intention of following in her grandmother's footsteps, and she'd like to give herself a new name that fits her better, such as Zeze the X.
The house on Mango Street is a departure from the Cordero family's old way of life—always renting, always moving from one run-down apartment to the next—and makes them feel as if they are moving up in the world. Yet Esperanza can't help but be disappointed by the little house. It is too small, too run-down, too much like their old places of residence. Though her parents assure her it's only temporary, Esperanza knows this house is the best her family is going to be able to do, and that's not enough for her. She longs for a home she can point to with pride, not shame.
Her feelings about the house mirror her feelings about her future. Unlike the other women in her family and in the neighborhood, Esperanza will not settle for a life limited to marriage and motherhood. Her dreams are bigger than that. This makes her different from everyone else in her life, which appears to be a point of pride. That's why she wants to "baptize [her]self under a new name, a name more like the real [her]." She is not ashamed to want more out of life than her mother and great-grandmother achieved, and she doesn't fear the reactions of those who think her gender and heritage limit her capabilities. Esperanza is old enough to know what she wants while still young enough to be optimistic about her chances of rising above her circumstances.
Yet Esperanza's "otherness" from her family and the traditional ideas of what Mexican American women should be is also a source of isolation. She feels it keenly in her relationships with her brothers, whose maleness prevents them from publicly palling around with their sisters. Little Nenny is too young to be anything but a nuisance, but Esperanza's gender and status as the older sister dictates they must stick together. Esperanza is more of a mother to Nenny than a friend, which in turn prevents Esperanza from having "a best friend all [her] own." She wants a companion who truly understands her.