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Identity and Ethnicity in “The House on Mango Street” by Cisneros Essay

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Updated: May 3rd, 2021

Introduction

The House on Mango Street (1984) by Sandra Cisneros is a novel telling the story of Esperanza, a young Latina who moves to Chicago and grows up in a community of Puerto Ricans and Chicanos. The main goal in Esperanza’s life is to become a free and independent woman who makes her own decisions, and her dreams were fueled by observing the many people trapped in the slums of Mango Street. Since the novel is concerned with a girl growing up as a Chicana, it delves deep into the topic of cultural identity in the context of prejudice and suffering.

Esperanza’s Search for Independence

Esperanza’s ideas of autonomy are reflected in her desire to own a house. According to O’Reilly Herrera, the house represents the various structures of social, political, and economic power (192). For Cisneros, the house on Mango Street is a symbol of all forces that oppose Esperanza as a woman, a writer, and a member of a minority. The same way in which the main character struggles to be recognized as an individual of female, communal, and literary identity, the same way she wants to have a new house all for herself, not the one where she lives: “I knew then I had to have a house. A real house. One I could point to. But this isn’t it.

The house on Mango Street isn’t it” (Cisneros 2). The struggles of the main character for identity and independence are even reflected in her attitudes toward her name. “In English my name means hope. In Spanish, it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting” […] “I would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees” (Cisneros 4).

Discovering Identity

In the girl’s quest for becoming independent, she slowly discovers different symbols that made it possible for her to build an identity. The imaginary house is the first step towards finding Esperanza’s individuality because it gives her the courage to start writing. Her name, given after her grandmother who had an extremely hard life, also encourages the girl to stand against the bad treatment and avoid ending up as a failure. The new sense of identity and belonging to a community takes a new turn when Esperanza meets three sisters from Mexico, whose appearance is akin to those of fairy godmothers.

The three sisters teach the girl a very important lesson: “when you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza […] You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are” (Cisneros 105). This advice is crucial to Esperanza’s understanding of who she really is. The self-knowledge about her present and past shape the girl’s identity, and the power of writing allowed Esperanza to retell and remember history, which gave her a sense of being special and independent.

Concluding Remarks

Esperanza’s life in The House on Mango Street came full circle: when searching for identity and autonomy, she forgot who she is. She overlooked her Mexican heritage, the importance of Chicana feminism, and the fact that who she is making her special. At the beginning of the novel, Esperanza’s protest against the orthodox encourages the search for identity. At the end of the novel, the search ends with the young woman gaining control over her talent for writing.

Works Cited

Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. Vintage Contemporaries, 1984.

O’Reilly Herrera, Andrea. “Chambers of Consciousness: Sandra Cisneros and the Development of the Self in the Big House on Mango Street.” Bucknell Review, vol. 39, no. 1, 1995, pp. 191-204.

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IvyPanda. "Identity and Ethnicity in “The House on Mango Street” by Cisneros." May 3, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/identity-and-ethnicity-in-the-house-on-mango-street-by-cisneros/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Identity and Ethnicity in “The House on Mango Street” by Cisneros." May 3, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/identity-and-ethnicity-in-the-house-on-mango-street-by-cisneros/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Identity and Ethnicity in “The House on Mango Street” by Cisneros'. 3 May.

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