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Amy Conway

Doctor Darowski

ENGL 293

Struggle for Identity as a Latina Girl in America

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is collection of seemingly unrelated

vignettes that combine to capture a year in the life of a young Latina girl growing up in America

during the Chicano Movement in the 1960s. Just as Latinos nationalized after the Mexican-

American War were neither accepted as American nor Mexican, the character of Esperanza

Cordero equally struggles to define her identity while living between two worlds: her Mexican

heritage and her current American upbringing. Although she accepts the novel as not being

purely autobiographical, Laurie Grobman argues that it is through Esperanza that Cisneros tells

her own story by returning to her cultural past (43). Therefore, because the novel becomes

more allegorical rather than factual, an analysis of the novel reveals the symbolism behind shoes,

houses, and windows in order to illustrate the struggle of finding ones identity as a Latina girl.

In order to highlight the nature of a Latina girls relationship with her heritage, Cisneros

uses shoes to symbolize ones identity. In the vignette Chanclas, Esperanza is given a new,

beautiful dress to wear to a celebration, but is forced to wear her scuffed and round brown

shoes that not only clash with her fancy clothes, but also cause her great embarrassment (47).

Although the party is a happy occasion, she cannot allow herself to participate in the festivities

because of the shame of showing her old, dirty shoes and instead wishes to hide in the corner.

The shoes that feel big and heavy, like plungers then, serve as a metaphor for her Latino

ethnicity that make her feel trapped and disabled. Conversely, when Esperanza and her friends

are given beautiful shoes by a white family, they immediately run freely around the
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neighborhood, showing them off. However, even wearing these magic high heels cannot stop

them from receiving judgment or unwanted attention and they tire of being beautiful (40, 42).

Thus, their attempts to adopt a new, outward identity in order to fit in better with American

culture are unsuccessful. Esperanza, like many Latinos in the 1960s, can adapt to American

customs and even fit in to some degree; however, she has learned that she can never remove or

hide her heritage as it will always be a part of her.

Like her dirty shoes that bring her shame, because Esperanzas house on Mango Street is

not the house [shed] thought [shed] get, it eventually turns into a symbolic prison that she

wishes to escape from (28). She dreams of a place to call her own, a space for her to go, clean

as paper before the poem (108). By dreaming of owning a new house just for herself,

Esperanza wishes to be the creator of her own identity instead of being molded by her heritage or

by the outside perceptions of other Americans. While she defines her home on Mango Street as

merely a place, a location, it is actually a metaphor for her past that will always remain in her

history and a part of her, no matter how far she runs away from it. When her efforts to eat lunch

in the school cafeteria with the other kids results in her Sister Superior attempting to point out

her house on Mango Street, Esperanza sees her home from an outside perspective and realizes

that her house was one that even the raggedly men are ashamed to go into (45). By being

unable to keep up with the standards of living of middleclass Americans, Latinos faced

discrimination and, like Esperanza observed, were therefore ostracized. Because of her wish to

form new identities on the inside and out, Jacqueline Doyle asserts that Esperanza inadvertently

desires to build her house from the unfulfilled hopes and dreams around her (7). She desires to

reach a higher level of respect from those around her than she currently has.
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Therefore, through identifying Esperanzas current home on Mango Street as a kind of

prison, windows then become symbolic of the dreams and aspirations held by many of the Latino

people held in Esperanzas community. One neighbor, Rafaela, is still young but getting old

from leaning out the window so much wishing there were sweeter drinks thus indicating her

sense of being trapped in her home and her dreams of a better, unattainable life (79-80). Another

Latina neighbor, Sally, marries a man who controls her and doesnt let her look out the window

(102). Even Esperanzas home has bars on the windows to prevent them from opening. All

around her are harsh reminders of the disadvantages of belonging to this community that does

not seem to fit in anywhere. They are not allowed to dream of anything bigger than their current

reality. Esperanzas namesake, her grandmother, was once a strong-willed woman who

eventually resorted to sitting at the window everyday as she watched her dreams slipping by.

Fearing the same fate, Esperanza resolves that even though she inherited her grandmothers

name, she didnt want to inherit her place by the window (11). Thus, Esperanza becomes

determined to not only rise above the limitations of her culture, but also forge a new path within

her own family.

Because a Latina girls struggle to define her identity during the Chincano Movement in

America cannot simply be understood or observed by an outside perspective, Sandra Cisneros

uses symbolism in The House on Mango Street in order to bridge the gaps between cultures.

Like Tim OBrien did in his Vietnam War novel, The Things They Carried, Cisneros wants you

to feel what [she] felt. [she] wants you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than

happening-truth (OBrien 120). Through being able to fully capture and express real feelings

through the fictionalized symbolism of shoes, houses, and windows, Cisneros gives any reader

the chance to understand the struggle of Latinos in America.


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Works Cited

Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street New York: Vintage Books, 1989. Print.

Doyle, Jacqueline. "More Room of Her Own: Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street."

MELUS vol. 19 no.4, 1994, pp. 5-35. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/468200

Grobman, Laurie. "The Cultural Past and Artistic Creation in Sandra Cisneros' "The House on

Mango Street" and Judith Ortiz Cofer's "Silent Dancing"" Confluencia vol. 11 no.1, 1995,

pp. 42-49. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27922325

O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1990. Print.

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