The House on Mango Street

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Shoes Symbol Icon
Shoes in The House on Mango Street symbolize Esperanza’s sexuality, and then her inner conflict between that sexuality and her desire for independence. The symbolism begins when a neighbor gives her, Nenny, Rachel, and Lucy some old high-heeled shoes. They try them on and find that their legs look longer and more womanly, and they walk around getting lewd comments from men. This frightens the girls, and they discard the shoes.

Shoes Quotes in The House on Mango Street

The The House on Mango Street quotes below all refer to the symbol of Shoes. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Language and Names Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage Books edition of The House on Mango Street published in 2009.
Chapter 17 Quotes

They are dangerous, he says. You girls too young to be wearing shoes like that. Take them shoes off before I call the cops, but we just run.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker), Mr. Benny (speaker), Magdalena “Nenny” Cordero, Lucy, Rachel, Mr. Benny
Related Symbols: Shoes
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

In the culmination of an episode suggesting Esperanza's attempts to figure out how she might fit into the world sexually, a number of people comment on the women's shoes Esperanza, Lucy, and Rachel have just received. This marks a first public appearance for Esperanza in clothing--high heels--that tends to connote sexuality. And people react in many different ways to the sight of the girls in women's shoes. 

Here, the grocer Mr. Benny warns the girls that wearing these shoes could be "dangerous," and threatens to call the police if they don't remove them. It's unclear what his intentions are; at first he seems to want to protect them, but when he threatens to call the cops this motive comes into question. No matter what Mr. Benny intends, his assertion that the shoes could be dangerous reflects how deeply gendered and sexual violence is a part of their daily life. The clothes and shoes that Esperanza and the other children wear can become signals for aggressive behavior, but the girls shrug off the possibility and continue on their way--still relatively innocent, for now.

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Chapter 43 Quotes

Not a man’s house… A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias. My books and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed… Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker)
Related Symbols: Shoes
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

Though Esperanza dreams repeatedly of her future home, this is the most detailed image she conjures up. It won't be a "man's house," where she is forced to stay inside and do chores. A porch will mark her territory, and a pillow will offer her a permanent place to sleep. Other images from earlier in the book recur here: the flowers remind us of the Monkey Garden and the four trees outside her home on Mango Street, and the two shoes remind us of all the other shoes mentioned in her vignettes. In this way, her home will contain all the things that have been important to her throughout these stories; but they'll be hers, under her control, "clean as paper before the poem." The act of dreaming about her home is like writing for Esperanza; both are creative acts that give her a sense of her future and the freedom she can still attain. 

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Shoes Symbol Timeline in The House on Mango Street

The timeline below shows where the symbol Shoes appears in The House on Mango Street. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 17: The Family of Little Feet
Language and Names Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Dreams and Beauty Theme Icon
...when someone gives Esperanza, Nenny, Rachel, and Lucy a paper bag full of old high-heeled shoes. (full context)
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
The girls try on the shoes and are amazed at how long and womanly their legs suddenly seem. They strut about... (full context)
Chapter 19: Chanclas
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Identity and Autonomy Theme Icon
...mother buys her new clothes for the event, but she forgets to get Esperanza new shoes to match. There is a party after the baptism, and her mother drinks and dances... (full context)
Chapter 28: Sire
Language and Names Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Foreigness and Society Theme Icon
Identity and Autonomy Theme Icon
Dreams and Beauty Theme Icon
...with little pink toenails like “seashells,” but she doesn’t know how to tie her own shoes. Esperanza watches Sire and Lois walking together around the neighborhood, and Lois riding Sire’s bike,... (full context)
Chapter 32: Sally
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Identity and Autonomy Theme Icon
Dreams and Beauty Theme Icon
...and short skirts. Esperanza wants to learn to wear makeup and to wear black suede shoes like Sally. Sally leans against the fence at school and tries to ignore the rumors... (full context)
Chapter 38: The Monkey Garden
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Identity and Autonomy Theme Icon
Dreams and Beauty Theme Icon
...her heart to stop beating. When Esperanza finally gets up again her own feet and shoes look foreign to her, and the monkey garden seems foreign as well. (full context)
Chapter 43: A House of My Own
Language and Names Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Identity and Autonomy Theme Icon
Dreams and Beauty Theme Icon
...Esperanza herself. It will have flowers, a porch, her books and stories inside, and her shoes by the bed. The house will be silent and safe, “clean as paper before the... (full context)
Chapter 44: Mango Says Goodbye Sometimes
Language and Names Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Foreigness and Society Theme Icon
Identity and Autonomy Theme Icon
Dreams and Beauty Theme Icon
...likes to tell stories to herself. She makes stories about walking in her “sad brown shoes.” She says she is going to tell about a “girl who didn’t want to belong,”... (full context)