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The House on Mango Street | Motifs

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Women by Windows

Many of the married women in The House on Mango Street have to content themselves with looking out the windows instead of leaving their houses and apartments. The first instance of this phenomena is in Chapter 4, "My Name." Esperanza's great-grandmother Esperanza used to be wild, but after she married "she looked out the window her whole life." Because of marriage, "she couldn't be all the things she wanted to be." Rafaela, Minerva, and Sally also all have to stay inside after marriage. Their husbands act as if it is for their protection, but it's really because they feel threatened by their wives' beauty and sexuality. Rafaela, for example, is locked inside her apartment because "her husband is afraid [she] will run away since she is too beautiful to look at." In Esperanza's estimation, marriage leads to a loss of freedom and independence. She doesn't want to become one of the "many women [who] sit their sadness on an elbow," trapped in their homes by marriage vows and watching everyone live their lives. Their plights are exactly what Esperanza is trying to avoid.

Names

Names are of particular importance in The House on Mango Street. Esperanza realizes early on in the novel that a name isn't just something to call oneself—it's an identity. She doesn't like her name because it ties her to her great-grandmother, whose life came to a halt after marrying. She would rather be called something dramatic, such as "Zeze the X," which she thinks better represents who she is than "Esperanza." She doesn't make the connection between her given name and its English meaning: hope. Esperanza has enormous hopes for herself—leaving the barrio, becoming a writer, and finding a home she can call her own. That, not "Zeze the X," is the real her.

Esperanza is one of the only characters in the book with just one first name. Some people, such as Nenny, have nicknames, while others, such as Meme Ortiz, have different names in Spanish and English. Those characters have dual identities. Magdalena is a dutiful girl while at school, but she comes home and becomes fun and carefree Nenny. Meme's given name is Juan, but only his mother calls him that. Juan is his Latino identity while Meme is his American persona. Esperanza appears to envy people who have more than one name because they get to present different parts of themselves at different times.

Esperanza's singular identity makes her feel unimportant compared to those with more names. As she points out in Chapter 16, "And Some More," Eskimos have 30 different names for snow because snow is so important to them. Even clouds aren't just "clouds"—they are "cumulus," "nimbus," and several more. Following that line of thinking, people should have dozens of different names to represent every facet of their personality. Having only one is too confining.

Sky

Esperanza believes one "can never have too much sky," but on Mango Street "there is too much sadness and not enough sky." It is hard to see the sky in Esperanza's urban neighborhood, but there's plenty of sky where her father works, in the fancy neighborhoods on top of the hills. Esperanza equates a person's ability to see the open sky with their social status. Those with money can afford to be "close to the stars" and therefore closer to the sky, while the poor have to live "too much on earth" with tall buildings blocking their view. Esperanza's love of the sky parallels her hopes to leave the barrio for a better life.

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