on April 23, 2002
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is an interesting story about an adolescent Hispanic girl living in the barrios of Chicago in the 1980s. It is told in the form of viginettes that capture the essence of the main character, Esperanza Cordero and is told in a realistic, first person format. It is an excellent coming of age novel that depicts different sources of happiness and sorrow for the main character in each "chapter". "Those Who Don't" is one chapter depicting prejudice, both Hispanic and Anglo, and the reality of the barrios. The book can be easily read by many age groups, and each will find something different in the story to relate to. Do not read it just to finish it, however, because Cisneros has placed meanings below the surface of the novel. In "Four Skinny Trees" someone might find several different meanings; Esperanza's life, the Hispanic life, and the human condition are a few. There are a few slow chapters that prevent this book from recieving five stars in this review (such as "Bums in the Attic") but not much else can hinder the success of this already critically acclaimed novel.
on June 17, 2008
Like many of my fellow reviewers, I was required to read this book for high school English. At first glance, the novel seemed promising, as shown by the glowing reviews from various newspapers and writers.
Then I started to read it.
By the end, several issues stood out: the grammar and the similes.
I understand that Cisneros intentionally broke away from traditional form, but this book needs an editing job. For example, "...the tortilla star, the one that appears early just in time to rise and catch the hind legs hide behind the sink..." The last part made me go, "Huh? Hind legs hide?" There were also some issues with run-on sentences.
The similes also bothered me. Some of the time, they were good: "...and sings all the homesick songs about her country in a voice that sounds like a seagull." I know what a seagull sounds like, so I could identify and imagine what her voice sounded like. Then, it gets ugly. "The Monkey Garden" was full of 'em. "Sunflowers big as flowers on Mars?" And the worst: "...dusty hollyhocks thick and perfumy like the blue-blond hair of the dead." That was a head scratcher. Blue-blond hair? What? Is this an allusion to some great work of literature that I should have read?
Also, there were way too many characters. By introducing character after character, Cisneros was able to paint a picture of Esperanza's world, but by the end of the novel I knew little of Esperanza herself; I was unable to care about any of the characters.
One other thing: the sexual assault scene. As I understand, this is a traumatic experience. One chapter, hardly two pages was devoted to it, no mention was made in the rest of the novel. Shouldn't Esperanza have been affected by it? At least several scenes alluding to its effects should have been included.
I was unable to identify with the world Cisneros created, as a result, I cared little for the characters and what happened to them. In addition, until I read the back of the book, I thought that the novel took place in NYC - how mistaken I was!
Overall, I was disappointed by the novel. If you like vignette fiction, I recommend "Sold" by Patricia Mccormick or "Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson. The latter may not exactly qualify as vignette, but it's good.
I remember reading this book in seventh grade with my entire class. Perhaps I should have enjoyed it; it appears to be directed towards that age group exactly. Instead, I, an avid reader, struggled with this odd, rather poor book.
"The House on Mango Street" is recommended for girls in middle school, and point in fact, that's exactly when this teen read it, just a few years ago. Yet as I look back on those two months in English class, it occurs to me that perhaps the fault in this book lies there. It's written as though for young readers - simplistic, short, and pale - and yet the comments about the quality and importance are all things that even the smartest and brightest pre-teen readers would be entirely unable to appreciate and enjoy.
To me, these stories symbolized what was wrong with literature. This book is entirely disorganized, chaotic, and very difficult to follow. The writing style is stupid, simplistic, and simply confusing, providing no room for thought or even interesting analysis. Looking back on it, the stories probably have another level of meaning aside from the story themselves - symbolism or even just hard, cold facts. Yet this book, directed towards this specific age group (Amazon itself recommends this for pre-teens), simply fails to impress. The writing is the kind some might love and others hate. Most young readers will most likely hate it, as I did, failing to see how this could possibly mean something more.
I can see myself returning to this collection of random stories and appreciating it, understanding its literary worth and simplistic importance. And yet it is still a children's book masquerading as an adult book, or an adult book masquerading as a teen book. Either way, it fails to capture either audience.
I'd say absolutely NOT recommended to middle-school age kids, and for anyone else, do some extensive research before reading this loosely written, confusing collection of vignettes.
on December 21, 2006
Sure, we all know of pulp novels (some of us even write them), but true working-class literature is still all too rare. To be a working-class writer writing about working-class characters seems anathema to the publishing industry. Some suggest that this is due to the fact that editors and publishers are not likely to be working-class themselves, and so have little appreciation of characters whose lives hold little monetary value except their labor and earn wages without ever reaping the financial profits from that labor.
Another reason may be that Americans hold a vision of middle or upper class life as our stereotypical "American Dream." Who dreams of working at McDonald's? Some do, no doubt, but no one's holding their dreams up to the light. Even among the working-class literature that's available and accepted by mainstream audiences, Sandra Cisnero's "House on Mango Street" stands out. One reason is that it's told not from a worker's perspective, but by a child of first-generation immigrant workers.
Esperanza generally remains childlike until the end of this pseudo-memoir, when the adult narrator is now a homeowner reflecting on how her childhood Mango Street home formed much of her identity. The tale is told in straightforward, simple anecdotes in which the narrator doesn't possess the sense of irony which the author demonstrates by her choice of scenes, plot, and characters. Esperanza doesn't have the vocabulary to directly describe how class and race affect her, so she relies on simple imagery of everyday events to relate such things. She describes herself as a "red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor," an image that symbolizes her external circumstances holding her back from flying. She demonstrates some awareness of the class/race disconnect in an encounter with a neighbor who says she has to move because "the neighborhood is getting bad," ignoring the fact that she's just insulted Esperanza. Another astute observation flowers when Esperanza notes how she is afraid in neighborhoods of other colors, just as strangers are afraid in her Latino neighborhood.
We also see other images of working-class Latino culture that tend to be portrayed more stereotypically than here: car thefts, full families subletting their basements to other full families, reliance on the Catholic Church, etc. However, none of the outsider judgment which could limit these stories to superficial stereotype is present. "House on Mango Street" is told from the perspective of an "insider," which allows Cisneros to round out her characters emotionally, e.g., her car thief takes the young girls for a ride around the neighborhood and is kind to them; the neighbors in their basement have dreams, steady work, and self-respect; a Baptism party in the Church demonstrates a rhythmic, percussive Latino culture, including dancing, delicious food, and family closeness.
Esperanza deals with some of the internal shame of being poor in a rich country that is reflected in other classics of working class literature; she relates a conversation with her mother, who laments that her life might have been more. "Shame is a bad thing, you know. It keeps you down. You know why I quit school? Because I didn't have nice clothes. No clothes, but I had brains." Her mother's truth is undeniable; schoolchildren can be vicious, especially regarding appearance. Although Esperanza's Catholic school mitigates this with its uniforms. Between the uniforms and the academics, Esperanza's parents rely on the Catholic school to help their children turn out well.
Esperanza is determined to get out and own her own house, and she does. She works, goes to school, and becomes a writer, achieving both the psychic income from self-valued work AND monetary success. Getting out. Moving up to the middle class. Such a combination is rare in working-class life, but idealized in working-class literature.
"House on Mango Street" is gorgeously written; the language is so sharp it cuts through all the class politics and grounds the reader within the story. Cisneros does a masterful job of taking us for the ride as Esperanza grows up. This is destined to be a modern classic and a must-read for anyone in search of literature that reflects a life of struggle toward that elusive "American Dream."
I like this book of vignettes about the Latino experience. My problem was that I didn't love it. Perhaps because my expectations were so high after reading some great reviews, seeing it on some lists of the best books in the last 25 years and several recommendations from friends.
Cisneros certainly has great command of language and several of the vignettes are deeply engaging. My main issue with the book is that I kept wanting more. I wanted more depth about Esperanza and the other characters Cisneros introduces us throughout the vignettes.
After I finished the book, I felt like I do after having a meal at a restaurant where the appetizer is delicious and then you get just an average entree. Cisneros whets your appetite but leaves you disappointment with your whole experience.
on November 21, 2003
The book The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is a novel about a young girl and the life she deals with while growing up in Chicago. The main character of the novel is Esperanza. Esperanza is a young girl growing up in an old broken down house on Mango Street. Esperanza dreams of the day she will have her own house, one she can be proud of unlike the house on Mango Street. The novel is a series of different vignettes, each vignette about a different character or experience that Esperanza encounters. Other significant characters discussed in the vignettes narrorated by Esperanza are: Nenny who is Esperanza's little sister. Rachel and Lucy are two sisters that become close friends of Esperanza's. Another character who is admired by the boys because of her beauty is Sally. Sally, who Esperanza is somewhat jealous of, is another one of Esperanza's friends. The characters are faced with many problems throughout the novel. One problem endured by Esperanza, Rachel and Lucy together is when they prance down to the corner store, showing off their legs, in dancing shoes. The three girls are overwhelmed with confidence hearing the boys hoot and holler at them. The problem wasn't walking to the corner but the drunk bum man they meet there. This man who has no respect for women tries to test the vulnerability of the young girls, but Lucy and Esperanza sense something is wrong and all three girls flee home. The three of them realize that growing up isn't all it is made out to be and throw the "grown-up" shoes away. A serious problem that Sally deals with everyday is abuse; her father beats her when he does not agree with something she has done. Abuse like this not only leaves Sally emotionally scared but also physically. An on going conflict seen in many characters throughout the whole novel is the characters, more than anything, want something better then what they have and are willing to give up what makes them happy to achieve that goal. There are many characters with likeable qualities in the novel but my favorite character is Nenny because she is so young and carefree.
Many people, myself included, can find themselves relating to the characters. Like the characters in the novel, I imagine many people while growing up wanted more than what they had, always longing for the next best thing. There was a point in my life I always wanted better but now I realize none of the things I begged my parents for could of made me happy. I did not mind reading this book but it is not one that I would read again because I found it kind of boring and dull. I found the book to be very easy reading, it seemed too simple. My favorite part was when Esperanza, Rachel, Lucy and Nenny bought their new bike. My least favorite part was when Sister Superior denied Esperanza a seat in the canteen at lunch. I wouldn't change anything in the novel because the author did a good job of fitting all of the vignettes together very well.
I would recommend this book to others because it is easy to understand. I think this book would be best for a freshman high school class because they would get the most from it. Anyone facing the struggles of growing up and fitting in would enjoy reading this novel.
on January 11, 2001
I read this book for my highschool freshman English Class. I found the book to be rather short, yet creatively written in about 44 short vignettes. The book revolves around a girl called Esperanza, who, with her family, have moved into a small, run down home on Mango Street. Esperanza does not wish to live in this house, for she wants to live in a big white house, like the ones on television. At first, my friends and I thought this story was short, and lacked in plot and quality. But then I realized that the sheer simplicity is the true beauty of the story. At first, Esperanza is seen as a naïve child, who never truly realizes how horrible the world around her is. I think the part were the family goes for a ride in her uncle's (I think it was her uncle,) new car, and end up being ditched on the sidewalk after the police come chasing them, and you realize the car was stolen was one of the parts that showed this the most. One part I liked though, was when we learned of the other occupants of Mango Street through the eyes of Esperanza. This part instantly reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window," because it showed everyone through the eyes of the main character, not what they really were. It talked about the man who always was seen with different women, and the women who never could leave the house, and sat at the window till her husband came home. This book really was painfully realistic. I have to say, it truly did open my eyes a little, because it really did show life like it really is in a poverty-ridden neighborhood. After reading other reviews, I noticed that many people criticized Cisnero's sub-par grammar usage, which made the book really look like it was written by a child Esperanza's age. I thought that was a great idea, and only made the story more compelling, and showed Esperanza's innocence and naivete. But there were some glimmering moments of hope, that showed nothing but Esperanza's and her friends childish innocence, like when the pooled money together, and bought the bike they could all ride on. Another part was when she said that when she got her big house, she would open up the attic, and let all the bums stay up there. I thought this book was about the hope of someday having a better life, not the dreary, miserable life forever locked in poverty. Unfortunately, I really could connect with this book. I honestly used to live in poverty. As I lived in our small apartment, I remember always wanting to live in a big house, with everything I've ever wanted. While I wouldn't say my wish came true, My family now lives far from poverty, and we are happy, yet we have yet to live in a big house, with everything we ever wanted. This firsthand expierience allowed me to see the hope that this book was trying to convey, and to me at least, did. In other ways, I could not connect to this book, for I have never been a little girl, having to deal with girl things. This book is a broad canvas, on which Sandra Cisnero's has lavishly painted many bright colorful strokes. Many of my classmates say the book was bad, because of its occasional difficulty to comprehend, but they have yet to see the deeper meaning in the book, but I assure you all, it is there.
on December 17, 2001
Poet and fiction writer Sandra Cisneros opens her reader's eyes to the world of a young girl growing up in the Latino section of inner city Chicago. These stories of Esperanza's struggle to survive are told from a wonderfully innocent point of view. She questions those who come to her community fearing the people who live there. She sees this fear as a "stupid mistake" and goes on to tell the reader about the real people, people with names and faces, people that don't need to be feared. Imagery of carefree child thought and play are paralleled by dark images of drug abuse, racism, and sexual harassment. Moving from childood to womanhood Esparanza takes us on a heartfelt journey to find importance in her own life. She has hopes of bringing new vision back to her community in order to help those who she loves and cares about. Esperanza's journey is shown through the harsh embarassment of her living conditions to the excitement of a freedom through writing and a new found hope for her community as she leaves, knowing she will return with strength enough for all. Cisneros' writing shows the painful reality of poverty as well as the ability of the human spirit to rise above and conquer in the worst of situations. These compelling stories mirror closely those of Cisneros' own childhood growing up in the inner city of Chicago. Esperanza's fresh view of the world she lives in compels the reader to do more for their own community as well as reach out to those who are in need.
on July 11, 2010
Students in high school English classes all across our fruity plain are familiar with House On Mango Street because educational experts decided this is an important work, and diversity experts agreed that Cisneros is an Hispanic name and would never be confused with a dead white European male like William Shakespeare or William Blake.
There are a hundred ways a book can go wrong, and Sandra Cisneros managed to find 99 of them. It's a combination of e.e. cummings's disregard of punctuation, the hilarity of Yoko Ono, Julia "Sweet Singer of Michigan" Moore's march toward sobriety and Chairman Mao's Little Red Book.
I read this book in the time it takes to thread a movie at the megaplex and run it with all the previews. If Ed Wood were still alive, he would make this into a Lifetime movie, without an atomic explosion. Or the cross-dressers. Then again, maybe so.
It's not prose, exactly, so I tried to judge it by its poetic content, that is, the use of similes and metaphors and tightly-controlled imagery. Unfortunately, the imagery was clumsy and unclear: ugly like bare feet in September; prettier than a yellow taxicab; sunflowers big as flowers on Mars; laughter like tin; dusty hollyhocks thick and perfumy like the blue-blond hair of the dead; I closed my eyes like tight stars; they smelled like Kleenex or the inside of a satin handbag; weeds like so many squinty-eyed stars.
Scratching your head like Adlai Stevenson after escaping a cloud of mosquitos?
"It's like all of a sudden he let go a million moths all over the dusty furniture and swan-neck shadows and in our bones. It's like drops of water. Or like marimbas only with a funny little plucked sound to it like if you were running your fingers across the teeth of a metal comb."
"[A]nd nobody looked up not once the day Angel Vargas learned to fly and dropped from the sky like a sugar donut, just like a falling star, and exploded down to earth without even an `Oh.'"
"Then the colors began to whirl. Sky tipped. Their high black gym shoes ran. Sally, you lied, you lied. He wouldn't let me go. He said I love you, I love you Spanish girl."
In the final chapterette - chapterino? capitulotito? - Cisneros writes, "I like to tell stories. I tell them inside my head. I tell them after the mailman says, Here's your mail. Here's your mail he said. . . They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out" [sic, sic and sic].
Or after the mailman drops off her check. Sic! Oops, sorry! I had a siccup - I mean a hiccup.
There's no accounting for such snobby rubbish or, as I call it, snubbish. It's the kind of trash that folks like Nikki Giovanni or Maya Angelou produce because they know nobody will call them on it. They're invincible, these darlings of diversity and textbook writers.
Too bad. There was a time Harlem Renaissance writers such as Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson crowded the stage of esteemed writers.
on August 20, 2005
1-liner: Girl grows up with the shame of her financial background, and despite the decay and malice around her, she is determined to break free of it and come back to help her people.
Essence: The simple prose sets the atmosphere, as if one were seeing the world through the eyes of a little girl--the protagonist. The precise scenes render an uncanny sense of realism into the people and events of her life.
Significance of Character's name and perspective: Esperanza means "hope" in English and in Spanish, it means too many words. Despite the dilapidated setting, the story is about hope. It is told from the perspective of an innocent girl, one who is awkward as a Chicano because she is one of them, and yet there is something about her that makes her different from the average Chicano--the wonder she holds, the hope that she can have a house of her own, not on Mango Street... the determination to leave and return with pride.
The story starts out with the main theme: that of Esperanza's shame yet love for her background. That her family has moved a bunch of times, from rotten hovel apartments and flats to, finally, a house on Mango Street. That she remembers a nun who had strolled down the sidewalk and looked at her in pitiful disbelief that she lived in her home. This theme is further developed through moving things that are hauntingly real--it feels as if you're walking through the streets with them... as the little girls innocently show off their new high heels and one of them almost falls into the target of a lascivious tramp... of the "No English" wife who refuses to learn English (as if refusing to leave her roots behind her, as if her ignorance is a protection against the danger of becoming Americanized) finding to her horror that her baby son grows up to speak it...
The story does not truly become a "coming of age" story until Sally enters the picture. Prior to this, the girls are just girls wishing to be pretty, but not sexy. Sally is described to have eyes painted with the allure of the Egyptians, that she would wipe off her makeover when she returns home--immediately after school because her father does not want her to repeat the shame of his sisters, presumably, that of eloping or pre-marital sex. Sally is the archetypal repressed girl that a lot of girls become; and, it is tragic, because she confuses love with sex--love with sex because that is the implied taboo her father forbids her, as well as the plank behind which he hides his love of her.
Sally's fall from innocence foreshadows Esperanza's. But, unlike Sally, Esperanza is not destroyed by it.
When Esperanza follows Sally, she discovers that sex isn't glorious as the movies make them. She dislikes it. Sally, however, gets married before eighth grade to a husband with "money." Sally is happy that she can buy all these things, but her husband does not like her friends, and she is now allowed out of the house... and Sally, the beautiful girl whom Esperanza admired, ends up as one of the tragedies--to end up in the hovel of Mango Street, where she started, and struggled to escape from.
Esperanza's determination that she would one day have a house of her own can be interpreted either as the forefronts to another tragedy or as a happy ending... I prefer to interpret it as a happy ending. In her coming of age, Esperanza has discovered that marriage--having one's life bound to a man--is not the way to leaving the hovel. She's seen enough that she would trust her independent self. She writes, and that is an individual effort, something that others cannot take away.
Holistically, the story reminds me of the "feel" of Catcher in the Rye. Holden seems like a boy with the same sort of wonder and hope and optimism of life Esperanza has--this is the prevailing theme in both books. Both books depict the world as something of a nasty place, and while Catcher has a sad, disillusioned, ending (in the orthodox view), this book, although it has many disillusioning scenes, ends with a hopeful note. A boy is prone to give up the world, but a girl has too much hope and determination to do such.