The House on Mango Street | Study Guide

Sandra Cisneros

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The House on Mango Street | Chapters 9–12 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 9: Meme Ortiz

Meme Ortiz's family moves into Cathy's old house. There's a huge tree in the backyard "with fat arms and mighty families of squirrels in the higher branches." The neighborhood kids use the tree for the First Annual Tarzan Jumping Contest. Meme wins, but he breaks both of his arms.

Chapter 10: Louie, His Cousin & His Other Cousin

Louie lives in the basement of Meme's house with his family, which includes his older cousin Marin. Louie's other cousin came around only once, when he took all the neighborhood kids for a ride in a stolen yellow Cadillac. The police finally caught up with him and took him to jail. As they drove away, all the kids waved goodbye.

Chapter 11: Marin

Marin is older than Esperanza. She has a boyfriend back in Puerto Rico, and she's saving money from babysitting and selling Avon cosmetics so they can get married when she goes back home. She plans to get a job downtown next year because "you always get to look beautiful and get to wear nice clothes," and there's a good chance you'll meet someone "who might marry you and take you to live in a big house far away."

Marin doesn't get to leave the house much. Even when she's not babysitting, the farthest she's allowed to go is the front yard. She and the younger neighborhood girls sit on the porch and wait for the boys to come look at them. Marin attracts a lot of attention because, as Esperanza says, she's "already older than us in many ways," but Marin welcomes it. She's ready for "someone to change her life."

Chapter 12: Those Who Don't

People who wander into Esperanza's neighborhood are scared of its inhabitants, but Esperanza says there's nothing to be scared of. She knows her neighbors wouldn't hurt anyone. "All brown all around, we are safe," she says. But when she and her friends venture into "a neighborhood of another color," their knees go "shakity-shake."

Analysis

Esperanza's neighborhood is built on common cultural ties. Though most of the residents are Latino, they all have roots in different countries. Esperanza, for example, is Mexican American, while Louie and his family are Puerto Rican. Despite the differences in origin, they still have things in common, such as language and skin tone. These similarities foster interpersonal connections and a sense of belonging. Esperanza isn't scared of the people in her neighborhood because they look and talk like her. Surprisingly self-aware for a young teenager, she understands prejudice and fear are instincts, not conscious decisions. She can't blame visitors to the neighborhood for being scared because she feels scared when she goes to white or black neighborhoods. She also makes the point that it's hard to be scared of someone after you take the time to actually get to know them, as she does her neighbors.

Esperanza's life on Mango Street is conveyed through her descriptions of the people who live there, such as Meme Ortiz. Every detail, whether it seems important or not, helps the reader better understand the people in Esperanza's life. For example, Cisneros could have explicitly said Meme Ortiz is a poor, bilingual boy with daredevil tendencies. Instead she describes his family's closetless house with slanting floors, his dog with two names, and his victory in the First Annual Tarzan Jumping Contest. Cisneros's vivid descriptions ensure her characters do not become caricatures of Latino stereotypes.

Marin is the most significant character in this section of the book. Older than Esperanza but not yet old enough to marry, she is idolized by the younger girls on the block. The things she teaches the girls—how to attract boys, how babies are made, how to be prettier—speak to the limitations put on women, particularly Latinas, during Esperanza's teenage years. Though the feminist movement was growing across the United States, many people still believed a woman's place was in the home. Marriage and children were expected for women, particularly in patriarchal communities such as Esperanza's. Marin doesn't appear to resent this the way Esperanza does. In fact she seems to view marriage as a way to escape her current situation. She'll either move home to Puerto Rico and marry someone she loves or meet someone in America who will give her a better life "in a big house far away." In either case marriage is the answer to her problems. Because Marin is older and supposedly wiser, the younger girls view Marin's behavior and dreams as a template for their own. As they grow up, the younger neighborhood girls will emulate them. This chain of cultural expectations is hard to break, even for Esperanza, who isn't all that interested in getting married. The cachet of the cool girl is hard to resist.

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