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The House on Mango Street | Study Guide

Sandra Cisneros

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Chapters 21–24

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 21–24 of Sandra Cisneros's novel The House on Mango Street.

The House on Mango Street | Chapters 21–24 | Summary



Chapter 21: The First Job

Esperanza's Aunt Lala works at Peter Pan Photo Finishers. She gets Esperanza a job there matching film negatives to their photographic prints. Esperanza is uncomfortable and unsure of herself, and she eats lunch in a bathroom stall on her first day. She goes into the coatroom a few hours later during her break and meets "an older Oriental man" who offers to be her friend. He tells her it's his birthday and asks for a kiss. Esperanza is about to kiss him on the cheek when he "grabs [her] face with both hands and kisses [her] hard on the mouth."

Chapter 22: Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark

Esperanza's grandmother is dead. Papa sits on Esperanza's bed and cries, and Esperanza doesn't know what to do beyond telling her siblings they have to be quiet today. She holds her Papa and thinks about what she would do if he died.

Chapter 23: Born Bad

Esperanza is pretty sure she deserves to go to hell because she, Rachel, and Lucy made each other laugh by doing scathing imitations of Esperanza's aunt Lupe. Aunt Lupe used to be a swimmer, but now she is gravely ill with an unspecified ailment. She is blind and confined to her bed, her legs "bunched under the yellow sheets, the bones gone limp as worms." Aunt Lupe is sick for so long that Esperanza and her friends forget she is dying, but she does die—on the very day the girls imitate her. Esperanza, Lucy, and Rachel are horrified by their actions, but Esperanza feels especially guilty because Aunt Lupe had always been so enthusiastic about her writing. Now that Aunt Lupe is gone, Esperanza and her friends dream about hell.

Chapter 24: Elenita, Cards, Palm, Water

Esperanza visits Elenita, the "witch woman," to have her fortune told. Elenita reads the tarot cards and tells Esperanza she will encounter jealousy and sorrow as well as a "mattress of luxury." "What about a house?" Esperanza asks, noting, "That's what I came for." Elenita says she sees "a home in the heart." Elenita can see Esperanza is disappointed and offers to look at the cards again. "A home in the heart, I was right," she says. Esperanza still doesn't understand, but she pays five dollars and leaves.


As Esperanza matures, she begins to take notice of the darkness in everyday life. She learns adults are not invincible—her father feels sorrow like everyone else, though he doesn't often show it, and her aunt's formerly strong body is wrecked by disease. She understands bad things can happen to good people, just as good people—such as Esperanza and her friends—are capable of bad things. It all comes down to fate, which Esperanza believes in but doesn't always understand. She automatically assumes she's going to hell because she was "born on an evil day" and therefore does bad things, but she can't figure out why her aunt was selected for such a terrible fate. "There was no evil in her birth. No wicked curse," Esperanza says. She concludes disease doesn't care who you are—it will take the good just as easily as it will take the bad.

Esperanza's belief in preordained destinies is what brings her to Elenita's house. She wants to know what her future holds, most notably whether she will ever have a house worthy of her dreams. Elenita's response goes over Esperanza's head—she can't figure out what Elenita means when she says Esperanza's home will be in her heart. Esperanza has pinned her hopes to a building that will signal a change in her fortune, but Elenita is cautioning her that no such place exists. True happiness comes from one's soul, not one's surroundings. Esperanza is too young to understand this, as evidenced by her impulse to watch cartoons with the baby instead of having her cards read by Elenita. Still thinking like a child, she focuses on the physical, not the spiritual.

Esperanza may still think like a child at times, but she is beginning to look like an adult, which once again attracts unwanted attention. This time it's an older Asian man, and unlike the bum in Chapter 17, "The Family of Little Feet," he manages to get his lips on her. Esperanza's experience with her new "friend" speaks toward the predatory nature of males in relation to younger females, irrespective of culture or ethnicity. Esperanza's innocence prevents her from suspecting anything untoward in the older man's offer of friendship, and her shock at his actions renders her unable to stop him. Esperanza is learning the ugly truth about the disparities in power between men and women through her firsthand experiences of male entitlement. It appears as if men simply can't control themselves around women. Esperanza doesn't explicitly state what happens after the man kisses her, but the first sentence of Chapter 21, "The First Job," indicates she gave up her job after only one day: "It wasn't as if I didn't want to work," she explains. This can be read as an apology; she did want to work, but she couldn't keep the job after the man kissed her. This interpretation shows Esperanza's guilt about the man's actions, which ties into the theme of sexual awakening and the recurring idea that women need to protect their sexuality from men.

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