While much of the attention has revolved around the extent to which Sandra Cisneros’s “The House on Mango Street” is autobiographical, the vignette-driven narrative only gained momentum towards the end, with its greater emphasis on racial and socio-economic prejudice, spousal and child abuse (as well as sexual assault and abuse), and the marked desire to move away from Mango Street. And although it is ostensibly penned – in the style of diary entries filled with observations and descriptions – from the perspective of a teenage Latina Esperanza Cordero, there is inevitable bias associated with looking back at one’s adolescence. Still, it feels like an honest first-hand account of being a minority and of being disadvantaged in the United States, and the foundation upon which one’s future can be built upon.
As Esperanza recounts her day-to-day events along Mango Street – starting with her family’s arrival at a house – she describes the people in her life and in her neighbourhood (her parents and family members, her friends and neighbours, and the many adults who often treat her shabbily), how she perceives the world through these individuals and the many aforementioned issues which surface, and ultimately the realisation that much of what she has been through is not normal and that she has to move away from this environment. It crescendoes with a powerful declaration at the very end of the novel to not only liberate herself, but also to commit to helping those who are still trapped: “They [friends and neighbours] will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot quit”.
In a preceding vignette, she is also told: “You must remember to come back. For the ones who cannot leave as easily as you”.
The themes of racial and socio-economic prejudice underlie “The House on Mango Street”, yet the presentation of abuse and assault – beyond the experiences of Esperanza – stood out, highlighting the implications of gender roles and the victimisation of women. Tied to the notion of escape, while her good friend Sally got married, Sally appears trapped in another less-than-ideal situation: “She is happy, except sometimes her husband gets angry and once he broke the door where his foot went through, though most days he is okay. Except he won’t let her talk on the telephone. And he doesn’t let her look out the window. And he doesn’t like her friends, so nobody gets to visit her unless he is working”. In a way, this episode feels analogous to the trapped lives of those along Mango Street, of being unable to break out.