The House On Mango Street: Themes
Esperanza refuses to settle for the life that the other women of her neighborhood have settled on. She knows that someday her writing will get her off of Mango Street, and she will be an independent woman who owns a house and answers to no one but herself.
Esperanza feels bad for all of the women who are stuck in lives that make them miserable and wants to come back someday and help them. It is Esperanza’s hope that gives her the best opportunity of actually leaving the barrio one day and not living up to the stereotype of her neighborhood.
As this is a coming of age story, there is a loss of innocence experienced in the characters. While the girls are desperate to grow up, they find that some sexual attention comes too soon and forces them to grow faster than they are ready for.
Rachel is propositioned by a homeless man, Esperanza is kissed by the Asian man, and sexually attacked by the group of boys at the carnival, Sally kisses an entire group of boys, and gets married during her young adolescent years to a much older man, and many women are abused. The girls’ innocence becomes ruined by the things they have witnessed and experienced.
In the environment, Esperanza lives in, even in her entire culture, men are in charge and women have very subservient roles. In many of Esperanza’s stories, the women are locked up in their homes by their husbands, for fear that they will run off. This happens especially in situations where the wives are very young and attractive.
In most families, the wives stay home while the husbands work and in almost every family the women are not very educated, though Esperanza’s mother is quite intelligent. The women are often spoken down to by the men and stay in abusive relationships.
Esperanza, even from a young age, seems an obvious advocate of women’s rights. She and her friends discuss their changing bodies with one another, such as the purpose of growing wider hips, and she envies the other girls who wear high heels, fancy makeup, short skirts, and stockings, though many of the men tell the girls that dressing like that will be trouble for them.
Esperanza does not like to see her friends exploited, like when Sally agrees to kiss an entire group of boys, and often comments on how bad she feels for women in the neighborhood that are locked up and sheltered.
Esperanza is envious of people from her neighborhood that have someplace they call home, even if that place is in another country. Other people tell Esperanza that, Mango Street is home, but she refuses to think of that place as her home, because she does not intend to stay there. She has moved from place to place for her entire life, and the place she remembers the most is her house on Mango Street, though she knows that she has not yet found the place she will call home.
The only families in the neighborhood that actually seem like supportive and loving families are those of Esperanza and her friends Rachel and Lucy, which is perhaps why they are so close. Esperanza does not think she is very close to her family yet she and her sister Nenny are always together and understand one another in a way no one else can.
When her grandfather passes away Esperanza sees her father cry for the first time and is the person who holds him and comforts him, bringing her closer to him than ever before, and her mother pushes her to reach for the stars and never to settle. Though Esperanza often feels like she does not belong anywhere, she learns that she does belong in her family.
In the barrio where Esperanza lives everyone is an outsider. The families in the neighborhood are from different countries, but all live together in their little bubble of a community on Mango Street.
The irony is that though everyone in the neighborhood is an outsider, they do not accept other outsiders coming into their neighborhood and invading their bubble, nor do they feel comfortable being the outsiders in another neighborhood.
When her family first moves to Mango Street Esperanza desperately wants a friend other than her sister Nenny because Nenny is younger than her and does not understand everything that Esperanza wants to talk about.
When Esperanza becomes friends with Rachel and Lucy, she is happy to have friends that are not in her family and they remain friends the entire time she lives in Mango Street, though, she befriends Sally and Alicia, as well. Each of Esperanza’s friendships is more mature, meaningful, and significant than the one before it.
Esperanza has a hard time trying to figure out who she is as a person as she comes into her adolescence and goes through puberty. She has questions about her culture, race, sexuality, future, and poverty. She compares and contrasts her situation with that of those around her not believing that she is like any of them at all.
Esperanza is embarrassed by her economic situation and refuses to believe that Mango Street is home to her as she vows to be a person different than those who live in her neighborhood.
While Esperanza never says her family is poor it is obvious that they, along with the other residents of their neighborhood, do not have very much money. Esperanza is embarrassed by the poverty of her family, and even allows her teacher to think that she lives in a more run-down place than she actually does because she is humiliated.
Because the neighborhood is comprised of immigrants they are not as well-off as the white Americans are, because they are not as educated or given the same job opportunities so it is difficult to get out of economic squalor.