Review: The House on Mango Street- Sandra Cisneros
Told in a wonderful series of simple but very moving vignettes, The House on Mango Street is about a young Chicana girl named Esperanza Cordero, who lives in the Hispanic section of Chicago. Mango Street is a rundown, crowded and dirty neighbourhood, placed within a city where a lot of the poor areas are racially divided. 12 year old Esperanza is determined that she will one day
leave Mango Street to live in a house that is entirely her own, but for now the small novel spans a year in her life on Mango Street and charts her growing up in the tough, gritty environment she has no choice but to live in.
We watch Esperanza slowly make the transition from being a child to emotional and sexual maturity. At first she is content to be a child, playing a skipping game called Double Dutch and buying a bike with her friends Lucy and Rachel, and younger sister Nenny. She struggles to come to terms with the prejudices of those around her, and refuses to accept the dismally low expectations everyone seems to have for her as a result:
‘Where do you live? she asked.
There, I said pointing up to the third floor.
You live there?
There. I had to look where she pointed- the third floor, the paint peeling, wooden bars Papa had nailed on the windows so we wouldn’t fall out. You live there? The way she said it made me feel like nothing. There. I lived there. I nodded.’
She often writes her own poetry in a bid to escape from Mango Street, and does not stop dreaming of her own house on a hill. However Esperanza’s journey into adulthood and her own ordeals on Mango Street give her a firmer understanding of the adult world and a larger desire to leave the neighbourhood. She observes that the women around her have no freedom and that for now, writing is the only thing that allows her to emotionally escape and yet also accept, her place on Mango Street.
I loved Mexican-American writer Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek and wanted to read more of her writing, so this book has been on my tbr list for a longgg time. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by American author Betty Smith is another coming-of-age novel that would be interesting to contrast with Mango Street, and has also been on my tbr list for a while. The novel is a short read- you can easily read it in one sitting at 110 pages- but it is a very powerful one, hitting straight on the theme of, what I think, is self-definition and the struggle to understand one’s own place in the world. The language is also a very powerful factor within the vignettes and Cisneros’ writing is subtle yet rich, drawing on her own Latino heritage and experiences of living within a mostly Hispanic society. One of the things I love about The House on Mango Street is its structure. The writing reads like poetry at times and the vignettes reflect our own flashes of memories from our childhoods and short attention span as children, never focusing on one thing for long enough.
The House on Mango Street is a beautiful and traditional coming-of-age novel, portraying the life of a girl who struggles to understand her place as a Chicana woman in the society and neighbourhood she has been thrown into.
Do I recommend you to read it? Yes
Genre: coming-of-age novel