The House on Mango Street | Study Guide

Sandra Cisneros

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The House on Mango Street | Chapters 29–32 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 29: Four Skinny Trees

Esperanza feels a kinship between herself and the four trees the city planted in front of her house. "They are the only ones who understand me," she says, "I am the only one who understands them." The trees grow despite being planted in concrete, reaching deep into the ground and high into the sky. They are there for no other purpose than "to be and be."

Chapter 30: No Speak English

The man across the street works hard to bring his wife and their son to the United States. Everyone calls her Mamacita (in Spanish, "little mama"), though Rachel thinks she should be called "Mamasota" ("big mama") because she is so fat. Esperanza describes Mamacita as "[h]uge, enormous, beautiful to look at," decked head to toe in pink, right down to her tiny shoes. Mamacita never leaves their third floor apartment, instead spending her time sitting by the window, listening to the Spanish radio station and singing songs about home.

Some people think she's housebound because of her size, but Esperanza thinks it's because she doesn't know English. She overhears the man and Mamacita fight about "going home." "This is home. Here I am and here I stay. Speak English. Speak English. Christ!" the man shouts. Mamacita cries and then sobs even harder when the baby, now a little boy, sings along with TV commercials in English.

Chapter 31: Rafaela Who Drinks Coconut & Papaya Juice on Tuesdays

Rafaela is a young married woman whose husband doesn't let her out of the house, because he is afraid she will "run away since she is too beautiful to look at." She leans out the window and listens to the music from the bar down the street, wishing she could "dance before she gets old." Instead, she drops a dollar into the street and asks the neighborhood kids to get her a drink, usually coconut or papaya juice, and they send it up in a paper bag attached to a clothesline. Rafaela wishes for sweeter drinks, "sweet sweet like the island," and dreams of going to the dance hall where there is always "someone offering sweeter drinks, someone promising to keep them on a silver string."

Chapter 32: Sally

Esperanza is envious of Sally, who has "eyes like Egypt and nylons the color of smoke." All the boys at school have crushes on her, but she isn't allowed to date. Her father is very strict, and he says "to be this beautiful is trouble." He makes Sally comes straight home from school every day. Still, the boys tell stories about Sally in the coatroom. Esperanza wonders what Sally thinks about when she closes her eyes and leans against the schoolyard fence, now by herself since she's no longer best friends with Cheryl. Maybe she's dreaming about living in a different neighborhood full of sky and trees where no one thinks she's bad for "leaning against a car, leaning against somebody." Esperanza is sure all Sally wants is "to love and to love and to love and to love" without being called crazy.

Analysis

The three women Esperanza describes in this section are all examples of the recurring motif of women by windows. The men in Rafaela's and Sally's lives don't let them outside because of how attractive the girls are. Beautiful girls attract male attention, and men can't be trusted to control their lust. Sally's father keeps Sally on a tight leash as a means of protecting her from the fate that befell his sisters. Exactly what they did is never explicitly said, but it can be inferred they had reputations for being promiscuous or otherwise suffered because of their sexuality. Sally's father wants to protect his daughter from the same thing, but the boys already talk about her. Her beauty makes her a target of both male desire and oppression. The same is true for Rafaela, whose husband locks her in their apartment when he's not home. He doesn't want her to go out and meet another man, fall in love, and leave him behind. Esperanza envies Sally's and Rafaela's beauty, but she also realizes the men in their lives treat them more like property than people. While it would be nice to be beautiful, Esperanza knows it would also be dangerous.

Esperanza thinks Mamacita doesn't leave her apartment because she's embarrassed she doesn't know English, but it's also possible that Mamacita is frightened of her foreign surroundings. She doesn't know anyone in the neighborhood except her husband and her baby. She's incredibly homesick for her pink house and the comforts of her native land. Her husband may want to chase the American dream, but she doesn't. The way Esperanza tells it, the English language is symbolic of everything Mamacita fears. She doesn't want to change her ways and get comfortable here; she wants to go home and speak Spanish. That's why she's so distressed when her little boy begins speaking English. He is becoming more like "them" and less like her. Mamacita feels entirely alone.

Esperanza knows what it's like to feel out of place in your surroundings. She feels out of place on Mango Street, just like the four trees in her front yard. Like her, they don't fit in with the concrete landscape, yet they manage to thrive because they have each other. "Let one forget his reason for being, they'd all droop like tulips in a glass," Esperanza notes. They remind her not only to ground herself in the earth and reach for the sky, but also of the importance of a trusted friend. Esperanza's choice of Sally as a friend is a significant moment because it shows the evolution of her interests and priorities. She liked Lucy and Rachel because they were scruffy and fun to be around, just like her, but now she wants to be with beautiful and sophisticated Sally, who is a magnet for male attention. Esperanza is attracted to Sally not just because of her looks and "cool" attitude, but also because she senses a kindred spirit beneath the Cleopatra eyeliner and shiny black hair. Esperanza asks rhetorically, "Do you wish your feet would one day keep walking and take you far away ... ?" She projects her own desire to live in a nice house underneath a big sky where she "wouldn't have to worry what people said because [she] never belonged here anyway" onto Sally. Sally is different, and Esperanza feels different, so Esperanza automatically assumes they want the same things. As is revealed later in the book, it turns out they don't.

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