The purpose of this paper is to introduce, discuss, and analyze the book “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros. Specifically, it will discuss the theme of search for self-definition. The protagonist of this novel, Esperanza, narrates a series of “chapters”, called vignettes, concerning her life, her world, and the barrio as she sees it happening around her. Throughout the book, as Esperanza watches the world, she struggles to discover just who she is, and where she fits in the world around her.
This self-definition is a compelling theme of the novel, but it also shows the difficulties many young Latinas face as they come of age in America. Published in 1984, many critics believe “The House on Mango Street” is one of the best Chicana stories written. Author Sandra Cisneros writes with knowledge and pathos of growing up Latina in America because she herself experienced the difficulties of growing up in multi-cultural family. Her mother is Mexican-American and her father is Mexican, and she spent her childhood “commuting” between homes in Mexico and Chicago (Kevane 47).
She graduated from Loyola University in 1976, and attended the Iowa Writers Workshop in 1978, where she wrote the draft for this novel about coming of age and multi-culturalism in American barrios. “The House on Mango Street” is more than just the story of Esperanza and her family. It is the story of Latinos in America and the difficulties they face as they attempt to make better lives for themselves in the cities and towns of America. Esperanza watches the goings on in her neighborhood with an eye for detail and discovery. Critic Annie O.
Eysturoy writes, “Sandra Cisneros gives voice to the ordinary experiences of a young Chicana by letting Esperanza tell her own coming-of-age story” (Eysturoy 89). Esperanza literally grows up as the book progresses and becomes more aware of herself as a woman, a Latina, and simply a person. She struggles with her own self-image as most young girls do. Cisneros writes poignantly, “I’m wearing the new dress, pink and white with stripes, and new underclothes and new socks and the old saddle shoes I wear to school, brown and white […]
My feet scuffed and round, and the heels all crooked that look dumb with this dress, so I just sit” (Cisneros 47). As Esperanza becomes more aware of herself, she becomes more aware of the young men of the neighborhood, and their hopes and dreams. Cisneros captures her unrest and growing self-discovery perfectly when she writes, “Everything is holding its breath inside me. Everything is waiting to explode like Christmas. I want to be all new and shiny. I want to sit out bad at night, a boy around my neck and the wind under my skirt” (Cisneros 73).