The House on Mango Street | Study Guide

Sandra Cisneros

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The House on Mango Street | Chapters 37–40 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 37: What Sally Said

Sally's father abuses her. She assures Esperanza he "never hits [her] hard"—he's just afraid she's going to turn out like his sisters, who "made the family ashamed." She tells everyone at school she fell down the stairs, but they all know she's lying. Sally decides to stay with the Corderos for a while, but her father shows up a few hours after she gets there. His eyes are "little from crying," and he promises he won't hit her again. She goes home with him. Not long after, he catches her talking to a boy and beats her with his belt so badly she can't go to school for a few days.

Chapter 38: The Monkey Garden

The neighborhood garden near Esperanza's house used to be inhabited by a mean monkey owned by a family from the South. The family moved, and now the garden is a safe place to play once again. Its vegetation grows wild, and soon broken cars begin to appear "overnight like mushrooms." Esperanza wants to play in the back of the garden with the other kids, but Sally wants to stay near the street with Tito and his friends. Esperanza goes by herself. When she comes back, Sally is trying to get her keys back from the boys, who want kisses in exchange. This infuriates Esperanza. She runs upstairs to Tito's apartment to tattle to Tito's mother, who doesn't want to get involved. Esperanza runs back to the garden "where Sally needed to be saved." She brandishes sticks and a brick as weapons, but the boys and Sally look at her like she's crazy. Sally tells her to go home. Ashamed, Esperanza hides in the jungle-like brush of the garden and wishes she would die. When she emerges from her hiding place, everything feels different. The garden is no longer hers.

Chapter 39: Red Clowns

Esperanza and Sally are at a carnival. Sally leaves with a boy and makes plans to meet with Esperanza by the red clowns. She never comes back. Esperanza is surrounded by a group of boys. One grabs her arm and kisses her, his breath sour. "I love you, Spanish girl," he says. Esperanza's narration turns into a plea to Sally for answers. Why didn't Sally come when Esperanza called her name? Why didn't Sally make the boys stop? Why did she leave Esperanza all alone? Why did she and the books and the magazines lie about how good it would be? Esperanza insists she doesn't remember what happened in the dark and then begs, "Please don't make me tell it all."

Chapter 40: Linoleum Roses

Sally marries a marshmallow salesman she met at a school bazaar. They wed in another state, "where it's legal to get married before eighth grade." Sally says she's in love, but Esperanza thinks she got married to escape her father's house. Sally seems happy. Her husband gives her money to buy things, but he also gets so angry he kicks holes in the walls. Sally isn't allowed to talk on the phone or have visitors or look out the window. She stays home all day and looks at everything they own, admiring "the linoleum roses on the floor, the ceiling smooth as wedding cake."

Analysis

Esperanza's friendship with Sally is very different than the one she had with Lucy and Rachel (who are hardly mentioned once Sally enters the picture). Lucy and Rachel played dress up and pretended to be grown up, but Sally actually seems grown-up. She wears nylons and makeup and prefers flirting with boys to playing in the monkey garden with the younger kids. Esperanza is stuck somewhere in the middle. She wants to play in the overgrown garden, but she doesn't feel like it belongs to her anymore. She wants to be with Sally, but she doesn't trust Tito and his friends. She is stuck in the gray area of adolescence, which is particularly uncomfortable because it is the exact opposite of what she desires most of all: a place where she feels like she belongs.

The longer Esperanza is friends with Sally, the less innocent she becomes. Sally's sexual allure and ugly home life reveal the inherent dangers of being female in a patriarchal culture, and Esperanza herself is eventually exposed to harm. She learns men are unable to control themselves around women and show their power by making physical claims to women's bodies. Cisneros builds the tension throughout the novel by showing men progressively assert their entitlement to the feminine form—the bum offers Rachel money to kiss him, the Asian man forcefully kisses Esperanza, the boys make Sally kiss all of them—culminating with Esperanza's rape. This moment shatters any childish notions Esperanza had about love, sex, and her friendship with Sally. She blames Sally, not the boys, for her sexual assault and for making her think sex would be great. "Why did you leave me alone?" she asks, saying, "I waited my whole life. You're a liar."

Sally lies to survive. In their neighborhood, women are expected to be girlfriends, wives, and mothers. Their identities exist only in relation to men, who are allowed to experience the world while the women are confined to the home. Sally molds herself to what she thinks men want her to be, and she convinces herself she's happy even when she's being treated terribly. Men are never blamed for the less-than-desirable circumstances of the women on Mango Street. It is Sally's fault all the boys want her, so her father beats her. It is her fault the boys took her keys, so she agrees to kiss them. Her sexual appeal is her only source of power, and she exercises it as an attempt to prove she can't be controlled by any man, even her father. That tactic ends up working against her, however, as she uses it to escape her father's house and ends up legally bound to another angry man who fears her beauty and sexuality.

Sally's narrative arc is proof that Esperanza needs to focus on her inner talents, not her appearance, to escape life in the barrio. In her experience (and that of her friends), a woman's life is effectively over once she gives herself to a man. Her experience at the carnival eliminates all desire to be the target of the male gaze as well as her admiration of Sally. Sally's marriage is proof that Esperanza will not find happiness on Mango Street or anywhere else women are seen as accessories for men. She will not be content to share her space and her life with another person no matter how many toasters and dish towels fill their apartment. She will only settle for a home of her own.

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