Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street broaches topics such as racism, cultural identity, misogyny, immigration, and growing up in poverty. As an episodic novel, the book unfolds a story in short vignettes—a style atypical of conventional narrative and plot structures. These vignettes show the perspective of a young Mexican-American girl growing up in a poor section of Chicago, which, in many ways, reflects Cisneros's own childhood. The novel's themes of identity and coming of age make it universally accessible to young students and, thus, allows for examination in which all students could contribute.

The novel contains specific geographic and cultural references, so it is important to address them before students begin reading. A short overview of background material will provide context for various elements of the novel, allowing students to have deeper understanding of the book's content.

When discussing the novel, it is important to note that its language and brevity are, in some cases, deceptively simple. Extensive use of metaphor, subtle detail, and poetic language are important facets of Cisneros's short chapters; therefore, students must take into account that simple language may often contain complex ideas and emotions.

Summary

Esperanza Cordero provides glimpses of what her life is like growing up in a poverty-stricken area of Chicago. In this first-person narration with short, poetic chapters, Esperanza offers keen observations about race, gender, and the importance of having aspirations. Over time, Esperanza understands that she must remain determined and continue to set goals for herself in order to evade the fate from which other women around her have not escaped.

Content Warning

This novel contains controversial themes, including mental and physical abuse, sexuality, and racism.

Objectives for Teaching The House on Mango Street

  • Discuss how symbolism and poetic language allow the reader to understand Esperanza's world.
  • Analyze how concepts of identity, race, and gender are presented in the story.
  • Discuss the ways in which Esperanza attempts to place herself within two cultures.
  • Determine how the role of women in Esperanza's life shapes her goals for the future.
  • Discuss how this novel is a coming-of-age story.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allusion
  • Episodic Novel
  • Juxtaposition
  • Metaphor
  • Personification
  • Simile
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

  • Identity — The protagonist is a Mexican-American girl living in Chicago, where she tries to determine who she is, in terms of race and gender.
  • Coming of Age — As the protagonist grows up in her poor community, she dreams of achieving a better life as an adult.
  • Gender Roles — The stultifying role of women in the novel shapes the protagonist's sense of self.

Related Works

Theme of Identity

 

Theme of Coming of Age

 

Theme of Gender Roles

Key Facts

  • Length: 110 pages
  • Publication Date: 1984
  • Lexile Measure: 870
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 10

Awards

  • "American Book Award" from the Before Columbus Foundation (1985)

Your students will love:

  • The short, episodic, and easy-to-read style of the text
  • The themes of cultural and social identity
  • A youthful protagonist with whom they can relate

Students may have problems with:

  • Understanding some of the cultural context
  • Elements of sexuality and abuse

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