The House on Mango Street | Study Guide

Sandra Cisneros

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The House on Mango Street | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street, published in 1984, is a poignant tale of a Chicana girl growing up in an impoverished neighborhood of a large city. The story focuses on the protagonist Esperanza's struggle to find an identity independent of what she perceives to be in many ways an oppressive and limiting barrio (or "neighborhood") culture.

Cisneros wrote the novel with heavily autobiographical undertones, reflective of her own attempts to break free of expectations for Chicana women as well as the difficulties of growing up as the child of immigrants in a low-income area. The novel has been praised for its unique style and themes of empowerment but also criticized for its passages detailing Esperanza's attempts to negotiate her developing sexuality in a culture that is often regarded as extremely patriarchal. The House on Mango Street has achieved the status of a modern classic for its bold challenges to preconceived notions about Chicana women, immigrants in America, and the hardships faced by youth growing up in urban poverty.

1. Cisneros said The House on Mango Street was "written out of rage."

In an interview, Cisneros stated that during her graduate studies, when she began writing The House on Mango Street, she found the academic atmosphere incredibly discouraging. She remembered finding her classmates' backgrounds very different than her own and realized she had little in common with them. She explained,"I was so angry, so intimidated by my classmates that I wanted to quit. But ... I found a way to write."

2. Cisneros didn't make any money from The House on Mango Street for more than a decade after its publication.

Cisneros finished writing The House on Mango Street at age 28. Although the novel's acclaim and popularity has led it to be considered an "overnight success," Cisneros noted that she didn't really profit from the book's publication and royalties until she was nearly 40. Her disappointment from not being able to support herself through writing alone made her feel like a failure, and she often needed to work day jobs of various sorts.

3. Cisneros isn't sure The House on Mango Street should be called a "coming-of-age classic."

The House on Mango Street traces the formative years of a girl trying to find her place in the world, which has led many critics to refer to it as a "coming-of-age classic." However, when asked about her attitude regarding this label, Cisneros expressed skepticism, explaining,

Well, I don't know if it's a coming-of-age classic because it's kind of early to say ... There are lots of writers that become valuable in their time and then later become a bit archaic. So I don't know.

4. The House on Mango Street was banned by Arizona schools.

A 2012 bill passed in Arizona banned certain ethnic studies classes that included literature by famous Latino authors. The ban was widely criticized and protested as an attempt to "whitewash" Arizona's educational curriculum. The House on Mango Street was one of the books targeted by the ban, which was enacted on the grounds that such reading material encourages skepticism against American values.

Tony Diaz, an organizer of protests against the policy, joked, "I've read The House on Mango Street 20 times, and I have not read where the young protagonist, Esperanza, said a word about overthrowing the government."

5. The House on Mango Street challenges traditional gender roles.

Critics have noted that Esperanza's desire to break free from her neighborhood is not limited to a desire to escape poverty but also to escape strict gender roles she finds oppressive within her culture. Esperanza's discovery of her own feminist values, which contradict the prescribed domestic roles for Chicana women, are a crucial part of her character development throughout the novel. In keeping with this idea, Cisneros dedicates the novel "a las mujeres," or, "to the women."

6. Cisneros wanted The House on Mango Street to speak to the working class.

Cisneros wrote The House on Mango Street in an accessible voice for her intended audience—working- class readers. Having writtenThe House on Mango Street as a semi-autobiographical novel, Cisneros wanted the text to be easily read by people like those she remembered from her youth—particularly people who spent all day working with little time to devote to reading. In an interview, she explained,"I wanted something that was accessible to ... someone who comes home with their feet hurting like my father."

7. Scholars believe The House on Mango Street shatters longstanding Chicana archetypes.

Scholars have noted that Chicana women are often portrayed in literature in one of two distinct and confining stereotypes: the "malinche" figure, shown to be untrustworthy and sexually debauched, and the "Virgen de Guadalupe" figure, shown to be pure and virginal.

Throughout The House on Mango Street, Esperanza encounters characters representative of both archetypes and notably dismisses each as a role model. In this way, Cisneros's protagonist rebels against these limiting categories for Chicana women.

8. Cisneros was the first Chicana author to be included in The Norton Anthology of American Literature.

In 1998 Cisneros became the first Chicana author to have her work included in The Norton Anthology of American Literature, considered by many the most prestigious and noteworthy literary collection from the United States. Her 1991 collection of short stories entitled Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories was featured. One scholar described this milestone of literary success by noting, "Cisneros has in many ways become the representative Chicana in the reconstruction of the canon."

9. Cisneros includes the concept of the Christian Trinity in The House on Mango Street.

Cisneros incorporates a great deal of abstract religious symbolism in the novel. To show the importance of Catholicism to Chicana culture, Aunt Lupe, who encourages Esperanza "to create," is like the Virgin Mary. In addition, the amusement park garden in which Esperanza is sexually harassed is like a contemporary garden of Eden, filled with both beauty and terrible dangers.

10. Cisneros's father did not support her writing.

Cisneros's father was not convinced that daughters needed education and viewed Cisneros's college years primarily as an opportunity to find a suitable husband. Cisneros reflected:

In retrospect, I'm lucky my father believed daughters were meant for husbands. It meant it didn't matter if I majored in something silly like English.

Thus, while her father did not object to her major, he never expected her to turn her studies into a career to support herself.

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