The House on Mango Street | Study Guide

Sandra Cisneros

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Plot Summary

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the plot summary of Sandra Cisneros's novel The House on Mango Street.

The House on Mango Street | Plot Summary

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The House on Mango Street covers a year in the titular neighborhood told from the point of view of Esperanza Cordero, a young Chicana hovering in the ambiguous area between childhood and adulthood. Written without quotation marks so the text flows, the chapters read like journal entries about the topics central to Esperanza's life: the experiences of immigrants, the seemingly preordained destinies of girls and women, what it means to belong, and the hope of a future away from the patriarchal confines of the barrio.

After years of moving from apartment to apartment, Esperanza Cordero's parents purchase a small red house on Mango Street, part of an urban Latino neighborhood. The shabby little house is nothing like Esperanza's dream home, which is tidy, quiet, and completely her own. Nevertheless, adolescent Esperanza makes the best of her situation and begins exploring her new slice of the city, usually with her youngest sibling, Nenny, in tow. Esperanza's first acquaintance is Cathy, a white girl who warns Esperanza they can only be friends for a little while—her family is moving because, according to Cathy, the quality of the neighbors is going downhill. Soon after, Esperanza befriends sisters Lucy and Rachel, who are trying to find another person to invest in a used bike with them. She offers five dollars for a cut of the bike, and soon she, Lucy, and Rachel are taking it for a group test ride.

Esperanza, Nenny, Rachel, and Lucy roam the neighborhood together, snooping in junk shops and playing with the other neighborhood kids. Esperanza introduces the reader to the rest of her neighbors. She tells a few stories about the men and boys in the neighborhood, but her focus is primarily on the lives of women. Esperanza thinks a lot about what it means to be a woman, particularly in the barrio. Most of the women she knows stay in their homes all day, watching the world go by through their windows as they wait for their husbands to come home. The girls close to Esperanza's age are almost entirely focused on men and how men perceive them.

Even Esperanza isn't immune to the thrill accompanying the stares of men and boys in the neighborhood. Heads swivel as she, Rachel, and Lucy stomp down the street in second-hand high heels, and they find the power intoxicating until a bum coaxes Rachel over and asks her to kiss him. An invisible line crossed, the girls run home and hide the shoes, tacitly agreeing to never wear them again. Despite the scare, the lure of adulthood remains strong, and Esperanza can't resist wondering about how her body will change and if certain boys will like her. She gravitates toward Sally, a girl at school known for her good looks and for the rumors whispered about her in the boys' locker room. Sally's father thinks her beauty will only bring her trouble, and he physically punishes her when she attracts male attention. This only seems to make Sally even more interested in boys. Esperanza envies Sally's style and attitude, and she is certain she has found a kindred spirit in the popular girl.

Sally takes Esperanza under her wing, but it appears that she's more interested in boys than in her new friend. She always chooses the company of boys over Esperanza, which ultimately leads to Esperanza's rape at the local carnival. The experience is almost too horrible for Esperanza to talk about. She is furious with Sally, not only for leaving her alone to go off with another boy, but also for filling her head with lies about how great sex can be. The two friends don't talk much after that. Sally gets married even though she's not yet in eighth grade, and she becomes like all the other young wives on Mango Street, locked in her apartment until her husband comes home.

Esperanza reunites with Lucy and Rachel at the wake for their recently deceased baby sister. While there she meets three elderly sisters who read her palm. They can tell she will leave Mango Street someday, and one of them reminds her she must always return. They help Esperanza understand that Mango Street is a part of who she is. She will never be able to escape it, so she should embrace it instead. At the end of the novel she vows to leave the neighborhood so that she can come back to help those who aren't able to leave.

The House on Mango Street Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 The Cordero family moves to Mango Street.

Rising Action

2 Cathy's family moves away from the changing neighborhood.

3 A bum offers to pay high-heeled Rachel for a kiss.

4 An old man kisses Esperanza without her consent.

5 Geraldo is killed, but the authorities don't seem to care.

6 Esperanza is humiliated after trying to protect Sally.


7 Esperanza is raped by a boy while other boys watch.

Falling Action

8 Sally gets married.


9 Esperanza promises to always come back to Mango Street.

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