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Revisit:

The House on Mango Street

by Sandra Cisneros

Arte Público Press

1984

Revisit is a series of reviews highlighting past releases that now deserve a second look.

Imagine life as one giant window that we look out from. Some days, it’s vast and compelling. Other days, the thoughts in one’s head could feel more inspiring. It all comes down to the language, the ways in which one describes what is being seen. Sandra Cisneros does just this in The House on Mango Street. She has a way with looking at something that might appear ordinary to someone else, but through her eyes–or the eyes of her protagonist, Esperanza–it becomes a completely new design.

The story is told in vignettes, kind of like thought bubbles or elongated breaths. Esperanza becomes the younger voice of Cisneros, explaining the neighborhood of Mango Street, the people who live there and condition of the buildings. The reader gets one point of view, but it is enough. We learn about what pink smells like and the shape of God staining the formation of several clouds. Esperanza is the perfect voice to rely upon because she is a poet, so even the most horrific events such as rape and entrapment, suddenly become multi-layered and intricately recounted.

When Esperanza suddenly realizes that she is ready for a boyfriend, or at least to be seen and admired by boys, she says, “Everything is waiting to explode like Christmas. I want to sit out bad at night, a boy around my neck and the wind under my skirt.” She is not a complicated character, one which soils the pages of many books currently on shelves. It seems that adolescent characters are always compared to Holden Caulfield because of grit and disdain; however, Esperanza doesn’t try to be tough or extreme. Instead, she packs her punches through her brutally honest narration of what she sees around her and those that she meets.

Sandra Cisneros’s story is very similar to that of Esperanza Cordero. They are both of Latino heritage, migrating to the slums of Chicago where many of the girls at that time latched onto boys or grew pregnant to escape. Cisneros currently works as a teacher and like Esperanza, is a poet full of spice and character-building lines. It is truly hard to recognize where Esperanza ends and Cisneros begins. Like many works of fiction, the real is cooked in deep enough to not be recognized.

The House on Mango Street
is a long poem or a short story full of people who come into Esperanza’s life temporarily during a time in childhood where imprints are made and everything is heard. She dreams of living in a home that is hers and hers alone, without swollen doors and a leaky roof. “A house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem.” The feelings the reader is left with after that final turn of the last page is sadness and wonder, inspiration and hope. It is so rare to meet a character whose voice is like a paintbrush, swirling colors around to create images and events. It’s hard to say goodbye to Esperanza, however, she lingers throughout much of Cisneros’s work–in her poems and stories–that voice of distinct awareness, a projector of senses, motivation to look around.

by Aimee Herman


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