The House on Mango Street - Discovering Womanhood in the Hood

Discovering Womanhood in the Hood

Everyone does it. Everyone has to grow up sometime, and growing up brings many circumstances that can alter how people live. Changes in life can often decide how people see and experience different things in life; a young persons optimism could be shattered by the death of a loved one, or moving to a new neighborhood could set someone’s social adeptness back a forever. In The House on Mango Street, Esperanza’s slowly evolving maturity and sexuality change the way she perceives and views the men and women of Mango Street, as well as herself.

A pertinent observer, Esperanza expresses her changing opinions of men in a gradually disdainful and eventually overlooking way. Her first time mentioning men in the story is an observation that her brothers only talk to her when they are in the house together, outside of the house they don’t even act like they know her, “They’ve got plenty to say to me and Nenny inside the house. But outside they can’t be seen talking to girls.” says a young and confused Esperanza (9). Meme Ortiz is one of the first males Esperanza mentions, but she doesn’t make much of the fact that he is a boy. In fact other than using masculine words like “he” and “his” Meme could very well be any person at all. Esperanza chooses to record such disinteresting facts such as, “Meme has a dog with grey eyes.” and “His name isn’t really Meme. His name is Juan.” (25). Esperanza’s way of observing the boys on Mango Street is simple, boys and girls are different, but that isn’t something she cares about. Having a boy as a friend or a girl is no different. The first time Esperanza seems to recognize that a boy, or the company of one, is something to be desired is in “Sire” where she depicts herself as quite flustered by the attention of what her father describes as a “punk” (91). The reader can feel Esperanza’s desire near the end of the chapter, the raw yearning of her need to feel wanted and loved, to be in the place of Sire’s girlfriend, when she says “How did you hold her? Was it? Like this? And when you kissed her? Like this?” (92). However lovesick Esperanza may have seemed in “Sire”, her view of men was irrevocably shattered in “Red Clowns”. Here she is molested, and possibly raped by a group of boys at a carnival she went to with sally. Surprisingly in the chapter she hardly focuses on the actual boys responsible and channels most of her anger towards Sally. Never the less, this overlooking of the men keeps its pace through the remainder of the book, indiscreetly showing Esperanza’s creeping distain of men.

Throughout the book, the reader will see Esperanza’s views of her fellow women start at almost a desperate clinging for a sense of comradeship and companionship, to a dislike and distrust of women as a whole. In the very beginning of the story she meets Cathy, a rude ignorant girl who is her friend, “But only till next Tuesday.” says Cathy (15). Luckily she meets two new friends, Rachel and Lucy and they stick with her till she abandons them later in the book for the more glamorous Sally. Marin is for awhile Esperanza’s role model; she sees her as independent, attractive and bold. This demeanor Marin carries only lasts for awhile, for Esperanza perceives the emptiness of Marin’s flaunting sexuality, “Marin, under the streetlight, dancing by herself, is singing the same song somewhere. I know. Is waiting for a car to stop, a star to fall, someone to change her life.” says a musing Esperanza (32). Towards the end of the story she starts to blame women for not warning each other and blame them for the large part of the troubles that prey on her. One of the most prominent instances of Esperanza losing her trust in another female was shortly after she was molested at the carnival, “Sally, you lied, you lied. He wouldn’t let me go. He said I love you, I love you, Spanish girl.” (123) Cries poor Esperanza. She has clearly lost her faith in Sally at this point, and doesn’t seem half as bothered by the fact that she was molested compared to the fact she feels betrayed by Sally.

Furthermore, throughout the novel, Esperanza searches for and changes herself. In the beginning of the book she is desperately looking for role models in characters like Marin and Alicia. She starts off in the novel as a rather pessimistic young girl, talking about how she already knows her family is not going to get the house they of which they dream. She believes that the house on Mango Street isn’t where she belongs and that her family will never get the house that they want, “For the time being, Mama says. Temporary, says Papa. But I know how those things go.”(6) Later in the book, she starts noticing her sexuality for the first time when in “The Family of Little Feet” the young Esperanza and her two friends, Rachel and Lucy, receive a few old pairs of high heeled shoes from an aunt and excitedly try them on. They decide to go parading around the neighborhood, enjoying the newfound attention they are receiving. However, this gallivant comes to a sudden halt when they encounter a bum who asks for a kiss from Rachel, “If I give you a dollar will you kiss me?” (50), makes Esperanza realize that the sexuality she has is something that can be very dangerous. Michelle Sugiyama notes this in her work, Of Woman Bondage: The Eroticism of Feet in The House on Mango Street., saying, “''This power to arouse men and to make women jealous initially exhilirates them--they "just keep strutting" (41), enjoying for the moment their position as the source rather than the object of power. This power begins to frighten them, how ever, when their bluff is called by a drunken bum who offers Rachel a dollar for a kiss.''

Throughout the course of the book, Esperanza talks about how her society doesn’t like the idea of a “strong woman” and that because she was born in the Chinese calendar of the horse, which is a strong animal, that she is strong and is being held down by her culture. She mentions that this is supposed to be bad luck to be a woman born in the year of the horse, “but I think [that] is a Chinese lie because the Chinese, like the Mexicans, don’t like their women strong.” (12) In a need to feel like she has control of her life, Esperanza decides to be like the women she has seen in movies, letting men chase her, then breaking their hearts to secure her own “power”. Saying of herself, “Her power is her own. She will not give it away.” thus she begins her journey to being a self-empowered person (110). Leaning towards feminism, or at least the sense that women should conspire and work together to avoid being dominated by women. Once again going back to her vow to be strong and not let men, or her culture keep her down.

In conclusion, the changes in ones life can often alter how they would see and experience life. In Esperanza’s case, her growing up and maturing sexuality changed not only how she viewed her friends and other women on the street, Marin, Sally, Rachel and Nenny; the men on the street, such as Sire, but also herself. This story is fiction, but it has very relatable facts and principles. One of which is that one can not stay a child forever. Life and reality force themselves in, whether it be in the form of a budding sexuality bringing forth new desires and dangers, or the dawning shame that comes from feeling inadequate in the face of peers.

Works Cited

Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1984. Print.

Sugiyama, Michelle Scalise. "Of Woman Bondage: The Eroticism of Feet in The House on Mango Street." Midwest Quarterly 41.1 (1999): 9. Academic Journal.