The House on Mango Street | Study Guide

Sandra Cisneros

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The House on Mango Street | Chapters 33–36 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 33: Minerva Writes Poems

Minerva is just a few years older than Esperanza, but she is already married with two kids. Her husband keeps leaving her, and she is always sad. She writes poems every night after the kids go to bed. Sometimes she and Esperanza read each other's poetry. One day Minerva kicks out her husband for good and throws all of his stuff out the window. He comes back later and pitches a rock through the same window. He says he's sorry. The next week, "she comes over black and blue and asks what can she do?" Esperanza doesn't know.

Chapter 34: Bums in the Attic

Esperanza wants her own house on a hill "like the ones with the gardens where Papa works." She used to join her family on Sundays to drive through the well-kept neighborhoods, but she doesn't go anymore, because she is ashamed at "all of us staring out the window like the hungry" while Mama talks about how life will be when they win the lottery. Esperanza thinks people who live on hills sleep closer to the stars and so forget what life is like for everyone else. When she gets her own place, she'll remember where she came from. She'll let bums sleep in the attic because she knows "how it is to be without a house." She won't keep the bums a secret. She'll proudly announce their presence to all her guests.

Chapter 35: Beautiful & Cruel

Esperanza doesn't have Nenny's beauty, and she knows she can't wait for a man to rescue her from her circumstances. She idolizes the "beautiful and cruel" woman from the movies who has red lips and "drives the men crazy and laughs them all away." Women like that keep their power for themselves. Esperanza, who vows to never be "tame like the others," begins her own resistance, leaving the dinner table "like a man, without putting back the chair or picking up the plate."

Chapter 36: A Smart Cookie

Esperanza's mother is smart and talented—she's bilingual, she can sing opera, and she can even fix a television—but there are also some things she can't do on her own, such as use the subway to get downtown. She warns Esperanza to stay in school and study hard. "I could've been somebody, you know?" Mama says, before explaining she dropped out of school because she was ashamed of her clothes. "No clothes, but I had brains," she says, sounding disgusted with herself.

Analysis

Esperanza wants to leave Mango Street so badly that it literally pains her to listen to her mother's far-fetched dreams about living in the fancy neighborhoods in which her father works. Esperanza doesn't want to just fantasize about her future—she wants to make her dreams a reality. Her brains, not her beauty, are her ticket out of the barrio. Though she has never met anyone who has actually left the neighborhood, she has seen a lot of examples of what not to do:

  • She must not give in to temptation when it comes to boys. Sex with boys leads to babies, which are like a ball and chain tethering women to the barrio. From Esperanza's point of view, the men and boys who trap the neighborhood girls into relationships either use violence to control their partners or abandon the family altogether. If Esperanza lets herself be carried away by a smooth-talking boy, her future could easily look like Minerva's present. She, too, would be stuck on Mango Street, crying all day and writing sad poetry after the children go to bed.
  • She must not let herself be ashamed by her current circumstances. Mama understands how desperately Esperanza wants to leave Mango Street and tells her point-blank the only way that's going to happen is if she focuses on her strengths, which includes her intelligence, and lets go of the things she can't control. Mama is a constant reminder to Esperanza that the only path out of the barrio is hard work. Dreams and talent aren't enough on their own.
  • She must learn to be wholly independent. Mama is smart, but she's also somewhat sheltered. She doesn't know how to navigate the subway on her own, most likely because she has always been in the company of her father or husband when going downtown. Her lack of independence ties her to their dingy family dwellings and dampens her self-confidence. There will probably come a time in her life, either through death or divorce, that she will no longer have a man to take care of her and she will be forced to figure everything out on her own. It is better for Esperanza to become independent now instead of waiting until it's too late.

Though Esperanza is eager to leave Mango Street, she also doesn't want to forget where she comes from. She assumes the people who live in the fancy houses are snobs, and she doesn't want to be anything like them. Though Esperanza is often ashamed of where she lives, she's also fiercely proud of the people she knows. She can see the good in everyone, even those who look rough and act tough. Her vow to let bums live in her attic in Chapter 34 is evidence that she intends to be the same person even after her circumstances change. Empathetic and kind, she will judge people by what is in their hearts, not by what they are wearing. She believes all people, no matter where they start in life, should be able to rest their head in a place that feels like home.

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