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Perhaps the most important theme of the book is Esperanza’ s progress from childhood to adulthood. It is no accident that the book takes place in approximately her twelfth year, when she is too old for children’s games but not old enough to be a confident adult. This confusion is in evidence in her thoughts about boys (she dreams about having adventures with them, but is afraid to talk to them and is unable to stand up for herself when they harass her.) She thinks about what kind of power womanhood will bring (she admires Sally’s control over boys and makes up rhymes about the kind of hips she wants) but does not understand the responsibilities that accompany that power.
She searches for role models in her mother and her older friends, but finds none. Her mother and aunts are too domestic, with ambitions for their children and husbands and none of their own. Older girls like Sally and Marin seem to be more in control, but Esperanza quickly realizes that their power comes from their sensuality, and is fleeting and too dependent on men. Thus, Esperanza finds that she wants to become a woman she has never met: strong, independent, and free. She does not want to worry about whether her dress is clean or about cleaning up after a man. In fact, her desire for her own house, which is perhaps the most repeated element in the book, has very much to do with her growing independence. She rejects the house on Mango, and wants a house of her own, far away, where she can become what she wants to be.
By the end of the book, Esperanza has become determined to leave--but also determined to come back for "those who cannot out," to never forget where she came from. This seems to suggest that the culmination of her maturity is her understanding that Mango Street is part of her--she can’t deny that--but it does not have to control her, or determine her destiny.
Home and Identity
Cisneros has said that she began writing "The House on Mango Street" after reading about "the poetics of space" at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. There, she learned that everyone in the class but her understood their consciousness in terms of "house" metaphors--the "house" of memory, with its different rooms, for example. Cisneros, who moved repeatedly as a child and never really felt that she belonged to the dingy houses she lived in, rejected these ideas. However, "Mango" is very much about the search for identity, as symbolized by Esperanza’s search for a house. When she is ashamed of her house, she is ashamed of herself. Even toward the end of the book, she says her "real" house exists only in a dream--much like her "real" identity, which consists of her fantasies and images from movies.
However, by the book’s conclusion, she has found her own, real strength, and has also come to accept that the house is part of her. At first, she wants a new house just so that she will not be ashamed to point it out to people. Later, she wants a house where she can write---something she has come to identify as a source of power. She also appears to understand the cause of the condition of Mango Street: city neglect. She is therefore less inclined to identify it with failure, and with herself.
Although Esperanza does not discuss love directly, the many different kinds of love portrayed in the book help to characterize each member of the Mango Street neighborhood. Esperanza demonstrates her love for her father when she comforts him after his own father dies. She herself is comforted by the love of her mother, as she sleeps beside her or listens to her advice. She loves her sister Nenny, even though she finds her annoying sometimes. Her romantic ideas about what love is are challenged by the relationships between Minerva and her undependable husband, or Sally’s wedding at the eighth grade, or the element of danger that surrounds Sire and Lois. Esperanza must confront her feelings about her aunt, who offers her love and supports her writing, after she ridicules her aunt on the day she dies.
POINT OF VIEW
The story is told exclusively from Esperanza’s point of view. For the most part, this offers the reader an intimacy that would be unavailable if the book were written about Esperanza-- since it is, in a sense, by her, we have a much greater insight not only into what she thinks but also the way she thinks. For example, when she describes her encounter with Sire and his friends, she says, "They didn’t scare me. They did, but I wouldn’t let them know." She at first tries to be confident with the reader, the same way she does with Sire, but then admits her fear and her desire to keep it hidden. Perhaps she is even trying, at first, to fool herself into thinking she is brave. Thus, when she lets us know her true feelings, it is more significant to the reader.
The reader also is able to witness Esperanza’s many little worries and insecurities, which would probably be missing if the book were not so focused on her state of mind. We observe her nervousness when she first meets Lucy and Rachel: she chips in for a bike, frantically borrowing some of Nenny’s money but not telling them because "it’s too complicated." She tells them her name, petrified that they will laugh. They don’t, of course, and her happiness is made all the more poignant when the reader knows how desperate for friends she has been.