Commentary by Karen Bernardo
Some of Sandra Cisneros’ short stories are extremely short, only a few paragraphs long; they are more properly called vignettes -- sudden, surprising slices of life. They blur the line between the genres of poetry and fiction, hinting at far more than they tell.
In the title story of her first collection, The House on Mango Street, Cisneros introduces a theme she will carry through the whole book: the longing of the adolescent Esperanza for a place to live that matches the person she is inside. The house on Mango Street definitely isn’t it. “It’s small and red with tight steps in front and windows so small you’d think they were holding their breath. Bricks are crumbling in places, and the front door is so swollen you have to push hard to get in. There is no front yard, only four little elms the city planted by the curb. Our back is a small garage for the car we don’t own yet and a small yard that looks smaller between the two buildings on either side.”
The house on Mango Street, in short, lives up to the reality of a blue-collar Latino family in Chicago, but it is much too small and cramped and restrictive to fit the spirit of the ebullient Esperanza—whose name, significantly, means “hope.” The cultural roles prescribed for a Latina woman—marriage, children, subjugation—are also too small for Esperanza, who feels as much at odds with her own culture as she is with the only house her family can afford. The house on Mango Street comes to symbolize a kind of resignation, a sense of settling for less than what you really want, and this Esperanza cannot do.
Cisneros’ title story comprises only eight paragraphs plus a few lines of dialogue, yet it evocatively lays the foundation for Esperanza’s entire world—and the reader can’t wait to see what happens next.
This story can be found in Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, available from Amazon here.
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