The House on Mango Street is a book I’ve known about for ages but hadn’t gotten round to reading. Whenever there’s hype around a book I’m inclined to dislike it. I can’t explain it, but I generally wait to forget all I’ve heard before diving in. I like to go into a book with no biases and no expectations. A couple of days ago, Ashley at climbthestacks reviewed this book and I decided to finally give it a shot figuring it’s a short read and I could borrow the e-book from my local library (plus I am a few books short of my reading goal).
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros was first published in 1984. It tells the coming of age story of Esperanza Cordero, a Mexican-American girl living in Chicago. The story is told through a series of vignettes, each only a few pages long. About the style of the book, Cisnero said, “She has in mind a book that can be opened at any page and will still make sense to the reader who doesn’t know what came before or comes after.” That is exactly the type of book this is. Even though some characters weave in and out of the vignettes, each short story can stand on its own.
The writing is simple but effective. Powerful. Cisneros does not use quotation marks in her writing. Of this she said, “…abandoning quotation marks to streamline the typography and make the page as simple and readable as possible. So that the sentences are pliant as branches and can be read in more ways than one.”
This is one of those books that I find difficult to talk about because there is no plot to discuss but there is a lot to say. Some of the vignettes are funny, others are sad and some are disturbing. Esperanza is trying to decide who she is going to become. She watches and observes those around her and these observations shape her. The women around her are all trapped, either by abusive men or the circumstance of being mothers to many children and nobody to help care for them. Esperanza wants none of that. She wants to be independent. This is symbolized by her desire for a house of her own. She wants her own space, but it’s not just about physical space. She wants to escape the poverty that limits her, the machismo that surrounds her, and the walls that confine her.
One of the vignettes explains the origin of Ezperanza’s name and in it she tells the story of how her great-grandmother ended up with her great-grandfather. “[He] threw a sack over her head and carried her off. Just like that, as if she were a fancy chandelier. That’s the way he did it.” She ends the story with this line: “I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window.” Esperanza doesn’t want to be anybody’s property, she doesn’t want to live without doing the things she wants to do.
This book is definitely worth a read. For me, personally, a lot of the experiences Esperanza recounts are ones I can relate to as a Latina even though I grew up very differently from our protagonist.
I want to leave you with a poem from the vignette titled Born Bad
I want to be
like the waves on the sea
like the clouds in the wind,
but I’m me.
One day I’ll jump
out of my skin.
I’ll shake the sky
like a hundred violins.