The House on Mango Street | Study Guide

Sandra Cisneros

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Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the symbols in Sandra Cisneros's novel The House on Mango Street.

The House on Mango Street | Symbols


High Heels

In Chapter 17, "The Family of Little Feet," Mrs. Little Feet gives Lucy, Rachel, and Esperanza three pairs of her old high heels. The new shoes make the girls feel grown-up, and they begin attracting attention as they clack their way through the barrio. Esperanza and her friends feel attractive and desirable for the first time in their lives, and the power is thrilling. As the girls strut down the street, the high heels represent their awakening as sexual beings and their transition from girlhood to womanhood. They vow never to wear any other type of shoe ever again. Their excitement soon wears off when they meet a bum in front of the neighborhood tavern. He doesn't just compliment them—he wants them to kiss him. The shoes suddenly don't seem so great after all, and the girls run home and hide them. They have realized how dangerous their newfound sexuality can be, and the act of hiding the shoes (which are eventually thrown away) reflects their tacit decision to remain children a little bit longer. Though they enjoyed the feeling of male admiration, they aren't ready to deal with the sexually charged dangers inherent to womanhood.

Monkey Garden

The overgrown garden described in Chapter 38, "The Monkey Garden," is symbolic of childhood. Esperanza and Sally are both of an age where they're not kids anymore, but they're also not adults. Each girl makes a conscious decision about how she wants to be perceived. Esperanza is not yet ready for adulthood, so she prefers to play in the garden with the younger neighborhood kids. Sally, who wants to be a grown-up, hangs out on the curb with Tito and his friends. Unlike Esperanza, she wants the boys to view her as an object of desire, not a little kid. Esperanza returns to the curb to find Sally being teased by the boys, who all want her to kiss them. When Esperanza's efforts to protect Sally are rebuffed, she flees to the "jungle part" of the garden.

Esperanza wants to forget the dangerous and adult implications of what Sally is going to do with the boys, and she naturally gravitates to the place in her life that she most associates with being young and innocent. Instead, she emerges from the garden realizing "didn't seem [to be hers] either." Witnessing the boys' sexually charged teasing of Sally—and understanding it—as well as realizing adults don't protect kids after a certain age propels Esperanza completely out of childhood. The monkey garden no longer feels like home because she no longer feels like a child.

Four Skinny Trees

The four trees standing in front of Esperanza's house are symbolic of Esperanza herself. With their "skinny necks and point elbows," the trees are reminiscent of Esperanza in appearance but also in circumstance. Like Esperanza, they "do not belong here but are here." Trees aren't meant to grown in concrete, just as Esperanza believes she isn't meant to stay in the barrio, yet the trees and Esperanza manage to survive, and even thrive, in the urban setting. The secret to their strength is deep roots. In Esperanza's case, the roots are metaphorical. Mango Street is in her blood. She grows strong there because of the support she receives from her family and friends, just like the trees stay strong by "grab[bing] the earth between their hairy toes." These figurative and literal roots keep Esperanza and the trees grounded as they reach for the smallest glimpse of bright blue sky above.

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